Amos Yoder is a founder of an Amish startup who faced an interesting challenge in telling the story of a new retail business he is building called Kfork. Working for Keystone Family Farms, a cooperative of small, independent family farmers in Central, Pennsylvania, Amos realized he was building a story not around one group of customers, but rather two. On the one hand, he had to find a way to attract health-conscious consumers who would find the cheese from their well-behaved cows alluring; on the other hand, he had to appeal to the farmers themselves to convince them to contribute their milk to the new venture. Amos found that he had to build a bridge, as he calls it, to bring these two components together. He had to tell a love story.
A great love story is compelling because it tells the story of two very different people who somehow come together. We get to know both characters in the story who need different things and how a series of events eventually makes them fall in love. Take the classic movie, When Harry Met Sally. When they meet, Sally is a cheerful optimist who envisions her impending move to New York as the first step towards an exciting career in journalism. Harry is an outspoken pessimist who warns Sally that she could end up living alone in the city and dying in her apartment without anyone knowing it happened. How could they ever end up together? It turns out (spoiler alert), that they both offer something the other needs. Sally could be a little more grounded and Harry needs a little hope in his life. They are made for each other!
Amos startup story contains two protagonists, just like a good love story: the consumer and the farmer.
The consumer is a health-conscious adult who is deeply invested in learning about the food he serves his family. Usually they are a parent obsessed with feeding their children only the healthiest foods. Alternatively, they may be a middle-aged person becoming more conscious of their own health and wary of food additives (provided by major manufacturers to extend shelf life) that can aggravate a medical condition. These people are more knowledgeable about the ingredients in their food because there is so much more information at their fingertips on the internet, and they are determined to take the time to look it up. For example, they might discover that large cheese factories use a mixture of separate milk components, both liquid and dry, such as cream, skim milk and skimmed milk powder. They are also suspicious of natural and organic food brands, as they question whether these brands are what they say they are.
Now to the other character in this story. The Amish farmer is an expert in agriculture. Their traditional methods deliver a higher total milk solids and a low somatic cell count, resulting in higher quality milk. But how can they get better margins on their goods so that they get the right value for this better output? They are not experts in consumer marketing. They don’t know how to find and target their ideal customer. They are not adept at making consumer products. And they need help telling an effective story.
Kinfork is the bridge that brings them together and meets both needs.
The Kinfork brand produces cheese products that are made using traditional Amish methods of responsible husbandry and environmental stewardship. Ordinary community culture underlies this approach (“Plain” is a term to describe groups like the Amish who choose to live simply). These families in the valleys east of State College PA (which include Penn’s, Brush, Sugar, and Nittany Valley) have used sustainable farming practices for generations. They feed their cows an optimally mixed ration of rolled grain and fermented roughage (compacted grass), which is of better quality, partly because it is produced without the use of tractors. They tend to keep small herds of only 40-50 cows per family. They know each cow individually and give them names that most cows recognize! This approach ensures the long-term health and well-being of the land and the animals. The cheese is only made from whole milk, cheese cultures, salt and enzymes. As a result, it is high in protein, tastes great and is free of the additives now found in most foods. And unlike other “natural foods” brands, Kinfork is backed not only by a commitment to healthy nutrition, but by an entire way of life that embraces simplicity.
For the farmers, the Kinfork brand gives them what they cannot create themselves. Kinfork uses a thoughtful consumer marketing approach to take the necessary steps to find the ideal customer, build the Kinfork story, and create what they expect to be a long-standing brand. For a technology-shy community, the ability to reach customers through modern methods (e.g., a website, social media) would be impossible without Kinfork filling the gap.
Amos works hard to give this love story a happy ending. We’ll have to follow the evolution of the Kinfork saga to find out!