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Improved Meat Marketing for Small Scale and Direct Marketing Farms in the Northeast

by Matthew LeRoux

For small-scale farms, the need for marketing skills has increased as the local food marketplace has become crowded with more competition. Perhaps 15 years ago the supply of local meat was smaller than the demand, allowing farms to simply “show up and sell out” in their markets. However, here in the Northeast we have seen many farms, both old and new, respond to market demand for local meat and enter the marketplace. In addition, national corporations responded to consumer demands for non-commodity meat, putting many “look alike” products on to grocery store shelves, where they are easy for consumers to grab during their regular food shopping. These pressures of supply and demand require the savvy farm marketer to step-up their game.

The good news is that, even in an increasingly competitive market, applying a few standard marketing techniques will show results. One such technique is to choose a target market and focus your marketing resources on it. Some thoughtful discussion among your farm’s team, paired with basic market research, should reveal the best target market for your business. Some questions that can help you determine a viable target market are:

  • What is the quintessential customer of my farm now?
  • How would I describe an exaggerated caricature of my stereotypical customer?

It is tempting to think, “I sell meat to everybody, everybody has to eat” but with target markets, specificity counts. In fact, the more specifically you can describe your target customer, the easier marketing to them will become. A specific description of your customer should reveal details about their needs, preferences, and the reasons they are more likely to purchase your product. Each target customer has characteristics that you should explore and discuss with your farm’s marketing team (your team may simply be your family, employees and/or friends). The more you can understand about the customer, the better you can communicate to and serve them.

A handy method for working out a description of the target customer is to write a strategy sentence. The strategy sentence describes the customer, their characteristics, and your product. A very specific sentence provides guidance for your marketing efforts which improves the payoff for each marketing investment you make, whether it is a paid ad, a special offer, or the use of your time. An example of a strategy sentence is:

Our farm sells pasture-raised pork by-the-cut to busy working moms with young children who don’t have time to slow-cook something for dinner.

If this sentence sounds very specific and a little bit amusing, that’s a good sign! When you have created such a sentence, you work to understand the customer as best as possible and answer questions to guide your marketing.

Given the sample sentence, think of how the farm might answer these marketing questions:
What cuts make sense for this customer? Should we get our pork shoulders ground into sausage?
How many pounds should each package weigh?
Is our customer more likely to buy for one meal at-a-time or a large supply?
Should we sell it fresh or frozen?
What flavors of sausage would be most popular with young kids? Should sausage be in patties or bulk?
Where is the best place for this customer to get the product?
Should we offer home delivery? Should we talk to a local grocer in an effort to get into their meat case?
When advertising, where can we best reach this customer? What should the message be in our ad?
What attributes of our farm and product should we highlight in our advertising and materials?
What is the best format for promotions and what will motivate the customer to make a purchase?

A well-written strategy sentence will provide guidance in every marketing decision right down to the most basic. The specificity of your strategy will resonate with your target customer and pay off better than a broad-casting attempt to reach all consumers. Some folks worry that targeting one specific group of consumers might mean that you lose all the ones that don’t fit that description. A valid concern, however, when your brand and product identity are clear it has the effect of attracting lots of different customers to you, not alienating them.

By the way, that strategy sentence, it’s not for your brochures or Facebook page! It is a sentence for the farm to use to guide marketing decisions and not made for the public. A well-developed sentence with specific details enables the farm to understand their customers’ needs, preferences, and buying habits. This understanding allows the farm to better serve the customer, building a positive and distinct image for the farm.

A strategy sentence can be written for any target customer, including wholesale customers. If you typically sell feeders or breeding stock, you can tailor your sentence to your buyers. The sentence helps you define what the buyer prefers and thus, how to serve them better. Marketing strategy benefits your customers in this way and improves the payoff of every investment you make in marketing!

In essence, strategy is a technique to improve the rate of gross sales per hour of labor spent on marketing. A second technique is to set specific and measurable marketing objectives. Objectives aid the farm in planning, decision making, and execution of marketing activities.

Accomplishing an unmeasurable objective is a difficult task. Consider this example: “I need to start saving more money.”

How do you know when you’ve accomplish this? When you deposit $20 into a savings account, are you done? The more detail you can add to an objective the EASIER it becomes to plan, execute, and ultimately succeed. Objectives transform marketing from a never ending, undefined job to a manageable task with specific outcomes which begin and end.

Different ways of looking at the marketing budget.

Consider this version of the saving money example: “I’ll put $20 from the second paycheck of the month into a savings account, starting in September.”

With this improved statement, we know when to begin and if we are on-track. If September ends and we only saved $10, we know we need to deposit another $10 or adjust our objective. A well-constructed marketing objective will contain a measurable goal, a timeline, a budget, and a target audience for the objective.

A measurable goal is usually a sales quantity but can also include other marketing goals such as, number of restaurants you’ve contacted or Facebook likes. The goal should be quantified, and then, when measured against your timeline it creates a rate to measure your success against. In the example below, the farm must sell 8 quarters/month or 2 quarters/week.

We plan to sell 32 beef quarters (8 head) between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31.

Adding a target audience helps make the task easier. Ideally, the farm will use the target audience from their strategy sentence (see our previous article). The target audience allows you to develop a plan to reach consumers with a product and message that appeals to their specific interests.

We plan to sell 32 beef quarters to homeschool families in a 3-county area between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31.

Finally, adding a budget to get this objective accomplished sets you free to come up with innovative, creative ideas to accomplish your objective. Come up with a percent of gross sales you are willing to spend, or whatever amount seems reasonable to you. Once you know how much you have to spend and your timeline, you can get really creative.

Consider our example: If the average beef quarter brings $600 to the farm, they stand to earn $19,200. The time line is 4 months or 16 weeks. We can also look at the budget per beef quarter sold.

The chosen budget informs the farm’s plan. Here are some creative possibilities:

Idea 1: Hold 2-3 open farm days, invite homeschool groups by email, Facebook, and fliers. Advertise in local media and in places that homeschool families are likely to see it. Offer a farm tour and pass out fliers explaining the value of purchasing a beef quarter. Include a coupon or offer a discount to anyone putting a deposit down for a quarter during that period.

Idea 2: Hold two open farm days and hand out free burgers (your own product). Announce a special raffle for a FREE quarter- everyone who puts down a deposit for a quarter gets entered for a chance to win their quarter for free. Print up fliers and advertise on Facebook, at local churches, and homeschool group email lists.

The budget might look like: Printing & Advertising: $110. Our own ground beef and burger rolls, napkins, charcoal: $250. Give away one quarter: $600. Total budget is $960 (5% of our gross, $19,200).

Specific written objectives make your marketing job easier. Combined with a marketing strategy, objectives make each marketing effort pay off better than the lack thereof. Objectives are measurable, so you can track your progress and adjust midstream when you are not seeing the results you were expecting. Objectives and strategy combined also inform what promotions to offer, where to advertise, when, and with what message.

Like marketing strategy, useful objectives take some thought and time. Try holding a marketing meeting with your team. Brew some coffee, bring some sales goals and get to brainstorming. You might come up with some fun and creative ways to market.

Matt LeRoux works for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Tompkins County, NY as the Agriculture Marketing Specialist. In 2008 Matt developed the Marketing Channel Assessment Tool to assist producer decision making and improve marketing performance. In 2012, Matt started the Finger Lakes Meat Project including, two community Meat Lockers, and the Cornell Meat Price & Yield Calculator. He can be reached at

This article is comprised of Parts 1 and 2 of a 4-part series published by CCE. This material is based upon work supported by USDA/NIFA under Award Number 2015-49200-24225.


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