Crushing It Selling Spice Blends and Vegetables Online (FSFS225)

If you’re a new farmer, you might not be sure where to sell your goods. And knowing there’s a multitude of platforms out there can be pretty overwhelming.

Today we have farmer Chaz Daughtry on the show to talk about the platform he uses for his farm produce and his spice business and the ups and downs of both! 


How did you get into farming? (1:50)

I was an agriculture major at Texas A&M in 2013. After I got my degree, I applied for law school, and while I was waiting, I started a small garden in my backyard. It was stress relief for me. After I went to school, I thought, “I want to do that agriculture thing,” so I tried new things on my garden which eventually turned into a 6-acre farm. Law is still something I still might pursue one day, but right now, it’s agriculture that’s really calling my name.


How do you sell? (3:00)

We’re in the inner city of Houston, so we’re kind of in the loop. We have people coming in from all around Houston to purchase the veggies. We do farmer’s markets as well. Our customer base is pretty much everybody as well as some restaurants around the Houston area.


Why’d you start selling online? (4:05)

I was initially hesitant on selling online. We were already making decent money doing farmer’s markets and deliveries, and I didn’t want to go online and have to pay a website designer.

Until we started noticing on social media that a lot of the barbecue pop-ups use Square site. So, I did my research and found that it was pretty simple and practically already set up. Plus, it was convenient because it was already linked to my Square Reader that I use for the farmer’s market, so I kind of already have a lot of my data from there, too.


How are you going about orders and deliveries? (5:35)

We’re still getting used to deliveries since we just started recently. We get our orders through social media and the site, and going online and setting up a square site was one of the best decisions I made because we were able to bring in more traffic to the farm. When we post on social media, the people who normally see us in farmer’s markets message us for produce saying they could come over and pick them up right away. It was something that helped the brand expand that didn’t mess up what we already had before.

Though if we try to serve for example around a thousand people, this probably won’t be the site for us since it’s a little limited. But it’s perfect for us who are just starting out. Anybody can figure this out, it’s very user-friendly.


What are some limitations of the Square online store? (8:40)

There are a lot more features in the Squarespace I use for my spice company—you could go and edit things, make unique pages your customers could go through, create unique sales, there’s a lot. On the other hand, the Square site just lets you post your products and the price. There aren’t a lot of complicated features which is great for people who just want to test the waters, but I think this will stick with us for a while because it works well for us. Although if we continue to grow with this, we might have to switch to a different site.


What are some of the big differences between selling online and in a farmer’s market? (10:20)

When you’re selling in person, you can talk to people, tell them about your farm, tell them about how you grow the produce. So when customers see produce that’s a little scratched up but it still juicy, still flavorful, they’ll still get it because they know where they’re getting it from. On the other hand, when you’re selling produce online to a person you never met, you have to be careful with what you put out because they might say, “we don’t want this, it’s an ugly piece of produce.” They may not know exactly what goes into farming and selling produce.

In farmer’s markets, people see the produce sitting out there for a couple of hours, but they’ll still get it because they’ll cook it in the same day, anyway. You can’t do that with selling online, and I think that’s the biggest disadvantage to it—the produce has to look pretty.


Can you get away with a more basic layout when you’re selling produce vs. selling spices? (14:00)

Yeah, I think we can get away with it. I don’t think you have to be so creative with veggies because a carrot is a carrot. For the most part, I think having a user-friendly site is the most important thing so as not to confuse the customers. I also think it’s important to put in pictures of what a pound of okra looks like, what a bunch of radishes looks like, etc. just so customers have an idea of what they’re going to get.

 

What was the most successful way to get the word out about the online store? (15:50)

Social media was really big for us. Owning the Soul Fit Grill, I used that company to kind of lure in people to the farm’s page. People already knew us from the farmer’s markets, so we kind of just let people know where we are and that they could still get produce from us.


What would make you switch from the Square site to a new one? (18:30)

I think I would definitely ride with this as long as I can especially because I’m familiar with paid websites and their costs. It doesn’t make sense to switch any time soon since the Square site works perfectly for us. We’re taking things day by day and we’re fortunate enough that we do have a pretty strong customer base waiting on us and the products we put out.


How did you get into the spice business as part of your farming journey? (19:40)

When I was trying out herbs in the backyard garden, I never really planned on getting into the spice business. I was in law school at the time, and it was really just a hobby.

My grandmother had diabetes, and she was used to eating a lot of southern soul food—lots of salt and sugar. So I dried some herbs she could use to cook with so she could start eating healthy, and that was how it started.

I had some following on Instagram, and when I put out a product, I couldn’t believe the way it took off. It just exploded, and the rest was history.

Today, we’ve been in business since 2014, and we have over eight different flavors, and all of these flavors are low sodium, low sugar, no preservatives, and no MSG. You can find us in Whole Foods stores across the US. We’ve also shipped to Canada, Dubai, Australia, and other countries all over the world.


What do you think is the key in growing your spice business? (21:35)

Being patient and knowing what you can do. Don’t put out a product that you’re rushing. I learned that the only one putting pressure on myself is me—nobody knows I have a new spice blend coming out, but sometimes you just feel pressured to put out a product just because. But really, you have to be patient with yourself, and have time to do things properly so you can put the best products out there.


What’s your process for making a new spice blend from concept to finished product? (26:10)

It starts off in my head and thinking about what I want to create. Then, I go do a round of samples through random people who I know are going to be honest with me. I know they’ll be honest with me because they tell me upfront if they don’t like it, and what I can do to improve it. I’ll take their input and try out a couple of different things until I get that, “okay, this is good, this is ready to be put out in the market.”

Sure, some people may not like it, but I tell them to just think about it being low sodium, low sugar, etc. But after that, we give it to the graphics design team to come up with a label, then we get it to the manufacturer who’d test it for the nutrition facts. Once that’s all done, we put the product for sale on our website. The entire process can take about four months.


What advice would you have for people who might want to add spices to their farm’s product list? (28:35)

I think it can be easier if you’re a small-scale farmer trying to sell in farmer’s markets but once you want to go into the larger grocery chains, be prepared because they have a lot more regulations you need to have in place before you can start selling. You also need to have insurance to be able to sell this stuff.

When we were starting out, it was easy drying these things, but we realized we didn’t have everything we needed so we had to outsource ingredients like garlic.

As for small-scale farmers, making a blend of dried herbs, bottling it up and selling at the local farmer’s market could take about a couple of hours. Drawing the process out, it can be a little tough assuming you want to do it all the way from your farm because in a lot of cases, you’re not growing everything that needs to be in that bottle of blended spices. It can take some time but it’s definitely doable.


Between $10 of collard greens and $10 of blended spices, which puts more money into the business? (32:30)

I would say the collard greens would. You’re growing the collard greens at near-zero cost since it’s coming straight from the ground. While with the spices, you have bottle prices, you have top prices, you have label and packaging prices, but depending on the volume of the spices, they could have further reach. But for shorter term, I think collard greens would put more money into the business.


How many bottles of spices do you think you’ll sell in 2020? (34:30)

Maybe around 10,000 bottles. What with CoVid, people are cooking more, so we’ve been trying to keep up with the stores asking for more supply. We also have some seniors messaging us over Facebook asking us how to order online, so we walk them through that, too. So, I think the numbers could actually go up more than that.

What advice for people who have a value-added product and want to grow it and potentially go national? (35:35)

I would definitely say to make sure you’re on social media—all the platforms. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, even TikTok. It’s being creative and being aware of where people are, and not being afraid of putting a little bit of money on sponsoring an ad.

“Look for the future, be creative, and use social media to your advantage.”


How do you create a buzz around something that could be perceived as boring like spices and vegetables? (37:35)

You have to interact with your customers and your followers. For us, we put out recipes using our spices to kind of reach out to people. Like, they could say they never thought they could use black pepper ranch on popcorn, or that they could season chicken breast with this or that. Seeing new things that are easy to do at home makes people think, “oh, it looks good, I got to have it.”

On our farm’s Instagram, when we post pictures, we’re showing people what we do and where their food comes from. We also give advice for people who ask about growing veggies, so we’re not just a farm posting pictures of produce all day—we interact with people.

Seeing where their food comes from attracts our followers.

We also partner up with a few local chefs in the Houston area who post our produce along with a recipe for homemade stuff, and I think that letting people see what they can do with our produce attracts them, too.


Can you talk about the platform you’re using to sell your spices? (42:25)

I honestly love Squarespace. It has the features that I need, and it has the capability to keep growing. I upgraded our Squarespace account almost three times, I think. It started as a $50 Squarespace site, and now we’re up maybe $192 a year. It’s one of those things that grow when your company grows. And $192 does everything I need it to—it allows me to ship, it allows customers to see everything, it allows me to create pages with nice graphics. There’s just a lot of features there.

You can definitely use Squarespace for vegetable sales, but I think vegetable sales limit you for up to about a thirty or a fifty-mile radius, unlike with our spices where you can ship bottles virtually anywhere. I don’t think you need that many features for vegetable sales.


Is there anything on the Squarespace site you want to change? (45:40)

To be honest, no. It’s really user-friendly. I didn’t design my Squarespace in the beginning, we had a graphic designer who set everything up for us, but now I’ve run it myself for the last two years. It’s that easy—you don’t have to be a software engineer to run it!


How do you manage the challenges of growth and expectations? (48:40)

I try not to take in more than I can handle. I love growth, but I also have to know what I can do. My thing is just trying not to grow too fast, not overselling myself, and making sure that me, my team, my staff, basically everyone in the farm is ready to grow and not to overload anyone with too much at one time.


How have you dealt with capital and growth? (51:10)

Being creative marketing-wise. I bought a camera, took my own pictures and learned how to edit videos myself so we wouldn’t have to hire a team. I don’t think I’m bigger than anybody else, so I’m thinking, if I do it, we can save money and build that capital to go out there and do things.

I’m a team member as well, so if I have to go out there and get my hands dirty, if I have to go learn a new skill to save us some money, if I have to do the Excel sheet until we can afford to send it to an accountant, I’ll do it. It’s being able to do those things and understanding that that comes from growth.


Conclusion

Want to get produce straight from the farm? Drop by Sweetwater Farms’ website. Don’t forget to follow their Instagram!

Want to check out Chaz’s special blended spices? Get started on creating your own exciting dishes at SoulFitGrill.com!

 

 

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