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We thought meal kit subscription boxes were a fad.  Well, we were wrong.  The market for subscription fresh ingredient boxes has continued to increase, with households reporting they like the convenience, portion control and the ability to eat “healthy”.

Farms and artisan producers have the opportunity to hitch their wagon to this train, so to speak, by offering subscriptions – be that for meat, vegetables, grains and value added products or any combination thereof.  In fact, at Food4All, we have a variety of producers successfully offering different types of subscriptions to meet their customers needs and expand their reach into the communities they serve.

When it comes to the what and how of subscriptions, we’ve observed two different approaches: a modification of the traditional CSA, and a straightforward subscription model.

Here’s what we’ve learned:

CSA installment payments as an alternative to a large upfront payment

When properly applied, offering installment payments for CSA’s as an alternative to one large upfront payment can reinvigorate CSA sales and boost your farm’s profitability.

The traditional CSA model requires full payment for the season upfront. But only a small portion of households can afford a large upfront payment for food they will receive in the future. And many will not pay out that much money without trialing a CSA type experience at a lower commitment threshold.

Instead, offer shoppers a ‘subscription’ plan, something most are already familiar with from similar services via other industries. Offering a subscription-type payment plan on a quarterly, monthly, or even weekly basis makes the CSA commitment more financially palatable.

You can still lock in pre-season cash by offering a discount for full payment at the beginning of the year, but ongoing subscription payments open the door to new customers and future revenue.

Offer Trial Subscriptions to Attract New Customers

Instead of having customers commit to an entire season’s worth of output, consider offering smaller timebound subscription windows.   Maybe it’s the “Peak of Summer” short term CSA that gives a household the tastes of summer during your farm’s peak output.  This gives new customers a chance to try out your farm CSA before fully committing. It may also works better for customers who travel frequently and know they wouldn’t need a box during the harvest season every week.

We see producers successfully offering protein box subscriptions, micro green subscriptions and vegetable box subscriptions with different timeframes that meet the needs of certain segments of the markets they serve.  Look for a platform that gives you the flexibility to time bound each subscription and limit the number of subscribers per product offering.

Coming Up with Your Approach

You may want to consider offering a mix of both types of subscriptions.  For the committed household who wants to eat local all season, an installment payment type model might work best.  And for tempting in new customers who maybe hesitant to commit to a full season, consider offering shorter time interval subscriptions – one that allows them to plan around family vacations while also experiencing the flavor and bounty of local food.

Choose an online platform with capability for traditional CSA sign-ups, payment plan options, and time bound subscriptions.  You probably don’t want to oversell, so look for a platform that can also set limits for sales of your different subscription products.