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bumpkin

Selling research crops to local restaurants

7 posts in this topic

I am an entrepreneur trying to increase the availability of local food through new technology. My innovation has the potential to dramatically reduce the cost of greenhouse vegetables like tomatoes, strawberries, and cucumbers. Unfortunately, I have quite a bit of experimentation left before I can perfect those crops and I need to pay the bills. I'm able to grow microgreens, baby greens, herbs, and other small plants right now without any problem. I can offer them for quite a discount from current market prices.

My problem is that I know nothing about the food service industry or how to sell to restaurants. I've read lots of article about how to go about it, but I don't feel they apply to me. I'm not large enough to sell to a big distributor, and I'm not a small romantic farm. The operation is more like a really small science lab. The crops aren't technically organic because hydroponics does not fit within the definition. However, there is no use of pesticides and it's very efficient in terms of water and electricity usage (I'm not doing genetic engineering either).

My ideal situation would be to find 5 - 10 restaurants in my local area and grow something they need throughout the year. This way, I can pay the bills but continue my research into the larger crops. Everyone says to take a sample, but if I take something the chef doesn't need, then I'm left awkwardly explaining that I can grow whatever he needs for a cheap price. Frankly, I just think that would sound sketchy.

So my dilemma is how to sell a platform or a concept. Do I highlight the research aspect and that it can save them money in the long run? Do I focus on being able to offer them specialty crops at good prices? Do I take a sample and hope it's something they like and need? I'm not sure if my non-organic explanation will go over well.

Also, if any of you have general tips for selling to chefs I'd appreciate it. What times are best? Should I call or email first to set up a meeting? Searching strategy for finding restaurants most likely to be supportive?

Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

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Contact your local restaurant association for referrals....but start with your backyard, so to speak. Do you have favorite restos? Pitch to those chefs first, aiming for products already used on their menus. Do some price research as well....what is the prevailing wholesale price for your items in your market? Are you really cheaper than, say, Restaurant Depot or Sysco or the average produce wholesaler in your area? Know before you walk in the door to talk to a chef...he/she won't appreciate having his time wasted if you claim to be cheaper but have no real clue about prevailing area prices or can't provide a sufficient volume on a consistent basis.

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Great point on price research and starting in my backyard. How do I find out about volume before I go in the door? Or, how can I find out about volume generally?

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I can offer them for quite a discount from current market prices.

Are you SURE about that? Restaurants don't pay NEARLY what customers pay in grocery stores. At our place, we buy our greens by the bushel. (Literally, we buy one bushel at a time. And sometimes 2/3 bushel boxes. For things like frisee, mizuna and mesclune, we go through a few bushels a week. For things like micro-cilantro, maybe half a bushel a week. Basil, about a bushel. Thyme, at least a bushel. Much of our greens come from hydroponics outfits here in Las Vegas. We're already on board with hydroponics.

We serve between 200 and 500 covers a day, high-end fine dining.

I'd call a restaurant that I like on a slow day and ask for the chef who does the ordering. Ask him or her what they pay for the items you can provide. They should be very happy to help you with that. As long as it's a slow day (Mon-Thurs), long before service starts. (If they're dinner only, call them around noon. If they serve lunch, too, call in the morning.)


Edited by ScoopKW (log)

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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I can offer them for quite a discount from current market prices.

Are you SURE about that?

I can grow microgreens for $0.34 per pound. I don't know about other crops because they have different yields per square footage (also not sure about bushels). But I've actually observed and recorded my costs for microgreens. I know roughly how much it costs hyrdoponic operations to grow microgreens, and I start out at a much better position. My comparisons do not include costs for labor and delivery, but they come down with scale. So, I'm reasonably sure I can beat anyone on price without sacrificing on quality. The cost savings of my technology really comes into focus when I'm growing larger crops, so it is possible that the difference is not as dramatic with the other small crops you mention as it would be with tomatoes or cucumbers.

When I call, is the best approach to say I'm a farmer trying to do research on what to grow (which is true)? I'm starting to understand from this thread that I should just have as many conversations with chefs as possible. Do they need to hear my explanation of the technology, or will they be happy to just talk to a farmer if I'm nice enough?

Thanks so much for your reply.

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Any chef worth his toque will be happy to talk to a local farmer. Call a few during slow times (before service on a slow day) and ask to set up a time to talk -- whether in person or by phone. You might not get to talk to a chef the first time you call -- because they're busy making sauces and doing prep. Even then, you should be able to get a "I can give you half-an-hour on Thursday at noon" commitment from him or her.


Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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Great, thanks ScoopKW! I really appreciate your help.

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