Fresh produce; produce

Marketing tips: Your road map to successful fresh produce marketing

Every fresh produce farmer must have a plan for how he’s going to sell his crops.

Your marketing plan is like a road map that guides you through the steps of marketing so that you can successfully sell your fresh produce. It gives you “check points” to provide direction, measure your actions and achieve your objectives.

Here are a few tips for creating a good marketing plan:

  • Keep it simple. The more complicated you make it, the more difficult it will be to make it work and the easier it is for things to go wrong.
  • Keep it focused. Concentrate on the important things first and leave the other not-so-important things for later.
  • Plan in advance. It doesn’t help to start looking for things like packaging or transport when you’ve already started harvesting. Everything should be planned so that, when picking starts, you’re ready to market your products. Early planning is also important for your cash flow; it helps you to see when you’ll need to spend money and how much. It also helps you to see when you can expect money to come in. When you know these things you can control your money and your farming much better.
  • Use your marketing plan. A marketing plan shows your market agent and other customers that you’re in control of your business and therefore a reliable supplier. In marketing, a reliable supplier is very important.


A marketing plan gives you direction and provides a benchmark from which to measure your actions.

Let’s look at the 10 components that should be included in your marketing plan. Any marketing plan should start at the end – with the consumer.

Find out:

  • What people want
  • What they eat
  • What they like
  • What they don’t like
  • When they like it
  • How they like it
  • How much they’re prepared to pay for it.

Once you know what the consumer wants, you can decide on the crop. Don’t try to grow too many things at once – it’s better to specialise in a few crops and do them well.

Learn as much as possible about the crops you plan to grow:

  • Ask the seed/seedling suppliers which varieties are best for consumers, for good shelf-life, for efficient transportation and for the soil type and climate in your area.
  • Are the crops suitable for your growing conditions, in terms of sunlight, shade, heat, cold, frost, ground slope and so forth?
  • When are the best times to market, and when are the best times to grow? Talk to your market agent. Use a sowing card as your guide. Ask your seed supplier.


When it comes to production you need to check the following:

  • Is there enough land having the right soils to grow the crop profitably?
  • Is there enough water and is it easily available and clean?
  • Do you have the right fertiliser plan for the crop, as determined by soil analysis?
  • Do you have a crop protection plan to handle pests and diseases?
  • When are the growing and picking times?
  • Are there any special picking or handling requirements for the crop?
  • Is there enough labour to do the job and are they trained?
  • Do you have the right equipment and tools for the job?


During harvesting, the crop is affected by 3 important things: Temperature, time and handling.

  • Everything you do to a crop must be done as quickly and carefully as possible. The crop must be kept cool at all times.
  • Cool weather, fast picking and careful handling will result in good-quality produce that has a longer shelf life. This, in turn, will produce better prices.
  • Hot weather, slow picking and poor handling, however, will mean poor-quality produce with a shorter shelf life, which generates lower prices. So, try to pick in the morning when it is cool.

When it comes to sorting and grading:

  • A crop that has mud or chemicals on it must be washed or cleaned first.
  • Ensure the crop is dry before packing.
  • Don’t dry the crop in direct sunlight.

Grade the fruit: Separate the best from the worst, according to sizes and ripeness.

Also read: Sorting, washing, grading and packing your fresh produce


  • Ensure you use the right container and that it’s properly filled, but not overfull.
  • The product must be firmly packed – not squeezed into the container.
  • Don’t mix sizes, colours or grades.
  • After packing, store in a cool place.
  • Packaging is expensive if you use it badly, and cheap or poor packaging will give you cheap prices.
  • When choosing packaging, match the cost of the packaging with the value of the crop.
  • Remember that the packaging should protect the product and make it look good.
  • Mark every container with your name and contact details as well as what it contains, giving the variety, grade, size and mass.

Also read: Understand the basic functions of fresh produce packaging


  • Use the right transport for the load and combine with other farmers to reduce costs.
  • Make sure the transport is reliable, products are protected from weather and the load goes with a delivery note giving all your information.
  • Don’t put heavy or thick plastic tarpaulins over the load during the hot, summer months and don’t leave loads open in the cold, winter months.

Also read: Transporting fresh produce


There are numerous marketing channels, or options, for selling products. The quality and quantity of your production will help you decide which marketing channel to use. The bigger your production, the more channels you can use.

Here’s a list of the various channels:
Farm gate – Customers come to the farm to buy from you. (A good option for small-scale and new farmers.)
Local sales – You deliver and supply people and businesses in your local community. (A good option for small-scale and new farmers.)
Fresh produce markets – Choose one or more to suit your needs. (Good for farmers who have more experience and an ongoing, regular, supply.)
Factories/processing – You supply on contract to a factory or processor. (Farmers supplying factories usually specialise in a specific crop.)
Direct sales – You enter into contracts to supply supermarkets or wholesalers. (A good option for bigger farmers with more experience, better quality and continuity.)
Exports – Top-quality products are supplied to customers overseas. (Exports are best for bigger, high-quality farmers or those who specialise in niche crops.)
Value-adding – You process or pack your own products in a way that adds value to them, eg pre-packs, different offerings of the same product, drying etc. (Good for special crops or markets, if you have the volume.)

Also read: The fresh produce supply chain


Promotion doesn’t have to be expensive – it just needs good management.

Good promotion depends on:

  • The quality of the product
  • Packaging and grading, and
  • Continuity of supply

Also read:
How quality improves fresh produce sales
Continuity of fresh produce supply is essential


A farmer must know what every step in the marketing chain is costing him/her.

It’s equally important to know how much money he/she is making from each of the marketing channels:

  • Keep good records of everything you buy and use.
  • Get more than one quotation and price.
  • Ensure each section is costed separately.
  • Check and review your costs regularly.
  • Keep tight control over your costs.
  • Stay within your budget.
  • Check and review income regularly.
  • Build up a reserve for bad times.

Also read: What happens to fruit after the harvest?

  • This article was written by Michael Cordes and first appeared in Farming SA.

share this