Niman Ranch’s Steve Kerford on ‘Going Direct’
Niman Ranch sells direct-to-consumer pork, beef and lamb—products that don’t usually lend themselves to direct marketing, least of all online sales. But Niman Ranch has had tremendous success (projected 2006 revenues of nearly $100 million) doing just that.
Target Marketing got Steve Kerford, director of online sales for Niman Ranch, to reveal a few of those marketing secrets for this week’s Q-and-A. Not surprisingly, Kerford says selling meat direct to consumers involves a little sizzle, and a lot of steak.
Target Marketing: How did Niman Ranch begin the branding process?
Steve Kerford: Back in the 1970s, when [San Francisco celebrity chef] Alice Waters opened her restaurant Chez Panisse, she would list the farms where her produce was grown right on the menus. Bill Niman contacted her and sent her some pork. Chef Waters loved it and started buying her meats from us, and using our name and logo on the menus. Other chefs and restaurants followed, and it built from there. Now the Niman Ranch brand is prominently featured on the menus of many of the finest restaurants in the country.
TM: How did the restaurant success lead to direct-to-consumer sales?
SK: There weren’t many companies, and still aren’t many, marketing meat directly to consumers, as opposed to going the supermarket route. We didn’t know much about the mechanics, so we hired former direct mailers. They helped us get a successful catalog campaign going, and we ran our first ads in restaurant and food lovers’ publications. When the Internet came along, it really was just a natural progression to go online.
TM: How did you begin pushing traffic and potential customers to your Web site?
SK: Because we had built a viable business through branding, and other entrepreneurs were using the Web as an effective marketing tool, we saw unlimited potential for Niman Ranch. We hooked up with [online lead generation specialists] LSF Interactive for expert advice, and it launched a successful Google/Yahoo search campaign for us. Its pay-per-performance model reduced our costs, because we pay only for the sales we get.