There is a big demand for vegetables grown locally because they usually are fresher and taste better. Many restaurants are trying to offer as much fresh produce as possible to serve their customers the best. To help meet this demand, small farms are starting up across the United States to supply local restaurants with food. However, farming for restaurants is not as easy as growing the food and walking in the door of a business and expecting it to buy everything you have grown. A farm is run like any business, and for success, certain procedures must be followed.
Choose a selection of vegetables that are easy to grow in your area and do not ship well. For example, small leafy greens are highly desirable in the restaurant trade but have a short shelf life. Be aware of the best way to package a product for restaurant use. A large restaurant may want product gathered in bunches or boxed, and another restaurant may want it stored in a type of container it prefers to use. If selling by the pound, be sure the vegetables are clean of any leaves or roots that add to the price but are not edible.
Know the correct harvest procedures for your product so that your product appears fresh for the longest amount of time possible. Pick or gather your product at the correct time of day so it stays fresh the longest. Store product in a produce cooler if necessary.
Price your product according to the current market price. A restaurant owner will rarely tell you the amount he is currently paying for a product, so you have to research to find the current market price. A good estimate is to charge the restaurant around 30 per cent lower than the retail price. That is still higher than wholesale, but you are delivering a fresher product and should expect to get paid the right price. Always be willing to negotiate for larger orders, but don't try to compete with the prices offered by a large national grocery wholesaler. Keep good records.
Strive to have the best product quality. Wholesale produce often arrives at restaurants bruised and is sometimes unusable. As a local grower, this is the area where you can beat the competition. When looking over the produce you are bringing to market, dispose of any questionable product. If you would not eat it, don't expect the customer to buy it. Keep on a schedule mutually agreed upon between you and the restaurant. This is where having a dependable vehicle and delivery van is important. You do not want to miss a delivery because of a problem that could be avoided by careful planning.
Obtain the correct licenses and insurance protection for your farm and business operation. Every state has a licensing requirement for selling produce. It is offered through the USDA, and information is available on the USDA website. You will need liability insurance in case anyone becomes sick from eating your product or anyone visiting your farm has an accident.
Experiment with several types of vegetables to find out which one works best for you in your growing conditions. Let that one be your signature product and build the business around that particular item. For example, you may grow sugar snap peas that are a popular item with your customer. Instead of growing more sugar snap peas and finding another customer to buy them, grow another product that the same customer will buy. That way, you build your partnership with the restaurant over the long term. After you become a major supplier, you can branch out to other restaurants.