Locally grown organic food is growing in popularity, which affords a super opportunity for organic farmers. However, selling to local natural-minded restaurants is not a passive project.
As a grower, you need to be proactive and professional if you want to sell your organic goods to local restaurants. Here are nine keys to success.
When you're working with a local restaurant, you should remember that everyone (especially chefs and restaurant owners) is very busy. Don't waste time, and make sure to maximize the time you do have.
Ask the chef, owner or food buyer what the best day and time during the week is for contacts and meetings. Be consistent about keeping to a schedule regarding weekly orders. Keep diligent notes — it's not cool to have to call a restaurant owner back because you're not sure how many pounds of squash they need.
If your delivery is going to be late, the restaurant should be notified immediately and substitutions made, if necessary. Hire top-notch, dependable, friendly delivery employees, because they represent your farm operation just as much as the food does.
Follow Restaurant & Food Trends
Local upscale chefs at organic restaurants tend to purchase specialty items such as organic berries, sweet corn, heirloom tomatoes and mixed salad greens. They're less likely to purchase basics such as organic potatoes. So grow what the market desires, not what’s easiest or most desired by other venues, such as retail supermarkets.
Consider Branching Out
Growing the crops you know restaurants need is smart. Growing other, special crops though, even if they aren’t on a restaurant’s wish list, can be useful, too. Diverse crops allow you to branch out and sell to a diverse assortment of restaurants. Plus, you never know exactly what new restaurants might find interesting.
During seed planting season, schedule meetings with the buyer and/or chef at local restaurants. You need to know their menu plans in order to be sure you’re growing crops they’ll purchase. It’s useful to take along your organic seed catalogs when you visit. If a buyer wants something that's out of the question, tell them up front so they can plan around what's going to be available.
When you visit with restaurants, bring along a few choice taste samples and maybe some wonderful farm-fresh recipe ideas. Just because a food item isn’t on the menu yet, doesn’t mean a chef won’t add something new after tasting your perfect blackberries.
If you have a brand new crop of sweet peas or another treat, consider sending some along for free, along with a restaurant's normal delivery. You may entice the restaurant to try something new, and if not, the chef and the owner will still remember and appreciate the gesture.
Grow More Than You Need
Growing more crops means you get to plan for emergency situations, such as a partial crop failing. Plus, you'll get to pick and choose, so that you only send the best of the best to your buyers.
Maintain Many Relationships
Chefs with whom you develop a stable relationship may move on, or a restaurant may change buyers. Keep ahead of these changes by being on good terms with restaurant management, even if those managers are not the folks making the food purchasing decisions. Having a good relationship with many people involved in running a restaurant means you won’t be forgotten if changes occur.
Keep It Professional
You’ll need to invoice consistently and on time for all deliveries. Your invoices should look professional, and you need to keep excellent records. You should consider investing in a logo that can be found on all correspondence between you and another business. Make sure packaging, if necessary, is top quality.
Don't Ignore the Little Guys
Upscale local restaurants may pay a little more for farm goods, but that doesn't mean smaller food venues and eateries can't provide you with extra income.
Getting on board with a small, local bakery looking for raspberries or a little deli looking for fresh greens is just as beneficial as selling to the big guys. Best of all, small businesses tend to use word of mouth when discussing sellers they trust with other businesses, so you may score new buyers based on those relationships.
You really shouldn't depend on too few buyers anyway, because if just one major client ends their relationship with you, you could be out a substantial amount of income.