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Direct Marketing of Fruit Crops to Ohio Wineries

HYG-1433
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Date: 
03/11/2022
Dr. Gary Y. Gao, Professor and Extension Specialist, CFAES South Centers and Department of Extension; and Courtesy Professor, Department of Horticulture and Crop Science, The Ohio State University
Ed Brown, Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Ohio State University Extension, Athens County
M. Ryan Slaughter, Research Assistant II, CFAES South Centers, The Ohio State University
Dr. Julie Fox, Director, Strategic Initiatives and Urban Engagement, Ohio State University Extension

Ohio boasts a strong wine industry with wineries located across the state. The last 30 years has seen tremendous growth in the number of Ohio wineries due to a strong consumer demand, coordinated marketing efforts from Ohio Grape Industries Committee, and multifaceted and research-based extension programs from The Ohio State University. As of January 2022, there are 373 wineries in Ohio.

Interior view of wine and craft brewery store with racks of wine, wooden barrels, and other wine-related products. Two bottles of wine from the Dragonfly vineyard and wine cellar. Bottle on left is labeled “Liberty Blue” while bottle on right is labeled “Raspberry.”
Figure 1. Ohio boasts a very strong and rapidly expanding wine industry. Pictured here is the retail area of Maze Valley Winery and Craft Brewery. Photo courtesy of Ohio Grape Industries Industry (OGIC),
findohiowines.com.
Figure 2. Pictured here are a bottle of blueberry wine and a bottle of raspberry wine from Dragonfly Vineyard and Wine Cellar. Photo courtesy of Dr. Kent Eichenauer, co-owner of Dragonfly Vineyard and Wine Cellar.

Ohio wineries primarily focus on making wine from grapes, but some purchase other fruit crops, such as blackberries, blueberries, cherries, elderberries, raspberries, and strawberries for wine production. Some of the Ohio’s fruit wines have won prestigious awards at regional and national competitions. As new wineries come into production, the demand for quality fruits is increasing. Demand for fresh fruit depends on the total number of wineries producing fruit wine. More and more Ohio wineries purchase locally grown fruits so they can add to their product line. The demand adds another option for the fruit growers in Ohio to sell their crops.

Like all business ventures, a sound marketing plan is essential for the success of fruit operations. Delivering quality fruits at a good profit margin should be the goal of any fruit growers. Marketing fruit crops to wineries will require a well-laid-out marketing plan.

Here are suggested sections of a marketing plan for fruit growers:

Section 1: Marketing Summary

The Marketing Summary is the first page of your marketing plan, but it should be the last section you write. This section captures the key points of your fruit marketing plan in a very concise manner.

Section 2: Fruit Business Situation

It is important to know the current demand and supply of fruit crops, potential industry growth, and where your business fits in the overall wine industry. Fruit crops typically bring in a high profit when they are sold directly to consumers. However, some growers may consider selling some of their fruits to Ohio wineries. With the growing labor shortage, more and more growers rely on mechanical harvesters. Fruits harvested with a mechanical harvester may or may not be suited for fresh market. Another reason is that growers in some years may have excess fruits that they need to sell. Hence, a quicker sale to wineries can be a very nice option.

Section 3: Potential Buyers

List potential and existing customers, document their location, their interest in your products, and anything else that demonstrates why they are candidates for purchasing the fruit you produce. Some winemakers take great pride in producing quality fruit wines. It is very beneficial to network with them.

Section 4: Products and Services

What fruit will you sell, in what quantities, and when will it be available? What is your overall production, how is the fruit processed, and what size are the containers the fruit will be shipped in? Your pricing assumptions should include what, when, and how customers will pay.

Section 5: Places

How and where do you distribute your fruit? It is very important to figure out the logistics beforehand to eliminate misunderstandings.

Section 6: Promotions

What benefit do you provide the winery and how will you communicate with them? What types of marketing strategies do you invest in and when? What organizations and directories do you participate in? What makes your fruit produce unique—why will wineries want to buy from you? Who are your competitors and how can you position your fruit sales to be competitive?Two men standing in front of wine bar with glasses of wine, talking with woman behind the counter.

Section 7: Process

Money–How much money is invested and when was it invested? How much income is projected and when is it expected?

Management–How will you manage field production—planting, pest control, and harvest? How do you manage production risks?

Section 8: Measures of Success

What are your overall business goals and how does this marketing plan help? What will be your measure of success—number of customers, sales, or something else? According to Peter Drucker, “Marketing is not only much broader than selling, it is not a specialized activity at all. It encompasses the entire business. It is the whole business seen from the point of view of the final result, that is, from the customer's point of view. Concern and responsibility for marketing must therefore permeate all areas of the enterprise."

Growers are encouraged to reach out to the members of the direct marketing team at directmarketing.osu.edu/ and the various fruit teams at the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University for marketing information and assistance.

Winery and Grower Partnership

Direct marketing is often referred to as interactive marketing because it goes beyond mass marketing’s broad audience appeal and involves two-way communication between sellers and buyers (Spiller and Baier 2005). Growers are strongly encouraged to meet with Ohio winemakers to discuss the potential for contracting sales of fresh, locally grown fruit. It is important to establish a good working relationship with the winemaker and learn what parameters are required in terms of pounds/tons needed, quality of fruit, and degree of sugar content.Bottle of wine being held out with grape orchard and old barn in the background.

Coordinating fruit harvest with a winemaker is very important and involves specific needs for delivery of the fresh-picked fruit, including date, time of day, and size of shipping container. Maintaining good fruit quality during harvest and shipping will help assure quality fruit for winemaking.

Current Status and Potential Growth of the Ohio Fruit Industry

A description of the status of the fruit industry should be included in a marketing plan. This informs the winery of the necessity of contracting with a fruit grower to assure their procurement of an adequate volume of fresh fruit. Information should include:

  • number of fruit growers in Ohio
  • number of fields committed to specific crops (e.g., blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc.)
  • acres of fruit crops grown locally and statewide
  • projection of future production of various fruit crops

Analysis Of Market Conditions and Prices Received for Fruit Crops

Information on Ohio fruit production can be obtained at the USDA web site nass.usda.gov. Accurate production and pricing information may still be very difficult to obtain since many Ohio fruit crops are considered too small for USDA annual surveys.

Fruit Crops Market Influences and Risk Assessment

A fruit operation may succeed or fail for several reasons. Certain factors play an important role in success or failure and are not easily controlled by the grower. The productivity and longevity of the fruit crops being grown helps determine the potential profit. Some key factors of fruit production include:

  • overall demand from Ohio wineries
  • demand for locally grown fruit
  • cost of producing fruit
  • machinery cost for producing fruit
  • labor availability and cost

Natural events can have a major impact on fruit production. Some common reasons why fruit crops may not be productive include:

  • abnormal weather (excessive spring/fall frosts and extreme low winter temperatures)
  • negative impacts of pollution on fruit
  • deer feeding on tender vegetation
  • birds eating mature fruit
  • pests reducing yields and quality
  • soil compaction reducing yields

Fruit Crops Marketing Analysis

A market analysis is an important component of a market plan. It shows lenders and investors the need for your product. Local, state, and national market trends can all play an important part in whether your fruit sells and the price you receive. To properly market your fruit, you need to estimate the number of tons you will be selling.

The potential profit in fruit production is a function of the overall sale of fruit, and the price received per pound/ton, both of which determine the total income. The importance of growing and marketing high quality fruit cannot be overemphasized. Wine produced from pest-ridden fruit will generally have an inferior quality and is not palatable. This reduces the value of your fruit. Quality of the fruit can also be measured in terms of the sugar content, which is evaluated as a percent of soluble solids (Brixo).

Current Winery Situation

There are 373 commercial wineries as of January 2022 in Ohio, and the demand for locally grown fruit has grown significantly during the last 30 years. Ohio wineries need fruit that is locally grown, which will help to reduce the cost of having fruit shipped in from out of state.

Fruit Quality and VolumeA cluster of blueberries ripening on a blueberry bush.

A brief description of the field production would be helpful for buyers looking to purchase fresh, pest-free fruit. To maximize quality, fruit should be allowed to ripen to its fullest potential. Total acreage of your fruit production should be provided to show wineries what volume of fruit they could expect.

A list of fruit produced and anticipated harvest dates for each crop will enable a winemaker to better gauge when fruit will be shipped.

Some varieties of blueberries, strawberries, and brambles mature early in the harvest season and other varieties mature late. Actual harvest date will depend on the stage of ripeness, which can be monitored by measuring sugar content (Brixo). Full sunlight is required to produce quality fruit and high yields. Pruning practices can impact sunlight penetration and thus influence the overall fruit quality and flavor.

Marketing Tools

Growers can use different resources to market their crops to wineries in Ohio and beyond. One good tool is The Grape Exchange (TGE) & The JOB Board. This service is provided by the OSU’s viticulture program. The purpose of this site is to assist grape growers and wineries in selling and/or buying grapes, wine, juice, or associated equipment, and posting jobs wanted or jobs available. Listings are posted to the “Buckeye Appellation” website at ohiograpeweb.cfaes.ohio-state.edu/. Updates are sent to all Ohio Grape Electronic Newsletter subscribers via email. To post new or make changes to current ads, please e-mail Dr. Maria Smith at smith.12720@osu.edu. Weekly updates of listings are e-mailed to OGEN subscribers as needed throughout the season. Fruit growers are encouraged to contact Dr. Smith if they have fruits for sale to Ohio wineries.

There are other resources available online. One good national website is as foodmarketmaker.com. Fruit growers also use social media outlets such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The traditional methods, such as a phone call or a face-to-face meeting, still has a place too.

Summary

Success in selling your fruit to a winery depends on your marketing plan. This is your best opportunity to receive full attention from wineries. A marketing plan will help show how you produce high-quality fruit, and how a specific winery can profit from buying your fruit.

References

Spiller, Lisa S., and Martin Baier. 2005. Contemporary Direct Marketing. London: Pearson.

This fact sheet is based on  HYG-1433-09 by Dr. Maurus Brown, former Small Fruit Crops Specialist with OSU South Centers, Piketon; and Dr. Julie Fox, former Direct Marketing Specialist at OSU South Centers, Piketon, and Director, Strategic Initiatives and Urban Engagement for Ohio State University Extension.

Originally posted Mar 11, 2022.
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