Alain Cottebrune, La Verdura, asparagus producer: “Direct sales help value the entire production”

Alain Cottebrune, La Verdura, asparagus producer:

“Direct sales help value the entire production”

Alain Cottebrune produces asparagus in the Saire valley (Normandy). Today, the direct sale of farm products has gained in popularity, but when Alain Cottebrune created his first store in 1992, he was one of the precursors of these types of sales. “I think that direct sales allow us to have contact with clients which is essential in our profession. When we only work with cooperatives, the only feedback we receive is usually negative and about quality issues. When our products are appreciated, we don’t hear about it. Yet, this positive feedback is essential for us and very motivating when we strive all year long to produce quality vegetables in order to satisfy our consumers.”

Alain Cottebrune

Direct sales to value the entire production
Another significant advantage of direct sales is that it allows the farmer to value his entire production. “Since I started selling exclusively via direct sales, I do not throw anything out anymore. I manage to sell all the categories. Even the products with defects are easily sold at promotional prices. I used to feel terrible, having to throw away tons of vegetables. But today, everything is sold and valued, as it should be.”

Well-located store
Today, Alain Cottebrune sells his vegetables in a store that is located 7km away from his farm, in front of a supermarket at the entrance of the touristic village of Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue. “At the beginning, I was selling my vegetables in a wooden shed, 100m from the main street. But it was already too far away. There are three criteria to keep in mind when opening a business: location, location and location. Fifteen years ago, I moved to a well-located building, at the entrance of the village, in front of a supermarket, and this move really paid off. The area is less populated in the winter so I also started selling my vegetables on the internet. Back then, I used to send an email with a table presenting the products I had available at relay points throughout the Cotentin region.”

Yes to direct sales, but not at the farm
Alain Cottebrune is convinced of the advantages of direct sales, but he never wanted to sell his products directly at the farm. “I knew very well that I could not make a living out of it. The farm is where I produce. Selling requires time, which is sometimes difficult to find at the farm, and the customers that can come all the way to the farm usually have a lot of time. It was therefore essential for me to separate production from marketing, both of which are very time consuming. At the moment, we have seven people working full time at the store, which allows me to devote myself fully to my production.”

Alain Cottebrune decided to separate the two activities, but he regularly welcomes clients and school groups on his farm to present his production. “I always organize visits in the summer so that people who are interested can come and see how I work.”

An entirely organic production
Alain Cottebrune cultivates white asparagus on 40 hectares and in recent years, he has also increased his production of green asparagus. The farm obtained its organic certification three years ago, a label which is in line with the company’s philosophy. “I have always produced sustainably, with a minimal use of inputs, so I did not need much to meet the requirements of the organic specifications, and this allowed me to better value my production.”

Benefiting from a temperate climate, the asparagus season starts relatively late for Alain Cottebrune. “We are currently halfway through the season, which never starts very early, because temperatures don’t warm up very quickly here. That is why I also acquired a 2,000m² greenhouse. Our fields are located along the coast, which does not affect the growth of the asparagus at all. On the contrary, it is one of the rare crops that can withstand moderately salty water.”

For more information:
Alain Cottebrune
La Verdura