Success Stories: The Farmer's Cow
You've got to get up pretty early in the morning to get one past the farmers of The Farmer's Cow.
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The company’s growth has been accomplished with little advertising, relying on events, farm tours, Facebook, Twitter and email blasts.
Joseph Pancras, a professor of marketing at the University of Connecticut’s business school, says The Farmer’s Cow success stems from several factors, including what economists call “forward vertical integration,” the same thing Apple does with its computers, smart phones and iPads, i.e., controlling the entire brand experience from product management to a consistent story line that runs through everything.
The Farmer’s Cow products may not be organic, but Pancras says “they’re definitely fresh and healthy, which taps into the health-and-organic food movement.” Moreover, he says, the company meets consumers’ increasing demand for authenticity—“What can be more authentic than the farmer’s cow?”
State Agriculture Commissioner Steven Reviczky commends The Farmer’s Cow for developing what he says is “a new model, branding their milk and their products,” which traditionally had left farms in bulk with no real connection between farm and consumer.
“It seemed like a stretch quite frankly, what they were trying to do,” says Reviczky, who knows all the company’s farmers. “So what they’ve accomplished in a fairly short period of time is amazing.”
Chesmer says he and his fellow farmers never had a strategic plan, allowing things to grow naturally like the hay and corn on their farms. Even their logo and branding came about through trial and error. “We knew what we didn’t like,” he says, recalling artists’ presentations in the early days. Then one artist brought them posters from long-ago agricultural fairs and something clicked. “The way it was lettered—we said, ‘This is what we’d like to do,’” says Chesmer. A stay-at-home mom/graphic designer in nearby Brooklyn does their graphic work these days from her attic studio.
Chesmer says he’s not sure what comes next. The café was designed to be a prototype for more restaurants, but the group has no specific locations or plans for the future. Its milk and cream are gaining a foothold in wholesale markets, including Yale, UConn Health Center, public and private schools, hospitals and other institutional dining services. “Our goal is to get into more schools,” says Smith, who notes the company sells milk in half pints, or “calf pints.”
But as the farmers will tell you, challenges remain, especially in an industry where the price of milk is fixed, yet costs are out of their control. Corn peaked at $8 a bushel, up from $5.50 earlier last year, noted Lincoln Chesmer one day recently while walking through his dairy barn, the smell of manure, cows and silage filling the air. “And the price of fertilizer has almost doubled,” he added.
But his father, Robin, says despite those challenges, he’s optimistic. “We want our farms to stay in business.” With a new generation on the six farms already showing an interest in farming, Chesmer adds, “We view this as an opportunity for the long term to help our businesses and other local businesses.”