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Winter 2004/2005
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New Illinois Web Site Provides One-Stop for Strategic Marketing Information

Food Producers Go to Market With GIS

Thanks to a collaborative effort between the University of Illinois Initiative for the Development of Entrepreneurship in Agriculture (IDEA), the Illinois Department of Agriculture, and the Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research (C-FAR), food producers, buyers, sellers, and distributors in Illinois now have an online marketing tool.

The idea for an Internet marketing tool was an outgrowth of previous C-FAR projects exploring market opportunities for value-added meat products. The goal was to provide a one-stop shop for strategic marketing information for producers and food retailers alike. There is an abundance of marketing data available via the Internet and through various trade magazines, but to a novice user it can be a bit overwhelming. As a result, IDEA and C-FAR explored the idea of an Internet tool that would provide users the ability to query various types of data and produce reports and maps. The goal of the project was to distill and organize the information into an easy-to-use interactive site using state-of-the-art mapping tools that would let users visualize strategic marketing information.

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Users can explore with MarketMaker to find a new market for their products.

Darlene Knipe, principal investigator for the project, contacted GIS Solutions, Inc., an Esri Business Partner in Illinois, to explore the possibilities of developing the strategic marketing tool. GIS Solutions recommended an ArcIMS application. After submitting a project bid, GIS Solutions was selected to develop the project.

The Web site, called MarketMaker (, is an interactive site developed in ArcIMS and designed to find supply chain partners, improve knowledge of where food consumers are located, and determine how they make food-related purchasing decisions.

"We had to be able to answer questions such as who were the consumers who were most likely to buy the kinds of products we were evaluating," explains Peter Goldsmith of the University of Illinois Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics and a member of the MarketMaker team.

Getting Marketing Information

The MarketMaker Web site includes census, demographic, and business data that the user can query. Mapping and data entry processes were built using Active Server Pages (ASP) and ArcIMS. Census and additional data is stored in SQL Server, and spatial data is currently stored as shapefiles. Users are able to search available data using ActiveX Data Objects (ADO) and ASP, which return a list of businesses meeting the search criteria. A link to the mapping page enables users to map business locations or display detailed information incorporating census tract information.

A registration page provides new businesses with the ability to submit their information to the MarketMaker database. New records are reviewed by a MapObjects application that automatically geocodes the addresses and appends them to the existing shapefile. If the new address cannot be matched, then geocoding is performed at the ZIP Code level.

Users can view summarized details on a map to show concentrations of consumer markets and strategic business partners. "Providing this kind of information in a map-based format makes much more sense than business lists and statistical tables," states Pat Curry, a project coinvestigator.

Following are some examples of how people are using the MarketMaker site:

  • A cattle producer from western Illinois wanted to sell a branded beef product to high-end consumers in the Chicago area. He believed the best potential customers would be households in which income is in excess of $100,000, and he used MarketMaker to answer three questions: (1) Where are the highest concentrations of high-income households in the greater Chicago area? (2) What are the names of the grocery stores that serve those high-end neighborhoods, and where are they located? and (3) What are the names and locations of meat processors?
  • A producer from the northwest region of Illinois had several recipes he wanted to share. Two in particular were his pickled jalapenos and salsa. He has had offers to sell his product in stores, but he does not have the capacity to make these products in bulk. It would require him to have a certified kitchen, which is very costly for someone just starting out. His next option was to look for a packing company to do the work for him, and he used MarketMaker to find a suitable company.

The Next Phase

Since there is no complete list of Illinois farmers producing and marketing food-related products, the University of Illinois Extension educators will be reaching out to the producers statewide to include their ventures in MarketMaker. There is no charge associated with having a business listed.

For more information, contact Darlene Knipe, project manager (e-mail:, tel.: 309-792-2500), or Rey de Castro, project developer, GIS Solutions, Inc. (e-mail:, tel.: 217-546-3635).

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