If you’re only growing enough microgreens to meet a single family’s needs, it’s not necessary to figure out how to market a crop. But if you’re looking to start growing microgreens as a business, it’s time to explore how and where to sell your product.
Every Market Is a Little Different
While there are some general rules of thumb when growing microgreens for profit, it’s important to understand that local markets vary, which means microgreens business owners must carefully evaluate their local area to determine the most profitable microgreens to sell and marketing channels to pursue.
It’s possible to ship microgreens to remote areas of the country to meet the needs of other regions, but that can be incredibly challenging, as you are competing with many very large growers who have existed for years or decades. So this article will focus on local and regional sales.
The main local marketing channels we teach include restaurants, farmer’s markets, home delivery or CSA, and grocery stores. They all have their pros and cons, which we’ll dive deeper into later in the article.
Explore Your Options
When deciding which marketing channel to pursue, take some time to research all of the various channels and determine how well they are being serviced in your local area. That means visiting farmer’s markets, food co-ops, grocers, and restaurants to see what is currently available. If you find companies selling microgreens, you can also visit their websites or social media accounts to see what options they have for buying their product.
Don’t be afraid to ask commercial sellers questions about their products and if they are happy with their current supplier. Grocers and co-ops are always looking for product sources (or looking to switch suppliers) and may be interested in discussing how they choose vendors, their expectations for product quantities and qualities, and if their market varies from season to season.
Remember that oftentimes the varieties available in co-ops and grocery stores have likely been shipped some distance and are not as fresh as most shoppers want. That means you may have an opportunity to fill a need if you can deliver what the stores want in a timely manner.
Farmer’s markets are a little different because it’s where you’re likely to find your most serious competition. In most areas, however, microgreens are underrepresented in local farmer’s markets because the sellers tend to focus on other crops, and because microgreens are fairly new in the marketplace. Take the time to visit local farmer’s markets to see what’s being marketed and how competitors’ pricing structure fits into your business plan. Now may be the perfect time to get in early and establish a local foothold on the market!
In smaller cities and towns, it can be challenging to earn a good profit at a farmers market considering the hours involved in setup and take-down as well as the high likelihood of bringing too much product to market and going home with that waste. One way to overcome this is to focus on converting your market customers into subscription (home delivery) customers.
SUBSCRIPTION SALES (HOME DELIVERY):
One of the most untapped and profitable markets for selling microgreens is home delivery. So even if the restaurant and farmer markets are saturated, you can still make a good living doing this. With home delivery, you are delivering a certain amount of live or cut microgreens to your customers on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. They typically sign up on your website with a subscription payment service such as Paypal and are charged automatically each week or month (you can see how we did this on our website HERE)
Many of my students are seeing great success with their home delivery program, and are using the farmers market, word-of-mouth, and holding local events to attract new customers. Some are selling them in reusable containers to reduce plastic waste, and many are creating “variety packs” so the customers get a variety of microgreens each week. The really great thing about home delivery is you know exactly how much you need to produce each week and it’s already pre-sold, so your product waste is pretty much nothing!
The general process for fulfilling subscription orders includes delivering on the customers porch or workplace. If you are delivering on their porch, you should instruct them to leave a cooler out and you will place in cooler and swap out the ice pack each time (during the hot months). We found it most efficient to offer delivery via bicycle as it made it easier for us to navigate around and find parking, plus it’s more sustainable and gives our customers a cool story to tell their friends.
We now use the Radwagon electric cargo bike from Rad Power Bikes (affiliate link) and absolutely LOVE IT! We even turned it into a mobile farmers market (Video: The Salad Cycle). In the beginning, before we had the electric bike and fancy trailer, we had a simple setup that worked for us.
We go into depth on starting a delivery program inside our online course called Microgreens Business, which you can learn more about by attending a free webinar. Here are a couple more videos you will find useful if you decide to pursue the home delivery market (and I think you should!):
If you are in any mid-size or larger city, there will be numerous restaurants who could use microgreens for their dishes. You may decide to visit those restaurants during a slow time of the day and drop off a sampler pack of your microgreens along with a fresh sheet of your pricing. Here is a video I did on putting together sampler packs:
When selling to restaurants, you can charge a higher price then they are currently paying for microgreens from national distributors because your product will have much better quality, so the longer shelf life and less product waste will actually save the restaurant money in the end. Plus, chefs love being able to support local farmers and advertise that they use local ingredients – it allows them to charge a premium and feel good at the same time.
If you have not yet began growing, you can always reach out to chefs via email or Instagram DM to inquire about their interest in sourcing local microgreens. Just a few good restaurant customers can order enough product for you to make a decent living, and if you can get a dozen or more, you can be on your way to an incredible business that does well over 6 figures a year. Here is an example of a Microgreens Business that sell exclusively to restaurants and does over $3000 per week in sales (and he’s just getting started!):
Finding a Niche
After completing some initial market research and once you’ve determined what microgreens are currently selling in your area, it’s time to find your own comfort zone. Are you going to grow the same products other growers offer or would it be more profitable to grow another variety?
It’s typical to see a microgreens business fall into one of three camps:
- Selling mostly the main commodity microgreens such as radish, peas, sunflower, brassicas
- Selling mostly the specialty varieties such beets, corn shoots, cilantro, basil, mustards, amaranth, etc
- Selling all varieties
If your local market is saturated with growers selling the main commodity varieties, then maybe you can focus on the specialty crops. Or if someone is just selling the special varieties, you can focus on the commodities. If there is no major seller in your area, maybe you can sell them all?
Discover the Most Popular Microgreens
When you embark on a new business venture, choose a few products to focus on rather than attempting to grow every type of microgreen you’ve ever heard about. Here are a few examples of microgreens you may want to consider growing.
- Radish is popular among chefs and home cooks for it’s low cost, nice color, and bright spicy flavor. You can grow the green, purple, or mixed varieties.
- Peas are super easy to grow, produce a good yield, and add good texture and variety to your offerings
- Sunflower is very popular but can be very challenging if you get a bad seed lot that has germination, disease, or seed hull shedding problems – so this is hit or miss for beginners.
- Salad mix and broccoli microgreens are super popular as a health food and as a neutral green microgreens to use as a garnish.
- Curled cress is widely used in soups, salads and sandwiches. This is one of the varieties restaurant owners may want to obtain to add texture and flavor to their offerings.
- Basil is another wonderful example of a commonly used herb. Just about every pasta dish includes basil, and it’s a common ingredient in a variety of salads. Again, restaurant owners may interested in basil, but cooks of all sorts value the taste of fresh basil in their foods.
- Beet, amaranth, and chard microgreens are in demand when a splash of color is needed to liven up a dish, but they can also be very challenging to grow. They’re commonly used as a garnish in addition to being a great salad ingredient.
There are other varieties a microgreens farmer can consider if there is a local demand for the product. It’s important to remember that you can always add or subtract varieties from your growing plan, so don’t be afraid to try new varieties if it appears there is a demand. But again, start small growing just 1-3 varieties and then scale up as you feel comfortable.
Try Different Marketing Strategies
While selling directly to restaurants, co-ops and grocers will generate profits for growers, explore other marketing options when they’re available. The time of year and where you live will make some venues more realistic than others. Here are a couple of ideas to consider when exploring ways to market your micro-greens.
- Word-of-mouth sales can easily add to anyone’s income. If you’re willing to have customers visit your home, it’s often possible to sell a lot of product without having to travel. This is a great way for parents with young children to make money while also avoiding having to pay for day care.
- Roadside stands are often considered to be out of style, but many small roadside stands across the county generate significant profits for owners. Urban locations may restrict this type of marketing, but less-populated areas are generally more accepting of a new roadside stand. Check with local authorities to determine if zoning or permit issues need to be dealt with.
- Growers’ co-ops and CSA’s offer another way to move product. In some instances, buyers need larger quantities of some products than a single microgreens farmer can produce. If that’s the case, consider partnering with other local growers to produce what a larger buyer wants. Working with other producers may also provide more bargaining power, which means a boost to your bottom line.
In most cases, it’s a good idea to market your microgreens using more than one strategy. Things can happen in one market segment that would cause an abrupt halt in business. If you’re diversified, a drop in demand from one segment will be easier to handle.
Take Advantage of Current Trends
Marketers fail when they don’t take advantage of societal changes. If, for example, you only produce one type of microgreen and the demand for that variety disappears in your area, the results could be devastating. Instead of failing because of changing trends, stay up-to-date with how people choose their foods and adapt to those changes.
Microgreens contain high levels of vitamins, minerals and other essential elements everyone depends on to stay healthy, so they are great to promote for their health benefits. Health experts commonly recommend everyone eat greater quantities of foods containing high levels of nutrients for their health, but the types of plants recommended always change – so pay attention to the trends and take advantage of any new research or press articles you come across that relate to microgreens.
If you follow the latest research and diet trends, it’s easy to see what’s coming so you can be prepared for changes. In some cases, that means growing different microgreens.
Being proactive in marketing is also a good idea. Instead waiting for demand to increase, take the time to do a little creative marketing of up-and-coming products yourself. It might be possible to beat your competition to the marketplace with new in-demand microgreens.
One of the costs involved in marketing microgreens is packaging. While a restaurant may be willing to purchase microgreens packed in simple plastic bags, grocers may want something a little more sophisticated like plastic clamshells. The costs associated with different types of packaging will affect your profits, so take care when selecting and using various types of packaging.
Another aspect associated with packaging is the environmental impact of packing materials. For example, grocers generally prefer microgreens to be packed in clamshells made of plastics. Using those packing materials is often a sore spot with growers committed to preserving the environment.
Some clamshells are now marketed as being biodegradable, but they can usually only be composted at “industrial composting facilities,” which don’t exist in most places, so they just end up thrown in with the recycling where they contaminate the quality of the batch causing a major negative affect on recycling viability. So, even though they sounds good – they can often be worse for the environment. Compare the costs of different options before deciding. Rice paper-based packing materials are also available, but many of those leave the microgreens subject to damage during handling.
The type of packing materials must meet the requirements of each marketing venue. Simple trays or bags may work well if you’re selling products at a farmer’s market or roadside stand. People coming to your home to buy products directly may be satisfied with simple types of packing materials. Or you may decide to sell your product as “living”, still growing in the medium, and therefore eliminating the need for packaging all together. If you are interested in live sales, I’ll cover that in a future article, and you can refer to my Salad Cycle video for a brief examination of live sales.
Evaluate your markets thoroughly before deciding which packaging to use. The choice will affect not only the cost of the product but also your image. If your goal is to project an environmentally friendly image, choose your packing materials accordingly.
Evaluate Health Risks
While the objective of businesses is to select and grow the most profitable microgreens, there are other issues to consider. Spreading disease is possible when food products are handled incorrectly. Rather than risking spreading any type of disease, evaluate the way you’re growing and handling the microgreens to ensure all health risks are minimized.
Local health officials commonly offer advice for ways to mitigate potential health issues, and many experts provide health-related advice during seminars and classes. In most cases, basic sanitation steps are enough to minimize health risks.
If you’re selling microgreens to a retailer, their employees will also be handling the products. That means your reputation is at risk if an employee handles your products improperly. That’s one of the many reasons packaging is important, because clamshells limit the contact with the microgreens before they’re consumed.
Make Your Dream Happen!
Yes, there are some risks associated with microgreens farming, but no business is free of risks. And where there are risks, there is also the potential for great rewards! And not many income-generating opportunities offer the type of flexibility microgreens farmers enjoy – a business you can do from home on your own time while listening to music or podcasts, and eating all the yummy leftover product!
Like any other business, it’s important to do whatever it takes to get started and generate the type of income you need. With help from other experienced growers, it’s not difficult to learn what works and what doesn’t work when growing microgreens.
Whether your goal is to generate a little income on the side or create a long-term career, growing microgreens can be the answer you’re looking for. Because the business can be started on a small scale and expand as your reputation grows, there isn’t a lot of financial risk involved.
Most people new to starting a microgreens business begin with a minimal investment and allow the proceeds from their crops to finance future growth. With the proper advice and market research, your dreams of independence can become a reality.
The time to get started is today – don’t wait! There are people who want to purchase microgreens now, and I predict the market will continue to soar as more people get interested in local health foods, recognize the convenience of cooking with microgreens, and as we see more farming go indoors to avoid the challenges of outdoor farming during global warming.
If you’re committed to growing crops that take little space and have the potential to generate significant profits, start taking the steps necessary to learn how to grow and sell microgreens. The best place to start is by signing up to attend a free webinar and download your free copy of my popular ebook on growing and selling microgreens. Click here to get started now!