Branding program sets Gavin farm apart from the others

Gloria Hafemeister
Jenni, Jim and Matt Gavin operate Gavin Farms, marketing their own beef and other products from their farm store and on line.

REEDSBURG – The best way to direct market meat, veggies or other products directly from the farm is to develop a branding program that sets your product apart from others, according to Jenni Gavin who, with her husband and brother-in-law markets beef and other products from their Reedsburg area farm.

Jenni and Jim Gavin and Matt Gavin raise 65 pairs of red Angus and a few Hereford crosses on their family’s farm that had formerly been run as a dairy.

During the last in a series of Heart of the Farm – online Coffee Chats, Gavin shared how she and her husband developed a brand and began to market their beef directly to consumers.

They recently opened a farm store where they market their beef as well as other local food products.

The coffee chats were sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension’s Heart of the Farm-Women in Agriculture program to address the needs of farm women by providing education on farm business topics, connecting them with agricultural resources and creating support networks.

Gavin believes in the importance of being a force for good in their community and they encourage customers and potential customers to get to know them as farmers.

“Knowing where your food comes from and how it is cared for, closes the gap between farm and table,” she says. 

In an effort to build their customer base Gavin adopted a branding strategy that includes a logo that is used in farm signage, packaging, social media and anything else that is related to the meat they are marketing.

The idea for branding came when she and her husband Jim hired someone to design some things for their wedding.  Around the same time they were introduced by their lender to the book, “Start with Why?”

They developed a whole branding concept that included visuals that are used on the farm sign, in the packaging, on social media and anywhere they are promoting their home-grown beef.

That involved working with their meat processor on the labeling.

“It would have been less expensive to use the processor’s packaging but we were advised that for branding and a logo to work it needs to be carried through in every aspect of the business,” she says.  “We tried to work with the processor, though, so it would fit in with his system.”

The Gavin farm at Reedsburg was formerly a dairy farm and the family now raises beef and direct markets their meat to consumers in the area.

Another way they grew their business was by hosting some events on the farm to help their customers and potential customers understand how they raise their animals and to get to know them as a family.

An additional step they took as their business grew was to renovate the old milk house on their farm to use for their meat freezers.  They took it a little further by including other local products in the on-farm store including gift boxes that include their products together with other locally grown products.

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Along with that, they began working with a local winery, providing meat for the winery’s restaurant and selling the winery’s products in their store.

Gavin admits, “Branding is a huge investment.  Everyone wants to have their own branding but they need to understand it and how to make it work.”

She admits it was a bit of a challenge getting her husband to understand the value of the investment in branding.

Other challenges they faced include managing their time with the increased business and promotional activities.  She promotes the business on social media and that can be time-consuming but she says, “We focus on quality rather than quantity when it comes to posting things on social media.”

According to Gavin, “Building relationships and working with others to make it all work takes time.  Nothing happens overnight.  Everyone must start somewhere.”

She also notes, “If you are considering getting into a new venture don’t be afraid to ask others in the business who have been successful.  Most people are willing to share their ideas with other farmers.”

The participants in the coffee chat had lots of questions for Gavin including questions about insurance and licensing.  She suggested contacting the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection for guidelines and requirements for marketing meat directly to consumers.

Marketing whole, half and quarters of beef is a relatively simple process but when a farm includes individually wrapped packages kept in a freezer on the farm there are additional requirements regarding licensing and inspections.

As far as other regulations she suggested talking with the local township and county about any requirements or restrictions relating to on-farm events or stores.

As far as the questions about promoting on-farm products, she says, “Make sure you ask your customers what they want.”

She notes, “Like everyone else, we were challenged by the pandemic but I also think it generated more interest among consumers in locally produced food.

Since putting the extra effort into marketing and branding and because of their continuing effort to build new relationships their beef sales has increased dramatically.

That has resulted in the need to reserve a spot at the meat processor as far out as three years. That can be a challenge because farmers don’t always know exactly when their animals will be ready for processing.

They have currently reserved those spots and they say if something goes wrong and they don’t have an animal ready for processing at the reserved time some other farmer will be able to use that spot.

Many of the participants had questions about how the Gavins price their product.

Gavin says that in the beginning they marketed their beef according to what the going price was in local meat markets.  As they built their reputation for quality, they realized their product is worth more because it is fresh and local and, if interested, customers are able to come to the farm to learn firsthand how the animals are raised. 

They believe those things add some value to the product and they have found customers are willing to pay for that.