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How can I retain customers for my CSA?

Answer: Many new community supported agriculture (CSA) models have been created, along with CSA software programs. These programs  allow customers to sign up, modify their order, cancel their subscription, and sign up for varying weeks of deliveries. These new systems have greatly expanded the original definition of CSA, which meant that customers paid up front for an entire season’s worth of vegetables from the farm.

There are pros and cons of the new ways in which the CSA marketing model is expanding. On one hand, customers do not have to pay so much money up front; thus a CSA share is not so cost-prohibitive, and it gives buyers a chance to try something without committing to three or four months of deliveries. Conversely, the economic benefit to farmers is somewhat diminished because customers are able to sign up and cancel whenever they want, and the farmers do not receive the larger pre-season income that came with a full-season prepayment. For farmers considering implementing a CSA for their farms, it is important to think carefully about what type of model to use, what type of software, and the time it will take to manage your CSA customers. It will definitely take staff time for administration and organizing the CSA customer base and weekly harvest. Additionally, because there are so many different CSA models, customer retention might be difficult, so learning different marketing tricks to keep your customers signed up is important.

Here are some useful tips:

  • Plan for product diversity throughout the season: try not deliver the same box mix more than three weeks in a row, with the exception of the “staples” ( e.g., eggs, onions, garlic, potatoes).
  • Many seasoned CSA farmers say “less is more.” Customers can feel overwhelmed by the quantity of items because of the pressure to cook all of the items within the week. A good range is between four and seven items.
  • Provide newsletters with recipes in the box. If possible, work with a chef to develop seasonal recipes for each week. Include tips on storage of vegetables, too (e.g., what to do if you can’t eat everything in one week).
  • Have a CSA member-only event. This will build loyalty and let customers feel more connected to the farm. This works well with meat and eggs CSAs, so that customers can see the animals on the farm.
  • Have a “trade box” at the pick-up sites so that customers can switch out items they don’t want or need.
  • Survey the customers and get feedback on varieties. Be creative—this could include asking customers their preference of a type of meat product (bacon or steak), or taste test of two different varieties of the same vegetable, so customers can choose which one they like best for the following season.
  • Offer discounts for full-season participation. Some farms offer a full-season CSA share with a delivery every other week.
  • Offer bonus add-ons of dried fruit, jams, eggs, flowers, etc. (if available) for long-term customers.
  • Arrange discounts with local restaurants or retail stores that also carry the farm products. Give restaurants a discount on produce if they will also offer CSA customers a discount when they dine at the restaurant or shop at the store.
  • Donate a share to a local organization, church, food bank, etc.
  • Offer customers the option of purchasing half shares for the season.

Learn more in ATTRA’s Community Supported Agriculture publication. It focuses on why community supported agriculture can help farm businesses and how a farm can integrate community supported agriculture into its business model.

The ATTRA publication Direct Marketing will also be a useful resource for you. It contains information on marketing plans, pricing strategies, and creative marketing techniques. Examples illustrate how farmers are utilizing direct marketing channels to become more economically viable.

In addition, check out the Direct Marketing Options section of our website, where you’ll find a host of resources, including publications, videos, and podcasts, on related topics.