Four Reasons We Think Buyers Clubs are Awesome

Sylvanaqua has adopted an unusual marketing model in which we forego the traditional avenues of Farmers Markets and CSA, instead focusing consumer sales almost exclusively on buyers clubs. This is the third part of a three-part series explaining the pitfalls of Farmers Markets and CSA, and the benefits of Buyers Clubs.

Links to the other articles in the series:
Part I: Five Reasons Sylvanaqua doesn’t do Farmers Markets
Part II: Four Reasons Sylvanaqua doesn’t do CSA

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Buyers Clubs are an increasingly popular means of direct marketing from farmers to consumers. It works like this: buyers select the club they want to join (there might be a club for your subdivision, office, school, gym, etc.), select the food items they want from the website, then pick up their orders every month or so from the club’s designated pick up location. It combines the best elements of farmers markets and CSA without any of the pitfalls. Here’s how:

1. It saves everyone time

Buyers clubs introduce a great big convenience that neither farmers markets, nor CSA, nor even supermarkets offer: the ability to avoid markets entirely.

Going to a market, whether its a supermarket or a farmers market, is pretty much the best way to suck two or three hours out of your weekend; and that’s two or three hours you’d rather spend doing practically anything else. You have to fight traffic to get there, find parking, deal with the shopping cart traffic jams in the aisles, wait an eternity in line to check out, then actually check out, lug the stuff back to your car hoping you don’t get run over in the process, and then fight traffic all the way home. And God help you if you have to do all of this with kids in tow. It’s just plain awful.

Buyers clubs make this process infinitely easier. You pick the foods you want online throughout the month, then at the end of the month you just pick up your order right at the office, gym, church, neighbor’s house, or apartment lobby. Most of the time it’s just an extra five minutes tacked onto something you were already doing anyway.

It saves the farmer time, too. When produce is added to inventory, it’s added to the website and made available to the clubs to purchase. From there the website handles inventory. No more guessing what should and shouldn’t go to the farmers market, no more dividing product between hundreds or thousands of shares, quarter-shares, double-shares, etc., and no more 60+ man-hour odysseys to prep for, set up, run, take down, get home from, and account for farmers markets.

2. Producers can (and must) partner with one another

After reading #1, you’re probably thinking that the buyers club for a single farm can’t possibly match the variety offered by supermarkets and farmers markets. While that’s probably true of the supermarket, producers can easily join forces to offer variety rivaling or even surpassing that of farmers markets. Sylvanaqua, for example, will partner with a local grass-fed dairy, a grass-fed beef producer, an organic bakery, an organic spice shop, and even a natural apothecary to compliment our own core offerings of poultry, pork, eggs, honey, and produce.

This method allows farmers with the technical skills and marketing ability to act as a food hub without turning distribution over to non-producers. The producer-only clauses that pervade farmers markets generally keep this from happening. They reduce both the variety and quantity of goods available to consumers, and give the supermarket yet another advantage when competing for that all important “culinary swing voter.”

3. The price premium of naturally raised food finally gets a short term justification

One of the great things about natural food is that its price is holistic. It doesn’t have its price artificially lowered by burying hidden costs in your health bills, tax assessments, and inflation. Unfortunately, we’re both culturally and biologically wired to think almost exclusively in the short term, and to think that a magical firewall exists between food/food-production, and health/environment/society. We look at a $2/lb broiler at the supermarket, and a $4/lb broiler from a natural farm, and we think the only difference is the price.

We don’t look “behind the chicken” and see that $2 is keeping your tax bill high because of the environmental cleanup required to deal with nitrogen runoff from confinement poultry houses. We don’t see that our water bills are going up because, with all the nitrogen and other pollutants from industrial-agro production flowing into watersheds, water is getting harder and harder to treat for human consumption. We don’t see that gasoline and electricity are getting more expensive because consumer use of the grid is competing with that water treatment facility that’s using more and more fossils to treat the water that’s poisoned by the factory farm so you could have your $2 chicken. And we certainly don’t connect that $2 chicken with the astronomical medical bills we’ll face when we’re older because of what we’re putting in our bodies. Human beings simply aren’t wired to think that way.

With buyers clubs, however, we’re suddenly able to justify the price premium with more than just long term benefits. Now we get to attach immediate benefits: The convenience and time savings of avoiding the supermarket; delivery of food at your home, office, or other convenient location; a food supplier that can respond immediately to the specific needs of your particular club. And speaking of responding to particular clubs…

4. Farmers can be very responsive to the needs of your club

The great thing about buyers clubs is that you can form them for practically any purpose or convenience, and the farmers can tailor the food selections to your particular club. While many clubs are created in neighborhoods, offices, and apartments just for the convenience, there’s no reason that you can’t form a specialty club.

Here are some examples: If you’re big into fitness and bodybuilding, your club could inform the farmer that you have a bottomless need for boneless skinless chicken breast, hyper-lean red meat (like bison), and veggies. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, you may want to request an much-larger-than-usual selection of fruits, veggies, and baked goods. Or perhaps you’re starting a buyers club in a Jamaican neighborhood and need a constant supply of goat, stewing chickens, and hot peppers.

The bottom line is, if you can find just nine or ten people with food needs similar to yours who are willing to spend an average of $100 a month on their core groceries*, you’ll have a direct line to a producer who will either grow or procure whatever you want. No supermarket, farmers market, or CSA can match that level of service.

*In order for buyers clubs to be economical for us, they need to generate a certain minimum amount of business. We require that each buyers club purchase an average $1,000 or more worth of product per month, which is $100/month per person if there are ten people in your club (the average is computed every three months). The bigger your club, the easier it is to meet the minimums because we don’t increase them as the size of your club increases. Members also receive discounts for referrals and farm visits. Not a bad deal at all.

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Like what you see? More information on starting and joining buyers clubs will be coming shortly! Or check out the Five Reasons Sylvanaqua doesn’t do Farmers Markets, and the Four Reasons Sylvanaqua Doesn’t do CSA.

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