Erbcroft Farms – Luann and Tim Erb
By Jeanine Moyer
Farm tweets land Ontario sheep farmer steady business
“What’s trending” is what launched Erbcroft Farms into the food market. Combining consumer interest in local food and social media made a successful marketing strategy for one Ontario sheep farmer. Luann Erb, of Erbcroft Farms, says her twitter account as one of her most effective marketing tools.
Fourth generation farmers in Sebringville, ON, Luann and Tim Erb, along with their two sons, farm 300 acres, raising sheep, pigs, ducks and chicken. Faced with a career change in 2009, Luann chose to stay at home on the farm full-time to diversify the family income. “I needed to be able to manage the livestock on my own,” says Erb who decided sheep were just the right size for her.
She quickly saw that the value of her sheep wasn’t realized through traditional markets and set out to create her own savvy marketing approach through social media. “Like any business I wanted to maximize my profits,” says Erb who recognized local food trends and social media as her best business opportunities.
“I focused on getting into the local food market, starting with twitter,” says Erb who also developed a website at the advice of a friend to support her modernized business approach. Erb says her social media strategy hasn’t changed since her first tweet, she engages with followers rather than pushing her product. “It’s about building relationships – I have conversations around food and tweet regularly about what’s going on around the farm,” explains Erb who’s generated a wide range of twitter followers. She’s also a vendor at local farmers’ markets and sells products directly from the farm. Erb finds it easy to talk to people through social media and in person saying, “conversations start when people discover I’m a real farmer, everyone is talking about food and I’m happy to be part of the discussion.”
Followers of @erbcroft learn about the day to day activities of the family farm and information on their farm fresh meat products. Erb knew her social media marketing approach was working when a big sale resulted from a tweet where she talked about an incident on the farm and the challenges that can come for caring for farm animals. “That twitter conversation proved how helpful social media is and how fast it can generate business,” says Erb. “I was sold on social media that day.”
The Erb family has since expanded their farm fresh meat business to include heritage pork, chicken, duck and dry aged beef. And every addition to their product line is the result of customer interest. “Customers were asking for more than just lamb and each time we add another meat product we attract new business,” says Erb, now offering value-added products like sausage and ready-made meals.
Taking local food one step further, she’s partnered with a local chef to make Erbcroft lamb curry pies, now a popular item with their farmer’s market customers. Erb is testing a new approach and recently added bi-weekly meat boxes to their lineup, offering a variety of meats and cuts to customers who make a three-month commitment.
“Most of what I’ve learned has come from others,” says Erb, crediting fellow sheep producers and her friend who encouraged her introduction to social media and online sales approach. She estimates 40-50 per cent of business now comes from their website. Pleased with the success of their value-added farm business, Erb is now looking for new ways to expand, adding sheep skins to their farm line-up. “It’s a seasonal market so far,” she says citing recent success over the Christmas season. “Once again I’m looking to online sales and using twitter for promotion.”
Erb’s contemporary farming approach is proving successful – both when it comes to caring for her animals and talking with consumers on twitter. “I enjoy engaging with people about food and farming, whether it’s in person at the farmers’ market or through social media surrounded by my animals in the barn.”