Choosing the Right Market Channel

Diversified farming means being experts in production and having a market for each product. How we plan to sell our products is just as important as deciding how we will grow them.
Choosing the Right Market Channel - Articles


"Simple" you say, "I'll sell them at the farmers market or through my CSA". Not so long ago, that option was a no-brainer, but today, many CSA's struggle to fill shareholder slots and vendor spaces may be limited at the farmers markets. Fortunately, there are many more channels for reaching your potential customer these days. But, we need a way to evaluate those channels so we can assess which ones might be best for our business and our quality of life.

Marketing what we grow can take up to thirty percent of our time, which is time away from farming. We need to ask ourselves:

  • "What markets will give me the greatest return on my time and amount of product sold?"
  • "Am I the right person to be marketing my product?"
  • "If I'm not the right person, who is"?

If you decide that you are the right (or only) person to do the marketing, then you need a way to figure out how you can have a diverse marketing plan and still have time to grow your products.

The goal should be to have a marketing plan that is just as diverse as the farm products you are offering.

Let's think about what channels you want to use to sell your products. Some market channels we pick because they appeal to us and others because they are a necessity. They aren't our favorite market outlets, but we feel we have to do them. An example might be farmers markets. Some folks love being at the market and others do not. But, if your goal is to build up your CSA or pick your own operation, then selling at a farmers market could be a short term marketing solution to get your farm's name out into the community. It is inexpensive advertising while selling your products as well.

Let's take a look at an exercise borrowed from the "Guide to Marketing Channel Selection" written by Matthew LeRoux, Agricultural Marketing Specialist, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County NY. This exercise can help you make some decisions about your marketing channels. On the left hand side of the chart we have the marketing channels our example farm is planning to use. We want to rank the channels against each other. "1" is the best criteria and "5" being the least favorable. Channels you feel are equal for a certain criteria are given the same number and the next number is skipped. After you rank the market channels, you can total up the scores, and give each channel a final ranking. The channel with a final ranking of "1" is the most favorable.

Marketing ChannelVolumePriceRiskLabor RequiredAssociation costsTotal ScoreFinal Rank
On-farm Stand41133122
Farmers Market32441144
Wholesale Distribution14314133

For our example farm, it looks like restaurants would be the preferable marketing channel. Over time, these rankings can change. For instance, if the volume of product sold increases for their on-farm sales then that channel may replace restaurants as the top ranking channel. We can also see that Wholesale Distribution ranks higher then Farmers Markets largely because of the labor associated with farmers markets, which can also change over time.

Finally, consider how each of the market channels will affect you personally. What is the perceived level of stress involved with supplying those market channels? What will it do to your (and your family's) quality of life? If need be, add that as a column to this exercise. It is just as important as the rest for a profitable and happy farming life.