Monday, March 20, 2017

A Brief Look at Marketing Dominican Produce

A grower from the Jarabacoa Greenhouse Cluster in the Dominican Republic
Currently, small-scale greenhouse owners in the Jarabacoa region of the Dominican Republic produce several horticultural crops including tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, and herbs. While the producers are able to consistently produce quality yields, they are vulnerable to volatile local and export markets, including wide price fluctuations. A F2F volunteer was requested to assess domestic and international markets for high-value vegetable crops and give recommendations to producers regarding next steps to ensure more consistent market and price options, possibly including negotiating firm production contracts. The goal was for producers and extension agents to better understand their options to increase the consistency of farm gate price and sales.

Supermarket in Jarabacoa
F2F volunteer Jean Schwaller traveled in January to access markets. One problem identified by the Ministry of Agriculture is access to export markets. Jean, however, maintained that many of the local producers would benefit from better access to market within the DR rather than focus on foreign consumers due to a lack of proper packaging materials and USDA import standards. As part of her assignment, Jean visited a local community market where 15 vendors were selling meat, cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes. Cucumbers were being sold for 10 to 15 pesos, peppers ranged between 35 to 50 pesos, and tomatoes were priced 35 to 40 pesos, with price differences due mainly to the size of the produce. In Santiago, Jean visited a chain of supermarkets similar to Walmart called LaSirena, where she noted a wide range of prices on produce. Jean also visited some of Jarabacoa’s greenhouses which sell herbs, spinach, green peppers and cucumbers to these national supermarkets.

LaSirena supermarket in Santiago
Jean had lunch one day at Buen Sabor restaurant and asked the owner about where she gets her vegetables. The owner said she buys cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, directly from local producers and she uses the same person for many of the ingredients she uses daily. For other items, like cabbage, carrot, and onion, she buys through a wholesale distributor. This gave Jean more information about other marketing venues.

After her market assessments and field visits, Jean held a marketing presentation for fifteen producers. She provided training on domestic and local markets and about the value-added by their association. Many local producers were still very interested in exporting to the US but realistically, in order to be competitive, these growers from Jarabacoa Greenhouse Cluster need to make some improvements to access new marketplace. One of Jean's recommendations was that a brand be used for all growers of the association to build a reliable identity, which would help influence consumers.  She recommended a logo be designed that clearly identifies the association and its members. 

Furthermore, Jean did training on calculating the cost of distribution as part of marketing products. And she suggested the association be more active and visit more restaurants, hotels, open-air markets, and supermarkets to be competitive in local markets. 

Jean also visited the country’s local wholesale farmers’ market, which was very well organized and very busy with consumers. Jean strongly recommended that Jarabacoa growers to bring some products to this farmers’ market. For example, the association could help it's members by coordinating the transportation from the cluster farms to the market; ensuring that higher quality products reach these marketplaces; identifying their products with a Jarabacoa Greenhoue Cluster Association brand, and seeking funding to collectively pay for the space rented at the market.

Lastly, Jean recommended that the Ministry of Agriculture gather market price information regularly and share it with the producers. Information could be disseminated through daily ‘market reports’ given by radio or television, or even via SMS technology. With reliable and real-time market information, producers make better decision at the time of establish contracts with their customers.

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