Marketing Greenhouse Vegetables To Local Restaurants

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The local food movement continues to grow, making greenhouse produce an attractive alternative for restaurants in your area, particularly higher-end establishments. It’s a definite opportunity for ornamental growers considering getting into produce. But marketing your crop to an unfamiliar market provides a new set of challenges you should consider.

Plantpeddler’s Mike Gooder has had success selling to restaurants, so we asked him to share some tips for other growers thinking about this market.

Greenhouse Grower: This isn’t the only place you sell your produce – are restaurants a difficult market to get into compared to other outlets?

Gooder: Restaurants can provide a viable opportunity for specialty greenhouse producers with off-season production for several reasons, including, among others:

• There are limited producers of locally grown produce during cold seasons

• There’s an opportunity for “stable” premium pricing for top quality

• Create a market for number-two grade products as prepared food

• Access to a nearby market

GG: What’s the best way to approach restaurants about buying your produce? What types of restaurants have you had success with? Who should you contact at the restaurant?

Gooder: The direct approach is the best. The restaurant business is similar to our business: it’s on demand, at once and driven by discretionary income. Dependability, consistency and reliability matter. Don’t mess with their menu, food prep and service … or you will be out. Remember, somebody is already selling them product. If you are a hassle, you are not worth the effort.

Search your local area for restaurants committed to the local food movement. Go visit and discuss with the owners and especially with the chefs what they are searching for, and how you are willing to work with them to provide it. Forget the phone and eMail — face time matters. Typically, like our industry, professional chefs are networked, so often, getting in with one can open doors with more.

Another solid opportunity is finding fresh vendors servicing the high-end institutional and restaurant markets. They are also searching for locally grown product to service the increased demand, and this allows for consolidation of order volumes.

GG: Do restaurants have any additional expectations or requirements as far as food safety or handling for your produce above what you would have with other buyers?

Gooder: If you are following Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) guidelines you should be good to go! Every customer, niche and market deserves the same level of safety. Don’t risk making people sick.

GG: What kind of pricing and delivery issues do you have to consider? Do you set a price or do you generally take what they offer? How often do they expect you to deliver and are there any challenges there?

Gooder: This trade requires consistent service, which is most concentrated on weekends and events. Timing of delivery is an important consideration when competing for freshness. With this can come premium pricing opportunities. Getting to work on a “trust basis” with a few key accounts will help determine who the competition is and what the price basis is. Remember “local,” uniqueness, quality and freshness represents a few of the keys to separation in the market, thus allowing a higher unit price.

GG: Should growers put together any specific marketing messages to both sell themselves to restaurants, and/or to help them promote your produce to their customers?

Gooder: It always gets back to selling yourself, your company and then your products. Marketing pieces and background information are always a great way to get the attention of potential customers and show confidence in your ability to perform. Enlighten them on how you grow, whether sustainable, organic or other methods. Ensuring safe and flavorful products matters in the competitive world of the premium restaurant business.

Richard Jones is the group editor for Greenhouse Grower and Today's Garden Center magazines.

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