URBANA - Producers, buyers, sellers, and distributors in Illinois now have an online marketing tool. MarketMaker is an interactive website designed to find supply chain partners and to improve knowledge of where food consumers are located and how they make food related purchasing decisions.
The website, which is located at http://www.marketmaker.uiuc.edu, is a collaboration between the University of Illinois Initiative for the Development of Entrepreneurship in Agriculture (IDEA), the Illinois Department of Agriculture and C-FAR (Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research).
"The idea is to provide a one-stop shop for strategic marketing information for producers and food retailers alike," says Darlene Knipe, principal investigator for the project. "There is an abundance of marketing data available via the Internet and through various trade magazines, but to a novice user it can be a bit overwhelming. We’ve attempted to distill and organize that information into an easy-to-use interactive site." State-of-the-art mapping tools let users visualize strategic marketing information.
The idea for MarketMaker was an outgrowth of previous C-FAR projects that explored market opportunities for value-added meat products. The project required extensive market reconnaissance to gain a working knowledge not only of the end consumer but also of the all the steps from the farm to the plate. Good marketing decisions are predicated upon having good, practical marketing data, Knipe says.
Peter Goldsmith of the University of Illinois Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, and a member of the MarketMaker team, explains, "We had to be able to answer questions like who are the consumers that were most likely to buy the kinds of products we were evaluating. For every marketing question we’re able to answer, new ones emerged. What businesses were currently serving those consumers? Would they be potential partners in a venture with producers that offered a better product?
"Through that process we amassed an extensive archive of marketing data. Farmers engaged in value-added ventures began requesting marketing information for their own business plans, and the need for a better way to disseminate marketing information became apparent."
The MarketMaker website includes demographic and business data that the user can query. Details can be summarized on a map to show concentrations of consumer markets and strategic business partners. "Providing this kind of information in a map-based format makes much more sense than business lists and statistical tables," states Pat Curry, a project co-investigator.
For example, a user can request lists of federally inspected packing plants along with a map that identifies their locations. If you are a grocery store owner or manager looking for the closest producer of organic vegetables, you can query the website to find the names and contact information.
Census data is also a feature of the site. For example a producer wanting to sell meat to Hispanic consumers can request a map showing the greatest concentration of upper income Hispanic households, then request a complete demographic profile of those locations. This is the kind of information required in most business plans, but it is also useful in determining feasible target markets. Fact sheets, customized demographic profiles, and supporting research can all be found on MarketMaker.
"We will always be adding and updating the site with new information" says Gina Backes, program coordinator," Right now we are developing a series of materials on marketing to ethnic populations. MarketMaker will always be a work in progress."
The next phase of the project is to build the list of Illinois food producers on the site. Since there is no complete list of Illinois farmers producing and marketing food-related products, University of Illinois Extension educators will be reaching out to the producers statewide to include their ventures in MarketMaker. There is no charge associated with having a business listed on the site.
"Our goal is to make the site a resource for all businesses in the food supply chain," says Knipe. "We are as interested in helping a grocery store find farm-fresh eggs as we are in helping the farmer find a place to sell them, so it's important to include as many producers in our database as possible."
All of these online resources are intended to improve the users' understanding of food marketing and provide better access to regional food markets. Businesses can be added to the database by completing the online form provided on the site or by contacting Gina Backes (firstname.lastname@example.org; 309-796-0512).
If you have questions about MarketMaker contact any member of the development team: Darlene Knipe (email@example.com; 309-792-2500), Gina Backes (firstname.lastname@example.org; 309-796-0512), Pat Curry (email@example.com; 217-782-6515) or Peter Goldsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org; 217-333-5131).