Value Added Products
|Sheep rancher Jeanne Carver developed a line of woolen garments such as fleece vests featuring their Oregon-raised wool, adding value to a typically low-priced commodity. – Photo courtesy Imperial Stock Ranch|
In 1986, Earnie and Martha Bohner began making jam in rented facilities near their farm in southern Missouri. Since then, Persimmon Hill Berry Farm has built a processing kitchen to make value-added products, from jams to sauces. To create specialty items that would appeal to customers, the Bohners did their homework. First, they worked with a chef to perfect recipes for jams and barbecue sauce. Later, with a SARE grant, they sought ways to add value to shiitake mushrooms. After market research, including detailed cost comparisons, showed that freeze-drying on site would be prohibitively expensive, the Bohners decided to dry their fresh shiitakes off-site, then convert the high-value product into a top-shelf shiitake soup mix.
“The development of new products is something we work at all of the time,” says Earnie Bohner. “New farm products and enterprises help keep us interesting to our return guests and give our first-time guests more motivation to come and see us.” Today, their sales of value-added products accounts for 50 percent of the farm’s gross income.
Processing fruits and shiitake mushrooms allows the Bohners to use “seconds,” extend their marketing season and diversify their marketing outlets.
Dan and Jeanne Carver diversified their central Oregon ranch by developing a variety of value-added products from their sheep flock. With a SARE farmer/ rancher grant, Jeanne Carver tested the market, then targeted lamb and wool sales toward high-end consumers and commercial buyers. Now, they sell Imperial Stock Ranch lamb to upscale restaurants in Bend, Ore., wool in yarn-and-pattern kits for hand knitters, and ready-to-wear woolen and lambskin fashions.
“Our customers love the quality of our product, the flavor profile of the meat, the feel of the wool, and the message of the land and sense of place,” Carver says.
Direct-marketing their lamb led to selling some of their main product – beef -- directly as well. “The marketing project has increased awareness and visibility of what we grow, how we grow it and, most importantly, how we manage the land,” says Dan Carver. “Once the chefs [buying Imperial Stock Ranch lamb] tour the ranch and see the roots of their product, they ask “How do we get your beef?’ The demand is there,” he notes, “but it will grow only as fast as our processing and distribution will allow.”
|To add value to local fare, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont developed pizza on-the-go featuring a portable oven and diverse products, from wheat to vegetables to meat. Lisa Harris of NOFA-VT demonstrates. – Photo by Lindsey Ketchel|
In the Northeast, where festivals proliferate, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT) used a SARE grant to research a variety of prepared foods for sale at fairs, festivals and farmers markets. Their goal was to develop a healthy value-added product that featured diverse local ingredients purchased directly from farmers and appealed to festival-goers. The answer turned out to be pizza.
To make it work, NOFA-VT needed a portable oven. They contracted with a Maine company that specializes in wood heating to build them a wood-fired French clay, copper-clad oven, with help from a USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant. They then set it on a trailer so it could be pulled from event to event by truck. In 2006, “Vermont Farmers’ Fare” began selling 12-inch pizzas made from Vermont-grown wheat, vegetables, cheese and meat.
The pizzas “are a big hit!” says Enid Wonnacott, NOFA-VT’s executive director. “No one can believe the crust is made, partially, from local wheat. One of our goals was to get local food on the radar screen of people who may not even think about the farms in their community and what is available from those farms.”
Wonnacott and others planned the portable pizza project to offer farmers a direct market benefit, and also to encourage them to sell their own value-added products. The oven also cooks bread, pies and even roasted vegetables.
Value-added opportunities are everywhere. Examine your product and brainstorm about how processing might increase its value. Fruit growers can dry their product or make wines, juices, vinegars, spreads, sauces, syrups and preserves. Grain growers might create cereals and baking mixes. Dairy operators can bottle milk or make cheese, while livestock producers might sell dried meat or specialty cuts.
When you add variety to your product line, you increase the choices presented to your customers and your chances for expanding your sales volume.
Some things to keep in mind when contemplating value-added products:
Consider projected costs and returns carefully before investing in specialized equipment for value-added products. Often it makes sense to work with a co-processor to test your market.
Some of the best value-added items make use of by-products or seconds.
Seek the experts. Consult with your state Extension Service, Department of Agriculture or small business groups about packaging, processing and recipe development.