Where to sell your product in the Iowa City Area
The Iowa City area has a well-developed network of direct, retail and restaurant outlets that provide food entrepreneurs with access to local consumers. Early in your business planning process you should consider how you will market and distribute your product, and what outlets you intend to sell through.
Many food entrepreneurs get their start by selling direct to consumers at area Farmer’s Markets. The Iowa City Farmer’s Market is the oldest and most established in Johnson County, but there are many other markets you can also apply to. Up-to-date lists and contact information for area Farmer’s Markets can be found at the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, through local newspapers or area organizations that support local producers such as Field to Family. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship offers a statewide database of Farmers Markets that can be sorted by city and by county.
Another direct outlet often used by food entrepreneurs is a temporary food stand at local festivals, carnivals or fairs. For example, food vendors are a featured part of the Iowa Arts Festival, the Iowa City Jazz Festival, and the Iowa Soul Festival. Food vendors from the Iowa City/Coralville area are given first priority for acceptance. To apply contact Summer of the Arts.
Another direct-to-consumer outlet is the Iowa Valley Food Co-op (IVFC), a cooperative of producer and consumer members in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City area. IVFC maintains a web-based ordering system where consumers order products directly from area farmers and other local businesses. IVFC acts as a facilitator, providing a marketplace, processing orders and payments, and arranging for delivery to consumer members. IVFC can be an easy and effective way to reach consumers and market your products.
If you want to sell products into the retail food channel there are a number of options in the Iowa City area. New Pioneer Food Co-op has been supporting local food production in Johnson County for over 40 years. New Pi’s strong support for the local food system means that many local food entrepreneurs have found their path to market through New Pioneer. Product standards and procedures for local food entrepreneurs are very well developed and there are opportunities in every area of the store. Product Submission Guidelines are easily available from the New Pi website, and their Product Submission Checklist is a useful tool if you intend to approach any retailer.
Another option is the Hy-Vee stores in the Iowa City area. Hy-Vee is a regional supermarket chain headquartered in West Des Moines, IA. They have over 200 stores in eight states. Hy-Vee stores operate autonomously, allowing each store director some latitude in what to stock and pricing. According to Ryan Roberts,
Store Director at Hy-Vee East in Iowa City, the best way to find out if a particular Hy-Vee store is interested in selling your product is to meet with the Store Director or the appropriate Department Manager. Names and responsibilities of current store management can be found on each store’s website.
A relatively new entrant into the Iowa City grocery market is Lucky’s, a natural food store chain with stores in eleven states. Lucky’s has a stated goal of 10 percent of sales for local food. Troy Bond, Store Manager, says the best way to determine if Lucky’s will stock your product is to approach the appropriate store department manager and present the product. They will forward the information to their corporate category manager who makes the final decision.
Other retail opportunities may be found by contacting the store’s managers or owners directly. If your products are appropriate for food service, restaurants that are known for supporting local producers, such as Motley Cow, Trumpet Blossom, or Devotay may also be interested.
The path to business success often hinges on growing your sales base. This may mean finding new retail outlets or distributors, or developing new sales channels as you grow. Ultimately you may want to sell regionally, or in more populated areas such as Chicago or Minneapolis. Building a strong foundation of local retailer support can help you achieve these goals.