Marketing methods

Just like any business, a food co-op needs to market the right product, to the right person, at the right price, in the right place and at the right time. 

There are many different marketing strategies you might want to consider: creating posters & leaflets, engaging media, organising events, encouraging word of mouth, and using special offers and discounts. But first, think about your potential customers - who will shop at your co-op?

Do you think most will be older people, families with young children? Are they likely to be of a particular ethnic background? With a bit of cash to spare, or living on low incomes? What time are they likely to shop? You will likely find it hard to appeal to everyone at the same time - it is unlikely that you will have the range of a large supermarket and you might choose to stick to a fairly narrow range of produce. 

Once you’ve identified your target customers, have a think about the ‘4 Ps’ of marketing:

Product

The type of products you choose to sell will affect who you appeal to: 

  • Are you going to focus on organic or locally grown food, or is this not particularly important for you or your customers? 
  • Are you going to sell fruit and vegetables? Exotic produce? Hard-to-find ingredients that your customers are struggling to buy elsewhere? 
  • Are you going to sell your products by weight, so that customers can buy as much or as little as they want? 

Price

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.

Place

To reach as many customers as possible the 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).

Promotion

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 both 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. 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 - make sure you highlight what makes your co-op special
  • Post about your food co-op on local message boards and forums
  • Pubs, cafes and supermarkets often have a board where local services can be advertised
  • Social media, like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, can be incredibly useful tools

To find more useful food co-op related information visit our homepage

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Useful documents:

Fruit and vegetable images that you can use to make your own marketing materials:

Free publicity materials for fruit and veg co-ops
Sustain have free leaflets for food co-ops that have a full colour design on the front but are left blank on the back so you can add your own details. We also have large banners. To order copies e-mail: foodcoops@sustainweb.org

Food co-ops toolkit

The Food Co-ops Toolkit will give you all the information you need to set up your own food co-op.

Find out more

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Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.

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