Just like any business food co-ops need to make sure they are marketing:
- the right product
- to the right person
- at the right price
- in the right place
- and at the right time.
Product, Price, Place and Promotion are known as the '4 Ps' of marketing. The term 'marketing mix' means the combination of these factors that you need to consider when marketing your food co-op effectively to a particular customer group.
When you start to plan your marketing you first need to identify your target customers, i.e. the sort of people you think will shop at the food co-op.
For example, do you think most of your customers will be older people or families with young children? Are they likely to be of a particular ethnic background? Are they likely to be people living on low incomes or with a bit of cash to spare? You may not have a particular target group in mind, but it's useful to remember that a food co-op will find it hard to appeal to everyone at the same time. Unlike a large supermarket, you won't be able to supply everything that different people like to eat. You might choose to stick to just a narrow range of produce. Or if you want to appeal to a wide range of different people, you may need to operate in slightly different ways at different locations.
The type of food products you choose to sell will affect who you appeal to. Some examples of questions you might like to think about are as follows:
- Are you going to sell fruit and vegetables, wholefoods, or other products such as free-range eggs
- Are you going to sell organic food, locally grown food, or Fairtrade products, or are you not going to make a feature of such issues?
- Are you going to sell a wide range of exotic fruit and vegetables?
- Are you going to sell your products by weight so customers can buy as much as they want, or are they going to be pre-packed in bags or boxes?
The most important factor, whatever you sell, is to ensure that your products are fresh and of high quality. If the food you sell is damaged, out-of-date or poor quality, you will lose customers.
A product is only worth what a customer is prepared to pay for it. You don't necessarily have to sell the cheapest food in the area, but the price does need to be competitive. In most cases food co-ops are set up to try to provide food at a more affordable price than other local outlets, so many set their prices by making sure they are lower than the local supermarket. However, it is also very important to make sure you are covering all your costs. Work out your prices carefully by calculating your costs first (for example rent, bags, petrol, and buying food). Some food co-ops add little or no mark-up to the cost price to make their products as cheap as possible.
To reach as many customers as possible the place or premises where you sell your goods must be appropriate and convenient for your target group. For example if you are trying to appeal to older people it may be easier to deliver bags or run a stall at a sheltered housing scheme. Whereas if you are trying to target families it may be more convenient to have a stall or drop-off point at a school or children's centre (see the Premises section for more information).
You can promote your food co-op in lots of different ways. You could produce leaflets and posters, send out press releases, set up a website, have a big launch event, or run a special introductory offer. It is a good idea to use a combination of promotional methods to reach as many people as possible, but do bear in mind that promotion can be time-consuming and costly. Before you go ahead and print thousands of leaflets, think about what will be the most effective use of your time and money. If you only have very limited money, try to think of ways to get free publicity, for example:
- Write a short news item or feature and send it to the editor of the local newspaper or community newsletter. If you include an attractive photo, it is more likely to be used.
- Ask local organisations to include news of your food co-op on their websites.
- Prepare a promotional email and ask others to send it to their friends or colleagues to spread the word.
There is more information in this section about other promotional ideas.
Fruit and vegetable images that you can use to make your own marketing materials: