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March 30, 2011

Selling Your Food At Farmers Markets

photo courtesy of Dot Drobney

Continuing the conversation with Winter Caplanson of the Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market, today we’ll take a look at some tips on how to make your farmers’ market business more successful.   Securing a spot at one or more farmers’ markets is one huge step towards getting your product in front of customers, but now how do you make them buy?

1. Display and Presentation: Caplanson often tells new farmers’ market vendors that simply because they’re selling at a farmers’ market doesn’t mean their booth should look slapped together.   “Even though we’re grassroots,” she says, “I often tell people to go to Whole Foods or pick up a copy of Real Simple.  See what they’re doing and how they showcase merchandise and then figure out how you can take that idea and scale it down to your booth.”   Caplanson also encourages her vendors to have lots and lots of professional-quality high-resolution pictures in their booths.   “A picture of your farm or your beehive in action can help tell the backstory of your product and it will help catch peoples’ eyes.”

2. Be your own best advocate: While not every market requires that the producer, farmer, or artisan be available in-person at the booth, Caplanson says that it is always advisable that you – and not someone you hired – be at the market each week.  Customers come to farmers’ markets to interact with the person who makes the products they buy and you will always be able to better explain the process and otherwise interact with the customers than hired help.   Customers who feel a connection with you and understand the story behind your product are much more willing to buy it and to share your story with others through the most powerful marketing tool of all – word-of-mouth.

3. Offer samples: For food producers it is always helpful to offer samples so that people can see if they like a product before buying.  It sounds simple yet many food producers worry that offering samples will cut into the amount of product they have available to sell.

4. Bring something new to the table: Caplanson asks vendors to try and bring new products to the market each week.  While it may not be possible every single week, showcasing new products gives customers a reason to check back at your booth every week to see what’s new.  When customers come by your booth, telling them new products is a conversation starter that can help create a sale and build a better relationship between vendor and customer.  Caplanson also adds that by using seasonal ingredients it helps create a sense of excitment amongst customers as they realize that if they like this product they need to buy it now as it may not be available next week.

5. Social media is for everyone: “More and more vendors are using social media and are doing it well,” Caplanson says.  “Eight years ago it simply wasn’t feasible to expect a farmer to build a website and keep it up-to-date but today it takes no time at all, and no money, to set up a FaceBook page and keep it updated with photos or comments about new products or just general goings-on.”   As Caplanson explains, farmers’ markets are all about community and connection and social media is an extension of that.   “Social media is an extension of the ability to ‘talk’ with customers face-to-face at farmers’ markets and helps strengthen the connection you have with your customers.”

Since farmers’ markets are about community I asked Caplanson about what vendors could do to make market managers lives easier and she gave me a succinct ‘wish list:’

  • Follow the rules: It sounds obvious but there are basic rules at every market so please follow them;
  • Be a friend to others: If you see another vendor who is struggling to get their booth set up take 5 minutes and help them out;
  • Offer up demonstrations: If you have an idea for a demonstration offer up your idea to the market manager.  Not only does this help create a more vibrant market but it can also be a great sales tool for you;
  • Give stuff away: In addition to samples, be willing to provide product or ingredients for demonstrations being held by others at the market.   “I would argue that giving product away for demonstrations is the best marketing tool you can utilize at farmers markets,” Caplanson says, “because during the demonstration the chef will mention that s/he is using product from XYZ vendor and that will create a lot of awareness and interest in your product and company.”

If you are interested in learning more about the Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market you can view their site here or visit their FaceBook page.  And if you’re interested in learning more about selling at farmers’ markets as a food producer you should check out Starting A Part-time Food Business.

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