While most commodity farmers don’t handle the marketing of their crops, value-added products require a more direct marketing approach. Many farmers have added these niche products alongside more traditional crops to diversify their farms and generate more income.
One value-added product gaining ground in Alabama is goat cheese.
Belle Chévre, an award-winning goat cheese company in Elkmont, makes its cheese from goat milk from local and regional farmers who sell their product directly to the company.
Owner Tasia Malakasis then sells the cheese to retail markets and directly to customers through the company’s website, sites like Amazon.com and Belle Chévre’s cheese shop and tasting room in Elkmont.
Malakasis says when she bought Belle Chévre six years ago, the first task she tackled was rebranding the company. Goat cheese has traditionally been viewed as either a health food or something only for the elite to enjoy, but Malakasis says the cheese has roots in Europe and is seen as a common product there.
“The rebranding was all about getting people comfortable with our product,” Malakasis says. “Cheese can be intimidating, like wine, and I wanted to make it an everyday product, but still hip and healthy. We also wanted it to be more accessible in the South because it was well known in New York and California, but not with people in our own backyard.”
Malakasis is involved in just about every aspect of the process – making the cheese, communicating with farmers, organizing marketing campaigns and selling the product to retailers.
Belle Chévre’s marketing strategy also includes educating the consumer. Malakasis and her team come up with recipes and creative ways to use the cheese, and with this information, they produce YouTube videos and recipe booklets. They also send representatives to grocery stores so people can taste the cheese and learn more about it.
“Not only do I want to make a good product, I want people to know how to use it and feel comfortable with it,” Malakasis says. “There are a lot of people who don’t know how to use goat cheese, so we still have a story to tell. I don’t want to make a piece of cheese and send it out and let someone else make a brand. We make it, we ship it and we market it. That’s what’s fun about this.”