For this week’s notes I thought I would reprint some comments I wrote recently in response to a complaint from a customer. Our pricing is a complicated story, and deserves some explanation. So here it is:
Sorry that we've disappointed this customer! We would gladly have responded to him in person if he had come to see us, or me, Jim, the owner. (I'm almost always right there at the market on Saturdays, and always happy to discuss any aspect of what we sell, including price.) We value our customers and always respond to (rare) complaints by offering money back or replacement of any disappointing produce. In fact, for all of our 46 years of marketing in Washington we have maintained a 100% money-back guarantee on every item we grow or sell.
All the produce we sell is grown in soil at our farm or a farm near us, and with every crop there's always a possibility that over-ripeness or some other grading (human) error can result in disappointment of the customer.
This season has been a good one for "donut" peaches, grown for many years by our neighbors and friends, the Andrews family, and we've sold literally thousands of boxes of them to our loyal, repeat customers, who have universally (until now) raved about their sweetness and quality. But of course it's always possible that out of these many boxes, some (or one) will be disappointing, and that's why we offer the above guarantee.
As for price, that is of course a long story, but let me offer a few thoughts. In many years of doing this we have struggled with the economics of growing produce in this climate of the eastern USA, where it's constantly frosting late, or raining at the wrong time, or very humid on summer days. These very problematic climate features (now being made worse by climate change) are not a problem in the parts of Mexico or the US southwest, where large-scale produce farms (our competitors) are located. But these places are 3000 or so miles away from Washington, and quality of produce is directly connected to freshness, as our customers know.
So long experience has taught us that we cannot make a living if we price our stuff at or lower than our competitors in California. For our first, naive few years we often went into Safeway to see prices, and considered that our prices had to be the same or lower than produce in Safeway.
But pretty soon we learned that we were absolutely not making a profit that way. Lots of risk and work, with no money in our pockets to show for it!
Then Whole Foods came along, and we started using their (higher) prices as a standard, which was appropriate because there were more certified-organic items to compare to. (Organic is another serious risk factor in production, that we have always had to deal with. Organic crops cost more to produce, for sure, and we have always been organic). So for many years we have purposely priced our things a bit lower, or the same, as organic at Whole
Foods, and we still do, for the most part. We often go in to WF to check prices, and we are often a bit lower than WF.
And now we have found that in some cases even those higher prices are below our break-even point. After all, the organic stuff in WF is usually grown in California or Mexico, with economies of scale and cheap migrant labor.
But here's the crucial pricing factor that took us a long time to realize: our own experience and that of our customers, in almost every case, is that the flavor, shelf life, and over-all quality of our organic produce is noticeably better than what's in Whole Foods. How could it not be, when we bring our produce directly from our farm to the market, often within hours of harvest? Vegetables are not commodities! One ear of corn is not the same as every other ear. One tree-ripe peach, hours from the orchard, is perceptibly not the same as any peach that WF will ever have in the store!
So the old cliche applies: compare apples to apples, not to oranges. Compare our organic produce to other organic produce of the same quality! If you do, I think you will see that our prices are fair, and worth the difference, if there is a difference.