Our Tent Talk podcast guest this week is Ben Grimes from Dawnbreaker Farms in North Carolina. Dawnbreaker Farms specializes in pasture-raised, non-GMO chickens, forest raised pigs, Thanksgiving turkeys and grass-fed lamb. In our interview Ben shares his techniques for selling meat at the farmers’ market, tips on retaining customers and increasing sales, and his passion for informing people about the food choices they have.
Different sales avenues for different products
Ben grew up a city kid in Seattle, Washington. It wasn’t until he started learning about the ecologically destructive nature of the industrial food system that he became interested in farming. After volunteering and working on farms, Ben started his own in 2013. Now, Dawnbreaker Farms is a thriving business that sells regeneratively raised meat on the farm, at the farmers’ markets, via delivery, and at a few select retailers.
Ben has participated in farmers’ markets since the beginning of Dawnbreaker Farms and has found great success. Currently farmers’ markets account for about 70-80% of his total revenue. And while he loves the farmers’ market and plans to keep it as his main source of income, Ben is strategically pursuing other revenue streams. “You don’t want to build your house on one column,” says Ben.
Since he raises various types of meat, Ben is able to utilize different sales channels that allow him to achieve the best return on investment. “Each of the avenues serves a specific purpose and has a certain customer base that fills a niche for the financial program of my farm.”
The ducks raised at Dawnbreaker Farms are primarily sold wholesale to restaurants while a portion of the pork is sold via monthly CSA. And of course Ben sells all his products directly to customers at the farmers’ market each week.
Make new friends, but keep the old
The farmers’ market has proved to be the perfect avenue for Ben to cultivate a solid group of loyal, returning customers. “Compared to other farming, you really have to have trust when it comes to your meat farm,” says Ben. That trust is earned as your customer gets to know the product and the producer.
Ben’s main marketing approach is listening to people. It may sound simple, but it works! Customers have a variety of needs and “they are coming for different reasons. Sometimes it’s health, sometimes animal welfare. Sometimes it’s environmental.” Ben’s noticed that when customers feel heard and understood, they keep coming back.
Retaining customers is great, but you also have to gain new customers. Ben believes it’s important not to scoff at small sales or first-time shoppers. “They may just buy a pack of sausages the first time. They’re just dipping their toe in the water.”
Another key to building relationships with customers Ben has discovered is providing lots of cooking suggestions. He starts by asking his customers what they plan to do with the meat they are purchasing. How many people do they plan to serve? Quick or complicated? Roast or BBQ? Based on the information he receives he can give more pointed advice.
“Meat is one of those things where you can be lazy and do it quickly. Or you can get really complicated. You need to know where people are at and what they want to do,” explains Ben.
Meat vendors need pretty displays too!
One of the greatest challenges meat vendors face at the farmers’ market is how to display their product. Ben can commiserate with this predicament: “Meat doesn’t stick out like a tomato does.”
“I started off, just like everyone else, and I had a big cooler full of everything,” says Ben. At the start of the market his product would be nicely organized, but by the end of the day it would be a jumble of sausage, lamb, and chicken feet. After working the market for a few years, he has finally figured out a solution that works for him.
Instead of large coolers, Ben utilizes a collection of small 28 quart coolers with only 1 or 2 products each. He organizes them based on type (i.e. drumsticks & thighs, bone-in & boneless breasts). The coolers are placed on tables with colorful signs in front with product descriptions and price. When the coolers get low, he restocks them out of a big freezer in his truck.
While coolers may not be as eye-catching as fresh produce, Ben makes due with lots of signage. His booth has 3 large banners that are impossible to miss and highlight his business’ finest attributes: local, sustainable & pasture-raised.
Where can I listen to Ben’s full episode of Tent Talk?
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Do you have a farmers’ market question you’d like us to answer on air? Got an idea for a future episode topic? Is there someone you think we should interview? Please let us know!