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November 1st: Torsten Jacobi, CEO of Creative Weblogging, joins host Anita Campbell. Sponsored by Six Disciplines. Show details.
Sunday, August 08, 2004
Corn, Politics and Competing Against Wal-Mart
In the United States this week we saw the war of the corn photos. First it was presidential candidate John Kerry photographed with ears of corn, then it was President George Bush.

And the reason for all this agricultural focus? The New York Daily News calls it:
Thanks to the knife-edge balance in the Electoral College, the only voters who really matter are in places like Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida.

And it's the rural voters in those states who will likely decide which way the race goes.
Now for those readers who wonder what these rural voters are like and what's important to them, perhaps this post will give you a little inkling.

All of which brings me to my latest subject, produce auctions. Here's the interesting paradox: even in this day and age of giant agribusiness and national grocery store chains, small local produce auctions are on the rise in the United States.

The first produce auction was started in the United States only 18 years ago. Now there are 45 scattered across the US.

These produce auctions fill an important niche. They help smaller produce growers find markets and help smaller grocery stores compete against the huge grocery chains. This article in Farm and Dairy Online by reporter Kristy Hebert summarizes it:
Many small and medium-sized growers aren't big enough to sell wholesale to Wal-Mart or Kroger. But they also don't want to be tied to selling only at a roadside stand.

Produce auctions are the middle ground. Here, wholesale buyers are usually local groceries, restaurants, city farm markets, and even temporary roadside stands...."
There's also an important Amish connection. The Amish are a bigger part of the US economy than is often realized -- and not just for tourism. For instance, in the state of Ohio (which has one of the largest Amish populations in the world, if not THE largest) all the produce auctions are owned and run by the Amish. Not only do the auctions provide a market outlet for Amish farmers, but they serve as new business ventures for the Amish.

Produce auctions are another example of how small and medium businesses compete against the big guys, through identifying and dominating niche markets. For an example of a small local grocery chain that benefits from a local produce auction, see the store newsletter from my local grocery store, located in the heart of black buggy country.
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