As with many industries, COVID-19 had a major impact on agriculture in Alberta. The farmer’s markets were closed for the majority of the pandemic, which substantially affected the income of Alberta farmers and agri-food producers.
Some food processing operations were also halted, due to the risk of COVID-19 exposure.
People avoided public spaces, shopped less in person and relied more on online grocery solutions.
Leaders of Alberta agriculture and agri-food sectors had to come up with various creative ways of selling their products to offset their reduction in income.
One of these ways was to improve their online presence. They became more active on various social media channels and started selling their products through an online store or other online platforms.
Related: How to sell products on social media
7 business tips for agriculture in Alberta
Below, we’ve listed the top ways in which agriculture in Alberta is adjusting to the new circumstances.
Use these tips as a guide to help improve your online efforts and make sure your Alberta agriculture business stands out during this challenging time.
1. Look into the various government support initiatives
There are different types of government support programs aimed at helping agricultural businesses facing hardship as a result of COVID-19. You can apply for and receive financial support if you belong to one of the following:
- Alberta producers
- Food processors
- Agri-food businesses
There are also quite a few business risk management programs available for agricultural producers that protect against income and production losses.
In addition to that, there are several federal programs available such as:
- Canada Emergency Business Account
- Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy
- Regional Relief and Recovery Funds
- Business Credit Availability Program
Through Farm Credit Canada, you can access payment deferrals and get an additional credit of up to $500,000. If you employ temporary foreign workers, you can also receive $1500 for each worker who is isolating during the mandatory 14-day quarantine period.
Furthermore, you can receive funding for improvements to:
- Employee housing
- Personal protective equipment
- Other health and safety measures
There are also wage top-ups available for essential workers in the agriculture industry.
For more information about these government support programs, visit the following website: COVID-19 Financial support for farmers and food processors.
2. Put your business online
Nowadays, it’s strange if a business doesn’t have a website — regardless of the industry. A website can expand business opportunities and offer you a window of communication with more potential customers around the world.
Through your own words and photos, you can tell the story of your agriculture business online.
This will help attract the type of customer who is looking to buy your product. An active online presence can help:
- Increase awareness of your business and what it produces
- Differentiate your products from your competitors
- Build trust among lenders and suppliers
With everyone online now, a website is the best way to put your business in front of all the people who impact it.
Here’s how to get started
One of the easiest ways to set up a website is by using GoDaddy’s Website Builder. Just answer two questions — what’s your industry, what’s your business name — and Website Builder provides a pre-built website for you to fill out with your text and photos.
You can also use a provider such as LocalLine.ca, which caters to farms and farmers markets.
Regardless of which you choose, make sure your online store resembles your offline business. It’s important that your tone of voice, colours and social messages match the image you present in person.
Lastly, make sure that the About Us page presents the philosophy behind your business. Include:
- Why you farm
- What sets you apart from other Alberta ag operations
- Your vision for your business
It’s a good idea to include photos of your family (especially if it’s a family business), your team, and your operations.
3. Take attractive photos of your product
People are very visual, so it would be a good idea to invest in high-quality professional product photos.
The more attractive your product photos are, the better the chance that someone will buy.
The photos of your product and what you are actually selling should match to avoid negative customer feedback.
4. Figure out your delivery schedule
When discussing agriculture in Alberta, it’s important to figure out the delivery schedule that works for your business. This is especially true during COVID-19 restrictions. Clearly specify your delivery or pick-up locations on your website.
Think about whether you’ll be doing the delivery or if you should hire someone to deliver the products for you.
You’ll also need to determine:
- How often you will do the deliveries
- What days to do the deliveries on
- Which geographical locations to focus on
- How much your customer needs to spend in order for you to deliver to them
Remember, you need to create a delivery plan that's worth your time and effort.
5. Partner with local food delivery companies and restaurants
Besides targeting local grocery stores, it’s also a good idea to network online and build relationships with local food delivery businesses, such as SPUD.ca and local restaurants.
Your website, combined with a targeted digital marketing strategy, will be a strong force to help you attract potential business partners. It also helps open up new business distribution channels for agriculture in Alberta.
6. Build your social media channels and stay active
It’s important to be active in at least one social media channel to share timely updates with your audience.
People love learning more about a business, especially if your posts feel ‘real.’
Share your day-to-day challenges, behind-the-scenes events and any other positive (or entertaining) things that are happening in your business. People interested in agriculture in Alberta want to see what your daily life is really like. It’s important to show the human side of your business.
Social media can be overwhelming, so start out by choosing two channels you can dedicate your time to. The most popular choices are Facebook and Instagram. However, it all depends on your business.
If you sell to other businesses
If your business sells primarily to other businesses, then it would be better if you focus your efforts on your website and LinkedIn. Your content strategy could include:
- Blog posts
- Customer case studies
- A graphic that shows your seasonal offerings
If you sell direct to consumers
If you typically sell your products at the local farmer’s market, then it would be better to focus on Facebook and Instagram. These networks are more likely to attract the kind of customers you seek.
Once your business becomes more established on social media, you could consider advertising your products on Facebook and/or Instagram. While this costs money, it can exponentially grow your business.
7. Stay connected to your customers
It’s also important to stay connected to your customers by sending them weekly, monthly or quarterly newsletters about your business. This is your chance to:
- Showcase your new products
- Teach your customers about agriculture in Alberta
- Make more sales
Newsletters keep your business top of mind with customers, so that they’re more likely to make a purchase from you down the line.
The future of Alberta agriculture
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the traditional sales channels that agri-food businesses have relied on for years don’t work as effectively as they used to.
It’s time to make a change and keep up with the current times.
Getting involved in digital marketing efforts is now a requirement for healthy long-term agri-business operations — especially when it comes to agriculture in Alberta.
COVID-19 has sped up a shift that’s been happening over the years. It’s time for agri-food businesses to focus their attention on online marketing activities. It’s an ideal way of showcasing your uniqueness, expanding your reach and connecting with customers.