Fruit and Vegetable Marketing for Small-scale and Part-time Growers

Marketing is important to all farm enterprises, regardless of size. Some farmers, such as cash grain farmers or dairy farmers, have large, well-established markets. They can use existing organizations to perform the marketing function for them, or they can band together, form a cooperative, and market their products jointly.

Small-scale fruit and vegetable growers generally have more difficulty finding established markets; therefore, they usually develop marketing systems tailored to their own unique situations. It is strongly recommend that you identify and research your market before you become a fruit and vegetable grower.

Major Markets

Fruits and vegetables are produced seasonally, but the market requires products throughout the year. For many decades, this problem of matching product availability with consumer demand was solved by two methods: (1) selling fresh products during harvest and shortly thereafter, and (2) processing the rest to meet demand during the remainder of the year. As technology improved and consumer incomes increased, it became possible to provide fresh produce year-round. American consumers now expect fresh tomatoes, strawberries, and sweet corn every month of the year. In addition, a strong demand for processed fruits and vegetables remains.

Fresh Markets

Increased consumer incomes and year-round demand for fresh produce force retailers or their representatives to establish buying points both in different climatic regions of
the United States and in foreign countries. Some retailers make year-round contracts with fresh fruit and vegetable packers, who may contract with growers. The contracts and large-volume buying practices enable packers to obtain sufficient quantities of individual products.

Large fresh fruit and vegetable packers may contract with growers in several different production regions to ensure that fresh fruits and vegetables are available every week of the year. These packers contract only in regions with a large number of growers. Further, they contract mainly with the largest growers, even in concentrated production regions.

Some packers ensure supplies by growing commodities themselves. Large retailers and packers are unlikely to purchase products directly from a single, small-scale grower, especially a grower in a remote production area.

As a small-scale fresh fruit and vegetable grower, you may consider selling directly to retailers. Although some chain stores and independent retailers have buy-local
programs for fresh produce, such stores and programs are not common. You must develop your own marketing system.
In effect, you must become the grower, packer, and wholesaler.

This publication was developed by the Small and Part-time Farming Project at Penn State with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Extension Service.

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