Friday, May 14, 2010

Building Relationships with Chefs

When selling to chefs, it may be even more important to invest time in building strong relationships, in part because you stand to gain or lose a higher volume of sales than with an individual customer at the farmers' market. It can also take more time to establish relationships with chefs. You may have to make 10 or visits or telephone calls to an establishment before the chef starts to take an interest. Being persistent (in a polite way) can pay off.

Once a chef is interested, schedule a meeting well before the start of the season to determine his or her needs. Ask a few questions, such as:
  • "What is your favorite meal to prepare?"
  • "What are some of your best-selling items?"
  • "Are there any products that you would like to source locally?"
  • "Are there any hard-to-find or highly perishable products not available from your current distributor?"
Take a seed catalog with you and review it with the chef to determine which products they want.  Provide samples of your highest-quality products for the chef to use at home or in the restaurant. Talk about your best-selling products at market and ask the chef if they are interested in the same ones.

When setting up a meeting with a chef, keep in mind that chefs have different schedules than farmers. Chefs are extremely busy during meal times and will not welcome interruptions. If you call on a chef specializing in the lunch business at 11:30 a.m., you will lose the sale. The best time to call or drop by is midmorning, generally before 10 a.m., or in the afternoon, around 2:00 or 3:00 p.m., after the lunchtime rush is over and before the dinner hour starts.

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