Pick Your Own Pumpkin - Marketing and Considerations
The pick your own (PYO) pumpkin market continues to show strong growth in Wales, where it is becoming a strong marketing point from the start of September through to Halloween. As part of the wider farm tourism sector, customers are willing to pay significantly above supermarket prices to choose a pumpkin in the field, as well as enjoying a variety of other activities that can be attached to a core PYO business. However, a number of points will require careful planning if the PYO venture is to be marketed successful, and it is worth spending extra time getting ready for what can be a brief and busy window of selling.
*Note that Covid has impacted significantly on the way we can do business in recent times, and the guidance in this document should be adapted in accordance with the latest Covid situation and Welsh Government guidance.
It will be essential to manage the customer experience for the duration of their time on your site. This will mean that customers have a smooth, enjoyable experience and are likely to leave positive feedback on social media as well as maximizing the flow through of customers. For example, consider sign posting clear routes around the farm, and directions to open pumpkin patches. Also plan for areas where customers are likely to line up, such as payment points to improve the flow through of customers. Providing sledges or wheel barrows to help customers move pumpkins from the field is another useful tip. If possible, contactless payment systems can speed up sales, with systems such as Square, SumUp or IZettle providing low cost mobile-based card payment systems. It may be worth installing a dedicated sales area (even if you have onsite sales for other purposes such as a farm shop) to streamline the process – even a repurposed shipping container, polytunnel or barn can be used for this (Figure 1). Lastly, it may be worth planning to decorate areas of the site to match the Halloween theme, and encouraging staff to wear fancy dress for busy periods – the more the customer enjoys the experience the more it is likely to be shared a talked about, and social media can be a highly effective marketing tool.
Figure 1. An example of a pumpkin sizer used to grade pumpkins for sale. This can act as customer engagement by allowing them to drop their pumpkin into a given hole, and can speed up sales compared with individual fruit weights. This example was sited in a repurposed shipping container on the edge of the pumpkin patch field.
Social Media & Advertising
It will be important to broadcast your PYO pumpkin patch, and advertising locally and particularly social media can be of great help. You should have clear messages about where you are (using google maps tag or what3words as an example), when you are open, what you have to offer and access to your site (ideally using one way systems) if it is difficult to find. If you’re able to run a website you can have more information about how the PYO process works, and explain how any booking system you have in place runs. You should aim to post regularly on social media, and encourage people to share their own experiences and photos tagging your farm where possible. Big displays of pumpkins or nice shots across the field can make attractive social media opportunities for your customers, and can help them share content about your site – this is an important part of farm tourism.
Advanced Booking Systems
A booking system can be of use in managing footfall on your site to avoid excessive lines, overfull carparking facilities or having to turn customers away due to undersupply of pumpkins as well as ensuring social distancing can be maintained. Online booking systems can used on farm websites (using apps like WooCommerce or BookThatApp) or links to third party booking services attached to adverts on social media (e.g. Eventbrite and Digitickets). Each day can be divided into a series of 30 or 60 minutes blocks with a fixed number of tickets attached to each timeslot. These can then be sold on a family unit basis for a fixed price which will ensure a minimum return and reduce the risk of no-shows – typically around £5 or £10 per family group. When customers check-in they can be issued with a voucher for the value of their booking which can be redeemed against any pumpkins they purchase. Bookings can be opened up well in advance or a few days ahead enabling you to accurately plan footfall on your site.
Pricing and Selling
Fruit can be marketed at a range of prices, although customers will be prepared to pay considerably more than supermarket rates – this will be expected as part of the experience. Large fruit can be sold for £5 each, with larger varieties sold for up to £10-15 depending on the market. Novelty pumpkins, such as warted fruit or mini munchkins can be sold for around £1.50 - £3.00. Fruit can either be sold by weight, or roughly categorized by size – potentially using different size holes cut in a wooden board. It can be beneficial to have a range of pumpkins already and picked and priced out on a display in a barn – this will make an attractive display, allow customers to choose one without going into the fields if the weather is poor and give an idea of likely costs before they choose a pumpkin.
In addition to pumpkins, you can offer a variety of other products and activities on your site to increase turn over. A café or coffee truck serving hot drinks and cakes is likely to be a big crowd pleaser, while retail stalls selling chocolates and sweets themed around Halloween will also be of interest to young families. You can also offer a pumpkin washing station, or packing/wrapping materials if required. If you have space you might also want to consider hosting pumpkin carving lessons on site which can be a benefit to parents as the mess of carving will happen on the farm! You can market pumpkin carving kits, and with the extra time spent on site parents are likely to spend time (and money) at other facilities like coffee trucks. Carving sessions should be booked into a specific time slot for a supplementary charge (e.g. £2-£3) on top of the pumpkin, and could be included as the time of booking. Lastly, pumpkins integrate well with a variety of other PYO or farm tourism crops, such as maize mazes grown before, or Christmas trees marketed after, the Halloween period.
Health and Safety considerations relating to open farms
Access/exit from and to public roads:
- If vehicles are entering and leaving all day then access and exit should be by separate routes.
- Entrances from and to public roads must have good views each way (your local authority guidance could be useful).
- Ensure parking field is as level and dry as possible.
- Parking of vehicles should be managed (150 vehicles per acre if parked properly).
- Access from carpark to activity area should be away from the vehicle entrance (separate vehicles and people wherever possible).
Identify all potential hazards on the farm and ensure they are made safe these could include:
- Farm animals, ensure they are fenced off away from visitors.
- Vehicles and machinery, ensure theses are parked safely with keys removed and doors lock.
- Workshops, fuel and chemical stores are locked up and secure.
- Slurry and muck stores are fenced off and warnings displayed.
- Ponds or water courses may need to be supervised.
Picking/collection of goods:
- All pedestrian routes should be clearly marked and procedures explained fully to visitors, this could be done by ‘meet and greet’ or with clear signs or arrows.
- Some form of internal transport could be useful for the transporting of goods or for visitors with mobility problems.
- Any vehicles or equipment used on site must be safe and in good working order and operated by competent people.