July 13, 2016

Survey Results – Are Farmers’ Markets Still A Viable Sales Channel For Food Businesses

icon_farmersMarketAbout 3 weeks ago I asked the question as to whether or not farmers’ markets were still a viable sales channel for food businesses.  This came from a lot of research I’ve been seeing that says that sales are farmers’ markets as a whole are slowing down and many say this indicates that farmers’ markets have hit their ‘topping out’ point.    While the expert data is interesting, I wanted to know what you thought and what you’ve been seeing in your local region so I asked, via a survey, and got some really interesting insights.

What is the biggest benefit to small food brands from selling at farmers’ markets?  

83% of respondents ranked ‘Build brand awareness and brand recognition’ as the top benefit with ‘Build relationships with customers’ as the second more important aspect of selling at farmers’ markets.  ‘Generating sales revenue’ was ranked third though, interestingly, to 25% of the respondents this was the least important reason for exhibiting at markets.  ‘Showcasing products to local buyers/retailers’ was the 4th most important benefit and ‘Supporting local retailers’ was deemed the least important reason for exhibiting at farmers’ markets.

When asked what other benefits artisan food producers gain from exhibiting at farmers’ markets (an open-ended response question), 66% of survey respondents listed ‘customer feedback’ as one of the top reasons they choose to take their companies to farmers’ markets.  “Great way to test new products and get feedback on cost, taste, and brand,” wrote one food producer.

Do you think farmers’ markets are still a viable sales channel for all food businesses?

Survey respondents were split on this one.  While only 8% of respondents said that farmers’ markets were no longer a good option for food businesses, most (58%) felt that farmers’ markets really only made sense for new companies or for brands that were showcasing new products as a way to test the market and build sales.  33% felt that farmers’ markets were an important sales channel for all food producers regardless of whether they were a new or established business.

Of those who felt that farmers’ markets were no longer a viable option, respondents were in agreement was that it was too hard to get into markets these days due to competition from other food producers.

If you sell/are planning to sell at farmers’ markets this year, what percentage of your revenue do you anticipate coming through farmers’ market sales? 

The vast majority (63%) of those who answered the survey and are selling/plan to sell at farmers’ markets indicated that they anticipate making less than 25% of their annual sales revenue through selling at the markets.  18% believe that farmers’ market sales will make up 25-50% of their annual sales while another 9% look to farmers’ market to make up the bulk of their revenue (75% or more).

Additional Thoughts/Insight:

Many respondents complained about the fact that the proliferation of markets has caused a dilution of customers.  With so many markets to choose from, the markets themselves seem to be drawing less shoppers because those shoppers know they can also go to another market in a day or two.  There is also some concern around the fact that bigger distributors are getting into markets and ‘looking small’ (i.e., hiring a kid to work the booth) while stealing sales and market share away from the smaller players.

The top recommendation for farmers’ market exhibitors was to keep a keen eye towards your booth’s appearance.  “Having a great set-up, samples, and friendly sales person are key,” wrote one respondent while another offered “Have a great booth AND good customer service.  Develop that relationship.”

A few unique suggestions included, for those who sell pantry items, offering grab-and-go, ready to eat items that include those ingredients.  It’s a great way to showcase the product’s use and generate immediate sales.  Others suggested having a rotation of products or special seasonal offerings that keep customers coming back to see what’s new and different.  You may even want to talk up in advance that ‘next week we’re bringing XYZ’ to get customers excited ahead of time to come by your booth.  Also, look for ways you can partner with your other farmers’ market vendors for product flavor offerings and/or cross promotion opportunities as a way to build everyone’s business.

Thank you to everyone who replied to the survey.  I really appreciate your insight.  For the record, this survey received a total of 162 respondents.

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