Learning the ropes

Many people think that when they plan to market their fruit or vegetables, their first stop should be a supermarket.

I don’t have a problem with supplying XYZ supermarket, but can first-timers fulfil its requirements? Can they produce the quality and continuity that will be demanded? Can they negotiate the best deal for themselves? I recently listened to a presentation by a senior executive of Massfresh – part of Massmart/Walmart. He gave a glowing overview of how the company plans to invest many millions in training and upliftment and will then give small-scale farmers a fixed commitment to take their produce. All very commendable. What I especially like is that the company is starting at the right end – training and upliftment.

Learning process
However, I still believe first-timers should go through a marketing learning process just as their successful colleagues have all done. When you’ve reached the marketing level where you want to venture beyond the boundaries of your farm and local community, you need to understand you’re entering the tough but potentially rewarding world of fresh produce marketing. And there’s no better place to learn about the many demanding requirements of marketing than a market floor. This is where you’ll have to compete with your fellow farmers and where quality reigns supreme.

You’ll quickly learn about the vagaries of supply and demand and the very fickle nature of buyers. This is where you’ll be ‘punished’ by the buyers if you don’t meet their standards. And the punishment takes the form of either lower prices or no sales at all.

Don’t be fooled
Don’t be fooled by the sweet talk of XYZ supermarket – it can also be ruthless with its suppliers because, in the final analysis, it’s the bottom line that counts. On a market, the farmer at least has an agent whose interest is to get the best price possible for their client. And that’s the fundamental but critical difference between the two systems.When you’re a first-timer you need the reassurance that, not only will your market agent get you the best price they can, but that your money is also guaranteed in the event of any skulduggery by the agent.

Contact Mike Cordes at
[email protected]. Please state ‘Market floor’ in the subject line of your email.