market; fresh; produce; storage; exporting; quality

Marketing tips: Supplying fresh produce markets

We’ve seen that successful fresh produce marketing is a lot like going to school… starting at the bottom and working through the grades, gaining knowledge and experience as we go. In this article we look at the next important ‘grade’.

The step up from the previous marketing options we covered is a lot bigger than most people realise. Many farmers have found – to their disappointment – that supplying a market is not as simple as sending them your product and getting a good price.

Also read: Options to market your fruit and vegetables

Many factors can affect how much money you make. But you are about to enter the best “learning institution” for fresh produce marketing, to be found anywhere.


A fresh produce market is the big time – this is where a farmer is exposed to the rough and tumble of real marketing; where you learn fast, or “die”. And this is where you will be “punished” by the “market” (in other words, the buyers) if you fail to supply quality products.

A market is a place where supply, demand and quality will determine the price; where quality is king; where a regular supply (continuity) builds good business; and where those who do not follow these basic rules will suffer in their pockets (poor prices).

Sadly, too many farmers do not understand or follow the rules, and usually blame the market or the market agent, the transporter, the weather, the economic situation, or anything else they can think of – except themselves.

Let’s look at the 3 keys to successful marketing on a fresh produce market:

  • Take responsibility for your products!
  • You know what quality you’ve produced, how you graded it and how you packed it.
  • Be realistic.
  • If that product is not up to standard, accept the fact and see what you can do to improve next time.


  • Understand that the buyer has no loyalty, except to himself.
  • He wants to buy the product at the lowest price possible because that’s how he makes money.
  • He isn’t going to pay more because you’re a “nice guy”, or because you think you’ve got the best on the market.
  • The buyer’s the best inspector of fresh produce in the world, because he’s using his own money and he will pay what your product is worth on any specific day – according to supply, demand and quality.


  • Learn from the market.
  • This is the best opportunity a farmer has to learn more about marketing his products.
  • Visit the market regularly, so that you can see what farmers from all over the country are doing.
  • Understand where your particular quality “fits into” the market; and what can be done to improve sorting, grading, packaging and presentation.
  • You’ll see farmers offering excellent products and understand why they get the best prices. You’ll see other farmers trying to sell terrible quality, and understand why they get the lowest prices – if any at all.
  • At a market, you’re in direct competition with other farmers and only the best will survive.
  • If your attitude is right and you see the market as a place where you can learn and build up a good, long-term business, you’ll succeed.
  • But, if you just complain all the time and don’t try to understand what a market is all about, you will be disappointed.
  • When you visit the market, ask your agent to show you the successful farmers and explain why they do better than average.

In every case there will be two fundamentals: quality and continuity of supply.
These farmers make sure only the best goes to market. Many of them separate their first-grade produce from the second grade so they will get the best prices, and they make sure they always have product on the market.

They don’t rush from one market to another chasing high prices like a dog chasing its tail because – just like the dog – they never catch those high prices.

  • Top farmers also understand the marketing laws of supply and demand.
  • When the product is in short supply the demand (price) goes up.
  • When it’s over-supplied, the demand (price) goes down.
  • They also know that these 2 market situations don’t last forever, but are constantly changing.

The secret is the average price. This is what puts money in the bank.

High prices are nice when you’re talking to your neighbour. Low prices are nice when you’re complaining to your bank manager about the “lousy” market. But it is the average that really counts. You can only get a good average by sending product to the market regularly, through all the ups and downs, no matter what!

Top-quality products are not easy to achieve. The weather, pests, diseases and many other challenges lie in your path, but it can be done. Many thousands of farmers, small and large, get it right and are successful. You can be too.

If you choose the fresh produce market option, you are entering the most exciting and challenging part of marketing your fruit or vege¬tables. It’s a truly stimulating experience – as long as you have your eyes open and are prepared to learn.

Make up your mind that this is where you’re going to graduate and become a real farmer – and don’t throw the opportunity away!

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

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