By CHRIS ALDRIDGE, Kentucky Proud Connection
FRANKFORT, Ky. – Three days before Valentine’s Day, Kentucky Proud played matchmaker.
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s marketing program hosted 41 Kentucky Proud members at the Franklin County Extension Office in an attempt to make a “love connection” between each of them and new retail sales opportunities.
“Our goal is to be the dating service,” said Kentucky Proud farm-to-retail liaison Roger Snell. “Who they decide to marry is up to them. We make sure they all know what options are available to them.”
“The response to this event was overwhelming,” Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said. “Many of the participants showed that they have the products, the drive, and the capacity to grow their businesses. Their success will generate jobs and economic activity, and it also will help the Kentucky farmers who supply the raw materials for their products.”
Each participant had a chance to meet with three Kentucky-based retail distributors to discuss how to make their Kentucky Proud products ready for store shelves. The distribution partners were:
* Mark Critchfield of Critchfield Meats in Lexington,
* Stefan Neumann of Brooks Meats in Walton, and
* Brad and Steve Smith of Fishmarket Seafood in Louisville.
Steve Hayden, owner of longtime Kentucky Proud distributor Town and Country Specialty Foods in Bardstown, could not be present but is also involved.
The event was dubbed “Fish Tank,” a play on the TV show “Shark Tank,” in which a panel of wealthy business leaders hears pitches from small entrepreneurs looking to partner with one of the panelists to take their product or service to the next level. But whereas the business titans often eviscerate the proposals put before them (sometimes resulting in bruised feelings and tears), the distributors and KDA marketing specialists in the “Fish Tank” tried to help their Kentucky Proud clients objectively assess their businesses and determine what they need to do to make the jump to retail.
Participants were asked for their opinions about the event, and many of them wrote to Snell via email that they benefited from the distributors’ insights and even from comparing notes with each other.
Robin Bernal of Colibri Sheep Farm in Georgetown called the learning experience “priceless.” Wrote Bernal: “It was 100 percent worth my time. I got to meet distributors that could potentially mean extra business for my farm, and I got to learn what specific things distributors are looking for when they look at your product.”
Amy Ragland of Primetime’s Rub-O’licious spice rub in Elizabethtown admitted she was nervous meeting the distributors at first.
“After I learned that the distributors were so friendly and nice, and they weren’t going to eat me alive, my nervousness soon went away,” Ragland wrote. “The distributors were receptive to me, even though we are small, and treated me with kindness and respect.”
“It was a great opportunity to showcase our product and also show our passion and hard work to a judging body that understood where we come from – Kentucky Proud!” wrote John Perkins of Johnny B’s BBQ in Somerset. “When the door is slammed on you so many times by people that haven’t even heard your ‘pitch’ or taken time to look at your product, the day somewhat validated our journey. … The Kentucky Proud team is opening the door that could possibly make all of our hard work pay off unlike any other marketing program today.”
Kentucky Proud members were interviewed on camera by Kiley Parker, a marketing specialist with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture who is also an independent filmmaker. Each of the members was allotted eight minutes of video to talk about themselves and their products. Professional photos were taken of each product.
Critchfield thought the day went about as well as any first-time event.
“I thought the event was well planned and very productive for both the distributor and the vendor,” Critchfield stated. “All the vendors seem passionate about their products and were grateful for the opportunity.”
“[The event] further enhanced my belief that being part of Kentucky Proud is one of the smartest business decisions made,” wrote Susie Lenhard of This Lady’s Artisan Eats in Covington. “In addition to the obvious benefit of meeting the distributors, meeting my colleagues from across the state was so inspiring. Seeing Kentucky Proud products, talking with other small business owners, and hearing how they are managing their business was a true asset.”Read more