The number one reason CSAs lose 45-65% of their customers each year (churn) is the product.

So, does that mean the food you produce isn’t good enough? Probably not. Unless you’re really careless with your product and you ship it in a condition that’s inedible it’s probably not that. Most people sign up for a CSA knowing what they signed up for. So how can the product be the problem?

First, let's define what the product actually is:

On the surface you’d expect me to say that it’s the tomato, the leafy greens or cut of meat you produce and sell. And, you’d be right - but not totally. These items are what marketers call the “core product” That’s because the “actual product” is the whole experience and includes the packaging and services offered with the core product. The mix of features and services you should offer depends on your target audience, their needs and expectations. Which means you need to know your customer and understand what motivates them to buy from you. Ideally, you’ll increase your knowledge and deepen your understanding so that you really hone in on what makes them happy.

Your product includes everything the customer experiences after making a purchase:

  • The product itself 
  • The packaging and how its presented
  • Availability for customization
  • Instructions on how to use
  • Customer service

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Think about this – Chick-fil-A is a fast-food restaurant that’s wildly successful at creating a delightful customer experience. They sell similar products to MacDonalds, Burger King and KFC but the experience at Chick-Fil-A is remarkably different and better than the others. That doesn’t mean the other brands don’t offer a good product – they do. (I know this is probably debatable with this audience but you must admit they all offer products that people want - which is why they’re still in business and serve the masses). But Chick-Fil-A exceeds the others in service and total experience. They have stellar customer service at Chick-Fil-A which is part of the product because it affects the customers experience. So, what does that mean for you? You aren’t part of a multibillion-dollar franchise and you’re certainly not selling fast food.

With a little effort you can make your product the reason people stay rather than leave. To accomplish this, you first need to understand your customer and develop a deep understanding of their motivations. Do you know why they buy from you and what they hope to get out of your product or a relationship with your business? If you don’t, you need to ask. Once you have clarity on your customer, put yourself in their shoes and package (literally and figuratively) a product to delight them.

Consider the following when designing your product:

  1. Start with the core product – does the mix you offer meet their needs? Are they looking for a better alternative to the same products they’d buy at the grocery store? If so, you may want to stick to the basics and not offer unfamiliar items. Are they looking for adventure and interested in trying new ingredients to expand their skills in the kitchen? If so, you may want to offer a variety of ingredients that aren’t available in the average grocery store. How do you manage bumper crops or when a products production is sparse?

    CSA BasketConsider your customer’s experience. Delivering 10 cucumbers in one share or 1 turnip may not be very useful to them. Get creative and consider ways to manage these situations so your customers don’t get frustrated. Talk to them - they may even have ideas.
    One farmer I spoke with said she conducted an experiment selling prepaid cards that could be used in her store as customers selected what they wanted from her store rather than get a box of ingredients she selected. Most of her customers opted for the traditional share subscription and told her they like the challenge. This information helped her understand what to grow and what her customers want. 

  2. You can offer an enhanced product by allowing some customization. Do have a way for your customers to swap out or make modifications to the shares? I personally appreciate this. We don't have a garden because we have deer that eat everything we grow, but I do have containers with herbs and tomatoes. So, when my CSA sends a bunch of tomatoes or basil I’m not as excited as when I get chard or beets. Maybe your customers are older and have sensitive GI systems that green peppers and cucumbers wreak havoc on. Offering the opportunity to make some modifications can increase customer satisfaction and give you insights to your customers preferences. Just make sure you keep track of what’s been swapped out and for what. Don’t rely on your gut or memory – let the numbers inform you. They’re much more accurate.

  3. Your packaging should be consistent with your brand and enhance the customer experience. Is it arranged picture perfectly? Is it drippy wet and dirty? Is it Share boxdelivered in a plastic bag, a compostable bag or a reusable box? Does it promote your brand or is it just functional?
    Think about the experience your customer has when receiving their order. Does this experience enhance, do nothing, or hurt your product? The experience should be aligned with the right customer experience given what you know about them. For affluent customers extra care in packaging that seems artisan can be a delight and command a premium price. Others may buy from you and appreciate a delivery that makes them feel like they’re connected to your farm. Farmers who serve lower socio-economic audiences may want to consider offering a little prep since their customers may not have the means to acquire a lot of tools.

  4. How will you help your customers to be successful with your products? I’d wager that you sell something, maybe a lot of things, that some of your customers don’t know how to prepare. Providing resources to help them be successful with those ingredients will go a long way in generating loyal customers. Just look at the posts on any social platform and you can see the joy people get from successfully preparing a meal with something new.
    At minimum, you should be offering a description of each product and how it’s typically prepared. You can send out a newsletter, include a print out in the package or offer recipes and product information on your website – or in your Culineer account. One way or another, it’s really important that you provide instructions for product use. And, keep in mind that HOW you provide instructions and recipe inspiration affects the customer experience. So, pay attention to the feedback you get. It’s as important to get this right as it is to produce the right food.

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  5. Timing is everything. Set up a communication channel that allows you to send information about the coming share and recipes to use well before the product is going to be delivered. It will give your customers time to wrap their head around what’s coming and gather anything else they may need to prepare a meal. The last thing you want is an ingredient to sit in the fridge unused and eventually trashed. When this happens, it will lead to cancellations and/or churned customers. 

  6. Customer service really comes down to how they feel when they interact with you. CSA members make an investment in your farm. Do you give them the VIP treatment or do they feel taken for granted? Keep in mind, that if you lost that wholesale account, or if your restaurant clients closed the CSA members are the ones who keep you afloat.

How you deliver your product is part of customer service too. Traditionally CSAs have pick-ups at the farm or a drop off point or at a farmers’ market but some farmers are having success with home delivery. The technology to support new delivery models is rapidly changing. Only you can assess what you can manage, know what’s going on in your area with other CSAs and have a clear idea of your customers’ expectations.

The I hope this information helps you improve your customers experience and that you see an increase in customer retention and loyalty. If you found this helpful please share it with others.

A Culineer Pro-Account  provides a great platform to engage your customers in a two-way communication, create and offer a beautiful, searchable recipe library. You can also share information about your farm and build an engaged community. If you’d like to learn more about Culineer and how it can help your business - visit our website or schedule a demo.


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