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Marketing Tips: Groom Your Customers

Keith Culver, Merrifield Garlic Merchants

We must all take advantage of the growth in popularity garlic is receiving. One of the ways to capitalize is to make the best use of time by minimizing the amount of preparation given your garlic for marketing.

We all know that certain varieties will clean up easier than others and that harvest conditions and soil types also have an effect on cleaning time. One of the most frustrating things for us all is to have some really nice bulbs that require a lot of time-consuming brushing or hand peeling to make them look acceptable to our consumers. Remember that garlic cleans much easier after it is cured.

Here at Merrifield, we have learned to "groom" or "guide" our customers to expect our cosmetics. We have many new customers each year, many of whom are new growers or new marketers of Eastern-grown garlic. The first thing you need to know to assess the cosmetic quality required is how the garlic will ultimately be used. If you are selling in a tablestock market situation as bulbs, the garlic will need to look its best. Likewise, when braiding the garlic should look attractive, but here you can test the water a little to see what is acceptable. If you are certain that your customer is using your garlic for seed, you can eliminate some time-consuming work by removing only the obvious dirt.

Remember, you are the expert with your garlic. What you deliver should become the standard. We have had no complaints whatsoever about our cosmetics and now clean only 20% of our saleable bulbs any further than what is done at harvest time. If at all possible, harvest in good conditions-dry, dry, dry. Allowing the dirt to dry to a white-appearing dust helps. The other thing that you can remind your customers about is the fact that removal of wrappers by pealing or brushing will probably decrease storage life. For myself, I like to see the original wrapper leaf on the bulb. This assures me that the garlic was harvested at its optimal quality condition and will withstand mild bumps much better than bulbs with few or no wrappers.

The final analysis should be left up to the customer, but if you grow nice garlic, your customers will work with you. If at first they are not satisfied, assure them that you will do a better job-then do it!! However, there is no going back once you deliver snow white garlic, and I'm sure you know Snow White is a fairy tale!!

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