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The Green Book

How to Sell Grassfed Science

How to Sell Grassfed Science
by Shannon Hayes
APPPA GRIT! issue 22, Fall 2002

This article appeared in the November, 2002 issue of GRAZE, a nationally focused publication written "by graziers, for graziers". The article is reprinted here by permission. You can subscribe to GRAZE for one year (10 issues) for $30.00 by sending a check with your mailing address to Graze, PO Box 48, Belleville, WI 53508.

I was seven and out playing in the front field one afternoon when a fancy car pulled in our driveway. A man got out, wearing a dark suit with his hair parted neatly and slicked down to his head- an anomaly in these parts.

My Mom came out to see what he wanted. 
"Hello. Is your husband home?"
"No, he's out back in the fields," she replied.
The man leaned in close to my mom's face. He popped his eyes open wide- so wide that I wondered if they were touching the lenses of his glasses. "And what if he doesn't make it back? What will happen then?" He leaned down to me. "And what is your name?"
"What will Shannon's future be like? What will your future be like?" At this point, he launched into his sales pitch for a suspicious sounding life insurance policy. My mom hated him. I hated him. He never made the sale.

Every product needs a sales person, whether it is a fly-by-night life insurance plan, or wholesome food grown in harmony with Mother Nature. Many of us who sell grassfed meat and dairy products are excited about the health benefits offered by the high levels of conjugated linoleic acids and omega-3 fatty acids in our products. This new information adds to the science we already knew- that our meat is lower in fat and calories; that it is not full of antibiotics and hormones; that grazing our animals aids in carbon sequestration, increases biodiversity and restores soil health.

But how does an honest grass farmer avoid sounding like a slick insurance salesman firing off too many complex details and too many reasons to buy? When we talk to potential customers face to face, we rarely have more than 30 seconds to give then a convincing reason to buy our products. Thirty seconds is not enough time to teach the necessary biochemistry and environmental biology required to fully understand the benefits of our meats.

If improperly communicated with too many details, this type of information may cause the customer to start fantasizing about the express line at Shop and Save. Properly communicated, this information can change occasional drop-in buyers into committed customers who want to buy all of their food from your farm.

Marketing is about linking what you have to sell with what your customer wants. If he or she is interested in health issues, then you can spend your 30 seconds talking about CLA's. But if your customer is interested in gourmet foods or food safety, talk about how great your meat tastes, or the security they'll feel in knowing the source of their food. Don't waste the short amount of face-to-face time you have talking about subjects that do not interest your customer.

Still, over the long run, the science is a potentially powerful tool in marketing your grassfed products. While you may only have 30 seconds to speak to someone about your products, you still have plenty of time to educate them. Customer education- teaching the biochemistry, environmental biology, social justice and economic principles that set your products apart from anything that can be found in the grocery store or through a glitzy mail order catalog- is an important part of the marketing process. You need to spend some time on this.

The first step is educating yourself. Read and listen. Pay attention to what's going on. Articles on grassfed farming and products that appear in newspapers, magazines, television and radio help you to learn what the mainstream is thinking, as well as the latest developments within the industry. It is also good to know what kind of information your customers might be discovering.

There is so much information flying around about grassfed livestock and small scale farming that it is difficult to keep up with it all. There are a few shortcuts. Some of the major newspapers, like the New York Times, have free online subscription services with "news trackers," which are search functions that use key words to send you specific articles that may be of interest. My news trackers are set up to send any articles that contain the keywords "meat" or "livestock." List serves such as graze-l are also helpful. Frequently, when a relevant story comes out, short synopses can be read over your e-mail. Another great shortcut lies in industry publications and newsletters from sustainable agriculture organizations.

Now that you have educated yourself, your job is to help your customers read and listen. Collect your customers' contact information and send out a farm newsletter once or twice a year. Keep an e-mail distribution list and forward any articles that might be of interest to them. Maintain a lending library of essential literature, such as Jo Robinson's Why Grassfed is Best Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions, and Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. Generously share them with customers. When you meet people out in public, be able to refer them to the latest writing, rather than using your 30 seconds to explain years of research. At your point of sale, post articles that have appeared in the mainstream press on a bulletin board, give away photocopies, or keep a scrapbook of news clippings that people can peruse while they visit your farm, roadstand or market stall. Again, you only have a few seconds to talk face to face, so let some other reputable sources do the bulk of the education for you.
Sales require persuasion, and effective persuasion is more about what you do than what you say. If you are going to do an effective job informing your customers about the health and environmental benefits of your meats, you have to practice what you preach. Maintain your own health. Be conscientious with your grazing practices. Your newly informed customers will notice, and they will become fiercely loyal.

Probably most of your new customers will come to you with little specific knowledge of CLAs, omega-3 fatty acids and many of the other scientific findings that excite us. It's your job to inform and educate over a period of time.
I recently spoke with one of our customers, someone who originally came to the farm in search of gourmet food. She said, though, that she kept learning more from us about health implications, social benefits and environmental issues with each successive visit. She said that, bit by bit, through brief conversations with our family and through articles and books we'd shared with her, she and her husband completely changed their diets. What was once an occasional visit for a gourmet turkey or chicken grew into a serious commitment to allowing us to provide most of the meat they eat.

Ultimately, marketing grassfed products with their numerous selling points is as challenging as selling a scam life insurance policy. The few seconds we get to speak to our customers is not enough time to fully educate them about our products. However, by engaging in the continual process of keeping them informed, we can be educating and marketing quietly, effectively and with ease.

Shannon Hayes, PhD., partners with her husband Bob and her parents, Jim and Adele, on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in upstate New York.