Last week, I posted our 2016 review and was happy to report on the progress we made in the past year. You can find that report here. In 2016, we were able to implement positive changes that helped us achieve our goals of engagement, unification, and expansion. We will continue to further these goals in 2017, as well as tackle the following initiatives; expand our sustainability practices, grow our domestic retail business, and introduce new retail items.
We pride ourselves in being at the forefront of sustainability in the farming industry. With the implementation of our 3 processing plants; Natural Blends Vegetable Dehydration, Yamco, and Covington Spirits we were able to save 50 million+ pounds of sweet potatoes from ending up in the landfill. We also follow the agricultural standards set by the Sustainable Agriculture Network, which include resource conservation, use of recycled packaging materials, as well as sustainable land management and erosion practices. While we will continue these practices in 2017, we are taking a step forward to decrease our carbon footprint by using renewable energy at one or more of our processing plants. We are pleased to announce that we have partnered with a company that plans on building a steam plant that will generate electricity through the use of agricultural waste. Not only will this generate clean renewable energy, but it will also help reduce the amount of agricultural waste in Eastern North Carolina.
In the past decade, exports of North Carolina sweet potatoes have surged over 300%, while domestic demand has seen steady growth year after year. As a result of this overseas growth, many sweet potato producers, including us, have shifted some of our focus over to the high growth markets. In 2017, we are making a concerted effort to grow our domestic retail business. Our focus on engagement in 2016 has put us in a great position to expand our relationships to new domestic retail customers. We are off to a great start in 2017 as we already have secured some new retail business. Soon you will see our Ham’s Yams in more stores near you!
Consumers are not only demanding fresh sweet potatoes, they are also looking for new innovative ways to consume their favorite tuber. As a result, one of our goals is to introduce new retail items using sweet potatoes as an ingredient. To accomplish this, we will seek to develop partnerships with other companies who plan on developing new healthy consumer products. One such partnership and product is already making its way into grocery stores in the U.S. This past year, we partnered with Healthier Way Foods and supplied them with the sweet potato flour for their pancake mix. You can find more information on the product here. As the year progresses, I will update you on the progress of any new products and/or partnerships.
We are only a week into 2017 and we are already making significant headway in achieving our 2017 goals of expanding our sustainability practices, growing our domestic retail business, and introducing new retail items. A year from now, I plan on writing a successful 2017 review about how we achieved these three goals.
Peace, Love, and Sweet Potatoes
For Ham Farms and Produce 2016 was a year of change and growth. New hires, new customers, and new babies highlighted our growth in 2016. As a result of this growth, we were able to implement positive changes that helped us achieve our goal of engagement, unification, and expansion. This year we were able to increase engagement with our customers, unify our ‘new’ brands into one organization and grow the sweet potato market both domestically and worldwide.
In my rebranding press release, which you can find here, I explained that our new website, logo, and communication efforts were all aimed at engaging our customers. After launching the website and implementing the aforementioned communication strategy, I am happy to report that we accomplished our engagement goal. We now have over 600 subscribers to our weekly newsletter and a 100% response rate to all of our customer communications through our website. Another aspect of this strategy was a stronger social media presence. Through increased social media presence, we were able to boost Facebook likes and shares by 300% as well as, amplify the awareness of the sweet potato market and North Carolina agriculture.
Prior to 2016, Ham Farms, Ham Produce, Yamco, Natural Blend Vegetable Dehydration, and Covington Sweet Potato Vodka were referred to as five different companies. With our new hires and marketing strategy, we were able to effectively communicate the unification of these companies. Now it is a common occurrence for a customer to order both fresh and processed sweet potatoes from us.
As a company rooted in Eastern North Carolina, Ham Farms has a Tar Heel State responsibility to continue the growth of the Sweet Potato Market domestically and even worldwide. We take this responsibility very seriously. In 2016, we added numerous new customers and extended our reach into half a dozen new states and five new countries. Not only did we add new customers, but our retention rate with our current customers is the highest it has ever been. Pride was a major factor in accomplishing this goal in 2016. Growth in sales is not just the product of good salesmen or women; it is a result of the pride of quality work from the planters, to the pickers, to the shippers. That is why, “no matter the destination, we take pride in delivering all our products from our family farm to your table”.
2016 was a great year for us indeed.
While we achieved our three goals of engagement, unification, and expansion, our work does not stop there. Stay tuned! In a couple of weeks, I will introduce our strategic goals for 2017 and a roadmap to success in the New Year.
Many consumers have cried “fowl” over the rising Thanksgiving prices.
The American Farm Bureau Federation recently reported that a Thanksgiving meal for 10 will cost a family $50.11 on average this year. This will be the first time in history that the holiday meal will surpass the $50 mark. This increase in price has been mainly contributed to the decrease in production of turkeys as well as many other main ingredients. While this may be true, when you factor in inflation, the price of Thanksgiving dinner has actually decreased in the last twenty years. In fact, Thanksgiving dinner is following a similar pattern to all other food products nationwide. Grocers, growers, and food suppliers are looking for leftovers from the once booming industry as food prices continue their 50 year decline. Low prices are not always an encouraging sign for the economy and can signal wage stagnation, deflation, and reduce the incentive for investments in infrastructure and service.
The agriculture and food industry makes up over 9% of the workforce in the US, which amounts to over 17.3 million jobs. While the productivity in this sector has grown substantially, wage growth has not followed suit. Hourly and salaried employees have only seen a 0.2% per year increase in their pay. This really amounts to zero, as it matched the inflation rate perfectly. This trend can be attributed to the gradual decline of revenues as a result of the loss of value on many food products.
Economists have used the Food Price index (FFPI) to predict inflationary trends since the beginning of modern economic theory. The decline in the FFPI corresponds with the current low inflation rate trend. Low inflation also has a negative effect on wages. Since there is little to no inflationary pressure, as well as a low unemployment rate, workers have little leverage to negotiate wage increases. If this trend continues and ultimately deflation occurs, consumer spending will decrease as consumers will delay purchases with the promise of cheaper options in the future.
Low food prices decrease the incentive for companies to make investments in infrastructure and added services. Not only do companies have less income to make investments, they also have a hard time justifying borrowing money. Low inflation and falling prices/revenues makes the loan payment a higher portion of their income, reducing the attractiveness of the low interest rates.
As a consumer, it is pretty easy to be thankful for lower food prices, but it is important to look at the big picture. With that in mind, when you sit down to eat your Thanksgiving dinner, please give thanks to all the people who have worked hard to supply you with your affordable yet delicious meal.