A New Approach to Marketing and Selling Vermont Farm Products
By Amanda Kuhnert
Hop on the Republic of Vermont website for a glimpse at what Ethan West, co-owner of the Goshen-based maple syrup and honey farm with his wife Annina, calls “New Vermont.” Instead of red barns and rolling hills, you’ll find clean, bold typography; little text; and large, eye-catching images. “We wanted to plant our flag in the modern Vermont—moving the brand forward,” Ethan said. “That’s been really successful for us.”
A short, engaging video on their “About Us” page features contemporary-sounding music in the foreground and stunning aerial views of the property. You’ll see Ethan and Annina, both native Vermonters, at work on the farm—tending the beehives, checking the sap lines, and preparing their product to ship. Under the Merch tab, you’ll find branded trucker hats, T-shirts, and bags with playful images of honey bees and maple leaves. Their Instagram page features more artsy photos of life on the farm and their farm products in contemporary glass jars.
A millennial-based marketing approach
Not surprisingly, Ethan and Annina, the brains behind the operation—and its marketing approach, are millennials. “We are unique in that we are young people pursuing agriculture in Vermont—a state and sector with an aging population,” Ethan said. “We’ve been able to leverage our skills with web development, marketing, and design to create an agricultural business that adds depth and brilliance to our products and mission.” Most people who go into agriculture are more focused on making the product than selling and marketing it, Ethan explained. “For us, it’s 50/50,” he said. “We enjoy both.”
In 2015, when the couple decided to turn their backyard sugaring operation into a full-fledged business, they knew they had to find a way to market and sell their products outside of Vermont, where the maple products market was already saturated. They also wanted to manage their own packaging and distribution, instead of selling in bulk to large packers. A strong online presence was crucial to their success.
Right now they sell 30 percent of their products direct to consumer through their website. The other 70 percent is sold at boutique stores around the country. “We use wholesale platforms to network and meet our buyers,” Ethan said. “We also get lots of customers through word of mouth on social media.”
For more info: republicofvermont.com.
Early on in their business journey, Ethan and Annina followed the advice of other business owners and reached out to the Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC). “VtSBDC has professionalized every aspect of our business, from job costing to Quickbooks accounting,” Ethan said. “We’ve also been able to access a line of credit with their help and developed revenue-generating ideas to help diversify our business.”
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