One of the most important aspects related to the development of an agroindustrial activity, on any scale, is that of marketing.
However, in the case of home-processing activities, the aim of the production may simply be to replace acquired goods with commodities produced on one's own.
It is perfectly viable to base an activity of this kind on the concrete possibility of self-consumption, that is, consumption by the family or by the group that participated in the production process, without truly selling the product. In certain isolated communities, this system may determine the exchange of goods between members, who therefore need not resort to the market of large and distant cities to acquire commodities at rather high prices.
This problem is normally analyzed from the point of view of the market, but it does have other connotations, as in addition to replacing externally-produced consumer goods, raw materials that would otherwise go to waste are actually being exploited. These materials, that is fruits and vegetables, not only have a high nutritional value, but they belong to the class of foods that normally lack in the diet of low-income populations, who give priority to more "filling" products like starches.
As stated previously, self-consumption is perfectly acceptable for home-processing systems. The levels of production are normally low, enough to supply the numerous rural families of Latin America for most of the year. This production management system usually requires an appropriate storage system, to prevent the products from being damaged as a result of inappropriate conditions.
Bottled preserves, juices and pulps, jams and sauces have a very long storage life, which should never be shorter than one year. Dried products packaged in flexible plastic containers may also have a storage life close to 12 months, if they are properly protected from light, humidity and high temperatures. Ideally, however, they should be consumed within 9 months, for they generally tend to change their sensory qualities as a result of environmental conditions.
This system is more suitable for production on a cottage industry level, for it normally involves procedures which are performed mostly at a community rather than on a purely family level. According to this approach, production is a collective activity involving a number of members of different families who make their own contributions. Some will be responsible for the supply of raw materials and goods, while others will be in charge of transportation, the production of processed commodities and their sale, of course. The products are sold between the members of the community, who set up a sort of trade system as a result of which each individual receives a return proportional to his production activity.
This community consumption mechanism may also work on the basis of a system whereby the costs and proceeds from the finished product are shared among members. Each member constitutes himself as the producer of raw materials, supplier of goods or producer of processed commodities, and at the end, the profits deriving from his work are shared. In this scenario, organization is a crucial element, as the work of each individual must be evaluated properly in order to achieve an appropriate balance between the members of the system.
When the production level increases slightly, thus exceeding the community's demand, a small-scale marketing system must be set up, in order to sell the products in nearby communities and even on the small markets of neighboring towns.
These products are usually especially attractive to tourists, and even to the residents of more developed communities, who do not have the time to produce their own food, although the natural resources are within their reach.
In such circumstances, one should clearly realize that the marketing conditions must change in more than one way. First of all, one must be sure that the quality of the products suits the needs of consumers. The term quality here refers to consumer quality, as it is assumed that the product meets hygienic quality standards, even if the system is based on family or community consumption. It is the consumer quality standard that must be fulfilled in an open marketing system, even if it is only on a small-scale. A good way to satisfy consumers is to produce goods that will be attractive to the majority and that do not have peculiar attributes that will only be accepted by a few.
In an open-marketing system, the product's quality must be certified to some degree. It is not enough to assume that everything has been done properly, it must be proven by tests to be carried out by a competent institution. In a community consumption system, this is replaced by an appropriate control in the production phase, which requires that the necessary measures be taken on the production line, to avoid making mistakes that might affect the product's hygienic standards.
Marketing on a regional and national scale is more advanced compared to the systems illustrated previously, both in qualitative and quantitative terms. In this case, the product is subjected to the judgment of a more demanding public, which has a greater discrimination capacity as a result of being constantly bombarded by different products, brands and vendors.
A different, more commercial and more advanced technical approach must therefore be adopted. A sales strategy must be devised to consider packaging types, more accurate quality control and certification systems, timely distribution, and above all, continuity.
All of these aspects are extremely important if this activity is to be converted into a long-term production business. Timely distribution is based on the concept of choosing the appropriate moment, when the demand justifies the commercial effort, while continuity is indispensable to accustom the consumer to the product. A sensational product that reaches the market at the wrong time or that is not constantly present on the market, meaning that it appears and disappears constantly, will not go very far.
It is important to realize that in an open-marketing system, the product will be subjected to the great competition of traditional industrial products, whose prestige has been acknowledged by consumers. However, it is possible to target consumers seeking "natural" products, which is synonymous with home-made. They are looking for additive and preservative-free products, made with care by a human operator, and not by an impersonal machine. These aspects of small industrial scale or home-processing systems must be exploited in a sales strategy that could even reach the great supermarkets of the world's largest cities.
This is especially true for the products that may be considered as "exotic" in a given region, with the advantage that they are elite products, for consumers with a high purchasing power. They must be offered quality products; it is impossible to cheat them for they have a great discrimination capacity and are crucial to the success of the product on such markets.
As it may be observed, the marketing, distribution and final use of the product are also crucial aspects of the production process, in the case of cottage industries. One must especially make sure that the products are desirable, in good demand and sought after, for this is the only way that the business will last over time. It should always be borne in mind that a cottage industry, a small industrial scale system or a very small enterprise may be the point of departure for a given activity or group of individuals, and that it may grow in time.
Its evolution will depend on the work, effort and interest with which the activity is managed, and this manual was written to contribute to the development of those with such an interest.