Kansas Department of Agriculture site helps producers reach buyers

Alice Mannette
The Hutchinson News
Two lambs graze in a pasture at Blazefork Farm Fresh Lamb in Inman.

The pandemic brought many surprises last year. Quite a few were unwanted, but some were pleasant.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture's From the Land of Kansas website saw an unprecedented increase in sales, with the money going to local producers.

More than 850 2020 holiday gift boxes were sent out. This was a 30% increase from November and December sales in 2019. Each box was chockful with Kansas-produced goods. The boxes were sent to more than 40 states, including both Hawaii and Alaska.

“This year, everyone was definitely in the gift-giving mood,” said Janelle Dobbins, the marketing manager of From the Land of Kansas.

The purpose of this KDA-run site is to promote and celebrate agricultural experiences and products grown, raised or produced in Kansas. The site ranges from cheese to soaps to jellies — all produced in Kansas.

In addition to the increase in gift box sales, there was almost a 50% increase in non-gift box holiday purchases. And the increases keep happening. More than a dozen new vendors have joined the site since the beginning of 2021.

“People are looking for new ways to market,” Dobbins said.

From the Land of Kansas is making final decisions on which items will go in their 2021 holiday boxes. They are also creating new boxes, with possibilities that might focus on popcorn, chocolate or some type of personal care.

Any shelf-stable commodity is able to go into the box. In addition to the $100 annual membership fee to be a part of the site, there is an additional fee for products to go into the seasonal gift boxes. All commodities that are part of the box program, must be shelf-stable products – meaning the items do not need to be refrigerated. Dobbins works to market the site to consumers nationwide. The majority of boxes are delivered to recipients in Kansas, Texas and California.

For the past four years, Leah Pofterick, co-owner of Signet Coffee Roasters in Pittsburg, lists her coffee on the From the Land of Kansas site. Last year, her gift box product, a chocolate candy bar, which features Signet Coffee Roasters espresso in a bar produced by Sweet Granada in Emporia, was a big hit.

“We have our own website,” Pofterick said. “But it was amazing how the gift boxes really sold this year on their website (Land of Kansas). People tried to do a lot more local last year, and that was evident.”

Trying to get the word out 

Although sales have increased dramatically and more customers are learning about the site, Dobbins said there is always room for growth.

Nick and Terry Xidis own Hazel Hill Chocolate in Topeka. Nick is a third-generation chocolatier. The couple imports heirloom cocoa beans and hand mixes, in small batches, the cocoa with fresh cream and butter. The store, which just celebrated its 16 anniversary in Topeka, is listed on the Land of Kansas website.

“We get some benefits in advertising,” Xidis said. “But, it’s really not a sales channel for us.”

Dobbins hopes with the added consumers and vendors, businesses like Hazel Hill chocolate will see a larger reward from their membership.

LaRon Nikkel, who runs Blazefork Farm Fresh Lamb in Inman, just joined the site in January. He hopes the site will help his small, family lamb operation increase sales.

“We haven’t gotten a lot of feedback yet,” Nikkel said. “It’s another service that we can use.”

Operations

All products, aside from the gift boxes, are shipped from the producers. Some businesses list their websites on the site, others do not have a web presence and use From the Land of Kansas' site.

Dobbins is hoping to get one of their cheese producers to be a part of the gift box program this year. But, so far, no one has a shelf-stable product. Dozens of producers from across Kansas are participants in the program.

"So far, we’ve not had to turn down anyone who wanted to be in our giftboxes," Dobbins said. "We're giving the website a refresh."

Nick Xidis (pictured) founded family business Hazel Hill Chocolate in Topeka, Kansas, with roots in his Greek immigrant grandfather’s candy business. Hazel Hill crafts chocolate from heirloom cacao sourced from around the world, selling single-origin bars, truffles and bark that are made by hand.