AUBURN, Alabama–With another growing season under way, Alabama’s fruit and vegetable producers should consider less well-known marketing options to sell their harvest. Kevin Burkett, an agribusiness management specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System said while farmers markets, grocery stores, roadside stands and wholesale distribution are good options, they are not the only marketing outlets available to farmers.
“Producers may want to give serious consideration to options that may be more viable now because of current trends,” said Burkett. “The more distribution avenues that producers have enhances their opportunities to be successful.”
Burkett said that the expansion of wineries, breweries and distilleries across Alabama is an option ripe with possibilities.
“As trends like local food and local brewing expand, products produced and sourced within the state can be immensely popular,” he said. “While prices would generally be in line with wholesale prices, this can still provide a unique opportunity for farms especially if it has produce that it will be unable to sell.”
Typically, these businesses use only fruits in their processing but there is a wide variety of produce that they can use.
“Alabama crops such as peaches, various berries, apples, citrus, melons, plums, muscadines and pecans can all be used.”
Fruit growers should reach out to area wineries, breweries and distilleries to ascertain the needs.
Burkett acknowledges that for beer and wine flavorings, it may not be a large quantity.
“One advantage these markets offer is that they are able to use fruit sometimes long after it is unsellable at the farm or local market,” he said. “If the fruit is no longer marketable on the fresh market, the beverage industry sometimes can salvage and use it.”
Distillers are popping up across the state thanks to recent law clarifications. Burkett said that distilled products such as brandy and spirits use greater quantities of fruit.
“Producers will be responsible for getting their crop to the business so they might make drop-offs after a day at the local farmers market.”
Christy Mendoza, director of Alabama Extension’s Chilton Food Innovation Center in Clanton, Ala., said farmers can boost their operation’s profitability by marketing value-added products.
“Value-added products are a good strategy to enhance farm revenues,” said Mendoza. “For example, fruits and vegetables processed into new products like jellies or salsas.”
She explained that they can be marketed in new and different areas than the fresh produce. In addition, farmers can capture more of the food dollar.
“Perfect peaches may be unsellable after a hot day in an open, fresh market,” she said. “But processing can transform culled and over-ripe fruit into products that add both value and shelf-life to the peaches.”
She said many fresh fruits and vegetables can find a new identity in some type of processed product.
- Jam, jellies and preserves
- Salsas and sauces
- Pickles and relishes
- Dried and frozen produce
- Pie fillings
Mendoza noted there are a number of options to making value-added products. One option is to hire a company or business that already produces similar products to do the work. Another option is for the producer to become a food processor.
“This option requires more training for farmers and producers, but it also allows for improved quality.”
Mendoza added that both ways involve start up costs.
Opened in 2010, the Chilton Food Innovation Center provides producers with a commercial kitchen and processing facility to create value-added products. Fruit and vegetable growers create new without the cost of equipping a commercial kitchen. The 2,000 sq. ft. building contains processing equipment, a small office, storage space and packaging supplies.
Mendoza said facility fees run $40 an hour. Considering the added shelflife of value-added products, producers can recoup costs through the additional sales gained.
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