Improving the Farmer’s Market Business Model
Because most farmers’ markets are operated by not-for-profits or local government employees, and few have full time staff, there is often not the time, resources or inclination to effect change to the fundamental way markets do business.
Farmers markets exist to bring together farmers and foodmakers with consumers who wish to purchase their products. The market entity arranges the location, attracts vendors who represent a spectrum of local food and produce, publicizes the existence of the market, and sets and polices the rules by which the market operates. These functions take a great deal of time to execute, leaving little, if any, time or resource for making improvements that may be in the interests of the vendors and the consumers who shop the market.
Though the vendors and consumers in the market are captive to the basic way the market operates, they often can, and do, adopt new ways of conducting business that improves the overall experience. The best recent example of this is the increased use of mobile smart phone attachments that enable vendors to accept credit card payments. Not only does this increase vendor sales, but consumers also like the flexibility of paying with credit cards.
Last summer we conducted a survey of 400 farmer’s market shoppers. One of the most surprising results of the survey was that 47 percent of respondents would have liked to pre-order their food and produce online for pick up later at the market. The main reasons for this preference were that (1) shoppers could avoid out-of-stocks on their favorite items, and (2) they would not have to arrive early at the market to get the best produce. (The benefit to vendors would be increased sales and the ability to better plan how much food to bring to each market).
In addition, our survey respondents wanted to hear more from the particular vendors they liked. The farmers and foodmakers who produce the food at the market have a great deal of knowledge to share with consumers but often are not available or accessible at every market.
In response to these customer needs, Fresh Nation developed a simple, free, easy-to-use interface allowing vendors to pre-sell their products online (for later pick-up at the market), and to communicate with their customers about the food they sell. Vendors who utilize these new services can over time experience a substantial rise in their revenues from an increasingly loyal and connected customer base.
In addition, we found that vendors had few opportunities to present their businesses in the most favorable light to attract not only individual customers, but also restaurants and wholesale accounts, so we created a free business Profile for every vendor that requires zero maintenance and can include a wholesale price list. Vendors can add photos and narrative to their Profiles making their products all the more attractive to prospective buyers.
Farmers and foodmakers must begin to take more responsibility for the success of their businesses outside of the traditional farmer’s market, and not leave their success solely in the hands of market operators who can provide only the physical space in which the vendors operate. New methodologies are now available to vendors to increase their revenues and customer retention, and open up new audiences to their products both during the traditional farmer’s market season, and after.