Thank you to all who have embraced our decision to begin shipping out of our region. We have struggled mightily with this decision for a couple of years and now it’s finally here. For those of you either angry or just wanting additional background, this post is for you.
Fifty years ago you could not buy a boneless skinless breast . . . anywhere. Then people wanted more convenience, and the market obliged. Polyface did not. But eventually, we heard too often: “I’d buy chicken if you’d offer breasts.” Sales were trending down. We began cutting up and sales went up and we took market share (yes, tiny) away from the big boys and factories. Awesome.
Chipotle came to us and wanted pork. We began supplying the two local restaurants. Then two years ago after all their sanitation and pathogen issues they kicked us out. We lost $100,000 because we had the pigs in the production chain but suddenly no market. We went to 31 pork barbecue vendors within 50 miles offering GMO-free pastured pork at match price (whatever you’re paying from the industry, we’ll match it until our inventory runs out); not one single outfit was interested.
We thought we had an arrangement with UVA dining services last fall; it fell through. We’ve worked with countless outfits over the years; some are gone. Relay Foods was one. We’ve watched them come and go; we don’t plan to be one that goes.
We started hearing from local folks that they no longer would drive on dirt roads. Adios, amigos. And why come to the farm or a drop point when Amazon delivers to your doorstep? So we began a doorstep delivery service this spring, within 50 miles. Fizzled.
The market has changed so dramatically in my lifetime I hardly recognize it anymore. Anyone opposed to this change, let me ask one question: How many Amazon boxes arrive at your doorstep each week?
If your business was making buggy whips in 1915, what would you have done? You see, nostalgia is real cool until it becomes obsolete. Business leaders know that they must re-invent their business about every 8-10 years. Because what got you here won’t get you there.
Forty years ago a “no ship” policy made sense. Amazon did not exist and Polyface was the first game in town. Today, Wal-Mart is the largest purveyor of organics (industrial junk organics, to be sure) and that has flattened sales at farmers’ markets, Community Supported Agriculture, and direct farm sales.
In Staunton, our nearest city, only a couple of restaurants buy Polyface; some say we’re too big and refuse. Others buy a pittance and don’t even put it on the menu. Constant struggle. I’m not whining; I’m stating life as we know it. All of us assume we know the other person’s situation, and that’s always wrong. Meanwhile, our sales are pinched by factory organics via Amazon and Wal-Mart.
For decades we’ve been sending people to their local farmers but too often we hear back “their stuff isn’t as good as yours” or “they won’t scale up big enough to supply a consistent demand.”
As distribution logistics become more efficient and market dynamics morph, Polyface must decide what new hills to die on. We can’t die on every one. Some become silly to die on, and with people a mile away from our farm getting factory organics from Amazon, it’s time to realize the no-ship nostalgia is now obsolete. We are still as committed as ever to local food systems and our prices will always be cheapest and loyalty to local customers always highest here at the farm and in our community. But as production compromise envelopes the organic sector, it’s time to go toe to toe, head to head, with an authentic alternative. And yes, every customer, regardless of where you live, is still welcome at Polyface 24/7/365 anytime to see anything anywhere unannounced. Who do you know who dares to accept that transparency?