Ohio vegetable growers will lose sales if they don’t familiarize themselves with buyer preferences.

That’s why Ohio State University developed, in conjunction with the University of Kentucky, the MarketReady program, said Julie Fox, direct-marketing specialist with OSU.

“It’s really intended to help these producers, whatever scale they’re selling in, to enter new markets,” Fox said.

OSU launched the program in pilot form last year.

A number of workshops already had brought together growers and a panels of buyers from retail, foodservice, wholesale and distribution centers.

Tim Woods, agriculture economist at the University of Kentucky, developed a curriculum based on interviews with about 115 buyers from various sectors,” Fox said.

“Based on that, we developed a checklist on things like packaging, pricing, liability — a really nice framework that we did a full day of training on with producers,” Fox said.

Buyer panels have question-and-answer sessions with growers to help the latter comprehend what it takes to be successful in each segment, Fox said.

“We like the framework so much that we recognized that producers had to ask themselves these same questions across marketing channels so that if you look at selling to a restaurant, whether that means packaging or look at pricing, you look at a restaurant’s price versus a grocery store’s price,” Fox said.

The program piloted a program this year to include direct-to-consumer channels, as well as the wholesale sector, Fox said.

Waste less time, money

Growers who are trained to know what buyers need save time, as well as make new sales, Fox said.

“They don’t waste too much time or waste too much money when they try to enter any new market,” she said.

It’s important because buyers from one sector will look for sizes, packaging, pricing and other issues that differ from their counterparts in another segment, Fox noted.

“If they want to be inside the restaurants, they really understood how restaurants operate, and if they want to go into independent grocery stores, they really understand how those stores operate,” she said.

Buyers want suppliers to be prepared before they meet.

The buyers have welcomed the program, Fox said.

“We give the curriculum to buyers, and they hug you because it’s exactly what they need,” Fox said.

Buyers don’t want to have to educate each supplier themselves, and MarketReady averts that necessity, Fox said.

“They want the producers to be prepared when they come to them,” she said.

MarketReady is not an Ohio-exclusive concept, Fox said, noting that about six states have launched programs like Ohio’s.

“It would be nice to have a consistent framework and checklist we can go to so it works from one state to another, across borders, without any differences,” she said. “It’s headed that way.”

Know how buyers operate

The first step for a supplier is to understand how an individual buyer operates, Fox said.

“Based on that, it goes to what product selection and supply do you have, the packaging and pricing, and then what’s the best distribution channel,” she said.

Growers who have the training can go to a buyer and up front list all the appropriate products, practices, safety certifications, liability coverage and other requirements the buyer may have.

“They are prepared when they meet with buyers, and that’s halfway to the sale,” Fox said.

MarketReady also has provided links between grower and Ohio’s farm-to-school programs, Fox said.

“What we plan on doing next year is a full-day curriculum on the school market, where we’ll introduce producers to buyers and tell them how they operate,” Fox said.

If growers want to deal with distributors who in turn sell product to schools, they can receive that kind of training, Fox said.

The beauty of MarketReady is that it is adaptable to any supply channel, Fox said.

“The framework is so solid that the goal is to make it easy for producers to evaluate different marketing channels, to become so familiar with things like packaging, liability and what it means for their marketing,” she said.