Gainesville, Fla. – Small- and mid-sized growers often cite marketing as one of their greatest challenges. Yet, there never seems to be enough time or money to promote your products directly to those who may want to purchase them. Florida MarketMaker and Florida Food Connect are two resources managed by UF/IFAS that aim to help alleviate the burden of marketing for Florida’s growers. While Florida MarketMaker unites growers with potential markets throughout the state, Florida Food Connect is a tool that links schools with the local producers who can meet their needs.
Florida MarketMaker provides a free and simple, yet powerful, web-based search tool to connect with others across the food production and distribution chain. It is the largest and most in-depth food-related database of its kind, featuring a diverse community of more than 81,000 Florida businesses: farmers/ranchers, fisheries, seafood dealers, farmers markets, food hubs, food pantries, processors/packers, wholesalers, retailers, distributors, wineries, restaurants and other types of buyers.
Essentially, MarketMaker gives growers the power to create their own searchable websites, opening the door for a flood of buyers to discover them.
Florida MarketMaker has operated in Florida since 2009. But recent developments have led to improvements and increased capabilities for marketing and market research. This month, Florida MarketMaker released a new version, intended to make the website more user-friendly and increase functionality. UF/IFAS Extension partnered with a nonprofit organization, Riverside Research, to collaborate on further development of this website as a solution that aims to alleviate marketing challenges for growers in the digital age.
Even though there are only 320 grower profiles in the system, many of the growers who use MarketMaker have made long-lasting relationships, especially with wholesalers, retailers, and local restaurants. For example, Florida Meat Company, an Ocala ranching firm with a profile in Florida Marketmaker since 2010, has received more than 5,600 views from potential buyers. Pappy’s Patch, a U-Pick strawberry and blueberry farm in Oviedo, received more than 2,000 views from interested customers.
“We urge more growers throughout the state, regardless of scale to develop a profile in MarketMaker. The resource becomes more valuable to everyone as the number of growers in the system increases,” says Wendi Bellows, the Florida MarketMaker Coordinator at the University of Florida. She explains, “We are beginning to see that MarketMaker as a win/win scenario for all in the food supply chain because producers can easily connect with buyers and buyers can source from more growers in their state, thus boosting sales on both ends – ultimately benefitting local economies.”
Here’s how it works: Growers register their businesses in MarketMaker because food buyers of all types access the database to find products and services to meet their specific needs. Through MarketMaker, producers can reach more buyers and more efficiently form profitable business alliances. Growers can differentiate their businesses by categorizing their produce and affiliating with specific labels or industry. Buyers can use MarketMaker to find more suppliers of differentiated, high-quality products leading to more efficient sourcing and higher margins.
Consumers use MarketMaker to find suppliers selling what they need. When conducting a search, the search engine shows the results on a map. Once in the system, growers’ profiles are easily discovered by many types of buyers, opening the door for new types of business relationships. Growers who sell direct to consumers can also easily advertise their products on the Buy/Sell forum.
Once growers have registered in MarketMaker, they will also be featured in Florida Food Connect, the portal for Farm to School because the two sites are intricately linked. Growers interested in selling products to use in school cafeterias can easily make connections with distributors, school district food services, and individual schools looking to source regionally. In the coming year, Florida MarketMaker will merge with Florida Food Connect.
Florida Food MarketMaker is at: fl.foodmarketmaker.com; Florida Food Connect is at: http://flfoodconnect.com/.
If you would like more information about this topic or need help getting started on Florida MarketMaker, please contact Wendi Bellows at 352-294-7667 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact: Wendi Bellows, 352-294-7667, email@example.com