Home » Issue 21 21-2020 » News » A concept with many advantages: direct marketing

A concept with many advantages

More and more farmers think about how to get into a dialogue with society and, of course, about new sources of income. The direct marketing of their products, if handled properly, allows for both.

Every year the Ceres Award jury nominates the Farmer of the Year. This year there were a lot of approaches that intensely and partly very creatively dealt with the topic of direct marketing. Among them for example the following idea: for 50 €, the internet user can sponsor the food for an animal of his/her choice and then also hold a video conference with this animal.
We will describe two approaches with a strong focus on arable farming. The farms of Ernst Lütje from Wasbüttel near Wolfsburg and of Stefan Leichenauer from Tengen near Constance at the Lake Constance have grown successfully with the strategy of regional marketing. Together with Mathias Maier from Lower Bavaria they were the finalists in the category Arable Farming – for many years this category has been sponsored by HORSCH.

Pioneers for potatoes and sweet potatoes

Ernst Lütje, Jochen Gaus and Ulrich Behrens are childhood friends. The perfect basis to establish several partnerships (GbR) and do business together. The Ährenwert GbR consists of a total area of 610 hectares – 442 hectares are rented, and 342 hectares can be irrigated. The soils are water logged soils with an enormous range from 18 to 60 soil points. Among others the farm grows about 168 hectares winter wheat, 96 hectares sugar beet, 77 hectares spring malting barley, 54 hectares winter rape, 34 hectares winter rye, 20 hectares spelt and other varieties like onions. Currently, the highlight are 4 hectares of sweet potatoes.
On the fields of the Gaus-Lütje GbR (which is part of the Ährenwert GbR ist) 90 hectares potatoes are grown.
The idea for the direct marketing strategy developed in 1992 when the families Gaus and Lütje started to grow potatoes. „They tasted so good that we thought other people would like them, too. And the direct marketing idea was born“, Ernst Lütje remembers with a smile. “The objective was to market the potatoes as close to the customer as possible. We started regionally, with self-service boxes for potatoes and farm shops. In 1999, we created a logo to establish our own, regional brand. This is how we caught the attention of the food retailers. Due to the return to regional products and short supply chains our product meets the current trend – according to the slogan: regional is the better organic”, the 46-year-old farmer proudly states.
The farms constantly work with innovative ideas to develop the marketing even further, to increase the attraction of the potato and to meet the changing customer requirements. In 2017, a campaign for potato marketing in the food retailing stores was established that so far had been unheard of in Germany – a shelving system to sell potatoes in bulk. The customer can choose the quantity of potatoes he/she wants and take them with him/her in a reusable paper bag. And to complete the idea of sustainability, the farm changed from plastic bags to compostable potato string bags made of cellulose. Due to the consequent development of the marketing of loose goods in a special shelving system and the conversion to plastic-free bags the partners achieved an average sales increase of more than 100 % over all Edeka (a German retail chain) markets (50 supermarkets that are supplied with the farm-owned truck) from 2018 to 2019.
“With public relations, kindergartens, schools and farm visits we try to let society participate in our farm. Facebook, Instagram, adverts in newspapers and our website are an inherent part of the communication with the consumer. And the final customer as well as the supermarkets appreciate our special campaigns in the markets with market wagons or old tractors“, Lütje emphasises. With the sweet potatoes he does not only offer a trend product, but he also does pioneer work by pushing the cultivation of the rather thermophilic plant in Germany. The cultivated area grows constantly and in addition to the sweet potato itself the partners also started to sell chips under the Gaus-Lütje brand in the Edeka markets.

Turning himself into a brand with clever public relations

„Regional and sustainable is ideal“, 41-year-old Stefan Leichenauer says. He tries to market all the products of his 145-hectare farm directly. His elite wheat for example is sold to a neighbouring mill which in turn sells the flour to a regional bakery. With regard to beef cattle he co-operates with a local butcher, his spelt is sold to a regional noodle producer and he is looking for a brewery that will buy his spring barley. His fields are not located in a very favoured region – the soils are extremely stony.
“My Grandpa always took me with him to the fields and tried to explain the value and importance of the soil. He always said: Your capital is 17 cm deep – that’s your soil. If you neglect it, you will be bankrupt in 17 years. If you care for it, you will always be a good farmer.” Today I am much more aware of what he wanted to tell me at that time. When I was 15 years old, I told my Dad that I wanted to be a farmer and he immediately agreed and added: “I will help you to succeed.” In 2001 I had my degree in agriculture and wanted to get going at top speed. But my father always slowed me down a little bit. At that time, I did not understand. But in 2016 I had a massive burn-out“, Stefan Leichenauer today says self-confidently. His family and especially his wife and his two sons together with professional advice helped him to get through this stage. Today he shares the experiences he made during that time with professional colleagues.
How could that burn-out happen? In the time before the burn-out he had increased the farm from 30 to 145 hectares and the number of fattening bulls to 50. “My regional marketing projects contributed to the fact that I re-discovered the passion for my profession. I get very proud when I hear people in the bakery ask for bread made with cereals from the Leichenauer farm.“ For several years the crops have been grown with hybrid farming. The Lauterbachhof has been selected by the Federal State of Baden-Württemberg as a demonstration farm for this kind of farming that tries to combine the best of conventional and organic cultivation systems. “Today I use soil auxiliaries or for example work with a harrow in my crops. Despite the stony soils the harvests are very good. And today I know much better what to make of what my Granddad told me.” Due to his kind of farming and marketing Stefan Leichenauer reaches many people from different social classes all over Germany. He has several thousand followers in the social media and politicians ask for his opinion on the topic Farming of the Future. But a lot of discussions take place directly at his farm – in fact every Thursday when his wife bakes several varieties of bread from their own crops. About 80 loaves of bread are sold directly to the consumer this way.