Farmers markets offer opportunity for livestock producers to sell directly to consumers
Consumers are seeking out locally produced meat products
The increased interest in consumers for locally produced meat and the growth of farmers markets in Michigan provide an excellent opportunity for livestock producers to direct market their products. The offerings at farmers markets are being expanded beyond the traditional fruit and vegetable options, and vendors specializing in locally produced meats are finding their products well received at farmers markets.
Research done by the Agricultural Marketing Service shows that consumers are interested in buying directly from farmers. Consumers want to learn about farming practices and get to know the person producing their food. Ben Tirrell of Tirrell Farmstead Specialties in Charlotte sells beef and lamb at farmers markets and confirms the research with his experiences.
“I think most consumers come to the farmers market because they want to know the story of their meat,” Ben said. “More than "organic" or "grass-fed" or any other specific trait, I think people just have a desire to know where the product comes from and how it was produced.”
“To be successful, farmers have to be ready to tell this story,” Ben advised. “There will be lots of specific questions. Instead of shrugging them off as silly or irrelevant, every question needs to be taken seriously.”
Consumers also cite other reasons for purchasing at a farmers market. Many perceive that they are getting a higher quality product by purchasing directly from the farmer. They also want to support agriculture and small business development in their communities and feel by purchasing at a farmers market they are contributing to those goals.
Livestock producers who are interested in selling meat products at farmers markets must comply with regulations. Animals must be slaughtered and processed at a USDA inspected facility, and the inspection stamp must be displayed on the packaging. In some areas of the state this presents a challenge, as producers must travel some distance to a USDA inspected facility.
Farmers selling meat they produce on their own farm requires a Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Food Establishment license. Farmers selling meat produced on other farms must also have a Food Warehouse license and a Food Establishment license for each farmers market where they are selling meat.
There are also regulations that producers must follow to ensure a safe and wholesome product for the consumer after being processed and packaged at a USDA inspected facility. Product storage must be used exclusively to store meat sold to customers. A refrigeration unit or freezer that is separate from family food storage is required. Frozen meat must be maintained frozen. Unfrozen meat products must be maintained at refrigeration, with an internal temperature of 41° F or below.
In addition to meeting all of the regulatory requirements farmers need to think about some basic marketing principles when selling meat at farmers markets. A nice looking display is critical to garnering attention and is not as easy to achieve as an attractive fruit and vegetable display since the product cannot be openly displayed.
Large, colorful photos of the product can help to create an eye-catching display. Photos of the farm where the meat was produced are also beneficial in helping the consumer to connect where their food has been raised. Providing recipes and conducting cooking demonstrations are also proven ways to promote the product. Taste testing can be another marketing method but also requires a set of food safety procedures be followed.
It is also important that contact information is included with the purchase so consumers will know who to contact for repeat purchases. A business card or brochure is also beneficial. Customers may be directed to a website, or other locations where the product is also available.
The MSU Product Center can assist producers in livestock product development and direct marketing. Innovation counselors working across the state can provide help in business planning, product development, and navigating the regulatory maze. For additional information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.