The survey, which was funded by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship's Choose Iowa Promotional Grant program, was completed by 210 niche meat producers, including:
- 131 livestock farmers selling direct-to-consumer
- 53 direct-to-consumer meat brands
- 17 small meat processors (with harvest capabilities)
- 5 small meat processors (butcher shops without harvest capabilities)
The respondents represented 31 states, and 53% had an ecommerce store at the time of the survey.Growing their Business
When asked about the most important factors influencing the growth of their business, respondents indicated that "finding new customers" was the top priority, with 72% of respondents marking it as one of their top 3 priorities.
Second and third priorities were decreasing cost of production and decreasing time and labor needs, respectively.
Adding or improving the shipping process and creating or improving their online store were marked as the 4th and 5th priorities.Marketing Strategies
The survey respondents overwhelmingly favored word of mouth
as "most effective to drive sales," followed by social media and email marketing.
However, at least 37% of respondents with an online store do not use Google analytics to track their traffic and orders, which brings into doubt the accuracy of their self-reported marketing channels.
In addition, less than 2/3 (61%) of the respondents use email marketing, while nearly 88% use social media, which may also skew the data.Challenges related to Online Stores
While the majority of respondents with an online store indicated that setting up and managing their stores was very or somewhat difficult, the main challenge identified was "increasing sales."
Forty percent (40%) of respondents with online stores said that increasing sales was very difficult, and 43% said that it was somewhat difficult.
"These results have shown us that niche meat producers needs go beyond technology," says Katie Olthoff, ChopLocal's co-founder. "Small businesses selling meat online need additional hlep with conversion rate optimization, search engine optimization, and digital marketing."
Despite the perception that increasing sales through online stores is difficult, respondents indicated that 43% of their sales come through their online store, on average.Differences between Platforms
Over 50% of respondents were using the same online platform (Platform X) for their ecommerce store. When separated out from other platforms, including ChopLocal, users of Platform X indicated that setting up and managing their stores was easier, but more users (50%) marked that increasing sales was very difficult.
This difference in platforms was also evident when looking at sales volume data.
Livestock farmers without an online store averaged approximately $47,000 in meat sales annually. Users of Platform X averaged nearly $57,000, and users of all other ecommerce platforms, including ChopLocal, averaged $101,944 in sales.Technology Needs
Additional survey questions focused on shipping frozen meat and software tools and features needed by niche meat producers. ChopLocal has used the answers to these questions to design educational materials and plan the company's software development roadmap.