Newswise — ITHACA, N.Y. – While many businesses in the New York state food industry have been physically closed since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for their products has not stopped.

Cornell AgriTech’s Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture (COE) has been helping food and ag businesses adapt to the COVID-19 economy with new marketing strategies and by diversifying products.

“Our mission of helping startups and existing businesses succeed is more important than ever,” said Catharine Young, COE executive director. “Our team is providing essential, invaluable resources to food, beverage and ag companies who have found themselves grappling with evolving market conditions, changes in consumer behavior, supply chain disruptions, labor issues and dried-up venture capital resources.”

Growers, producers and manufacturers are turning to COE for advice about shifting their sales strategies, information about changes to state and federal regulations, and guidance about the Small Business Administration’s loan forgiveness programs.

For example: Finger Lakes Harvest (FLH) produces health tonics, drink mixers and fruit extracts, using locally sourced ingredients. 

Prior to the pandemic, about 75% of FLH’s annual sales came from in-person transactions at farmers markets, trade shows and specialty retailers. For the company, establishing a direct relationship with their consumers has been vital. 

With events canceled and shops closed, FLH turned to the center for support in tailoring its marketing efforts to an online audience. Dorothy Poppleton, FLH co-founder, said the company has seen a rapid increase in sales for its elderberry, ginger, tart cherry and turmeric products, thanks to targeted ads on social media and online sales platforms.

“Our views and sales on traditional marketplace venues such as Etsy, Amazon and eBay are up over 700% from last year,” Poppleton said.

Regardless of business owners’ individual needs, Young said being available and accessible to food, beverage and ag companies is what is driving the center during COVID-19. 

“Whether we are helping startups with their business plans or looking at ways that we can assist farmers during the upcoming growing season,” Young said, “we want members of the food and ag community to know that we are here for them.”

For additional information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.