Farmers market marketing dos and don'ts

The Davis Square Farmers Market opened up again this past Wednesday, making humpday even better. It's in the parking lot behind the plaza between Starbucks and Chipotle.

As it was early in the season, there wasn't a lot of ready-to-eat fruits and veggies, but there was a great deal of potted plants, herbs, lettuces, some rhubarb, and a good collection of meats, cheeses, and breads, plus some fish, chocolate and even soap. A chalkboard at the entrance lists what's on each day. I picked up some smoked sable (the fish, not the rodent!) from Nantucket Wild Gourmet & Smokehouse, and then got a lime-poppy cake and something called a cheddar snail at an unmarked bakery stand.

Since I've eaten all these goodies before having a chance to photograph them, I'll take a moment to offer up some unasked-for advice to people running farm market stalls: it's a marketing opportunity.  Compare these two experiences...

1. Hi Rise Bread Co.

This is a pretty well-known bakery cafe in West Cambridge, but that shouldn't let them off the hook for having no website (that I could find), no signage at their farm stand, and no takeaway material at all - no brochures, no business cards, no paper bags with their logo and address on them, nothing.  Bummer.

2. Nantucket Wild Gourmet & Smokehouse

These folks have their act together, which is important because their farm stand is just about their only retail outlet beyond Nantucket.  They had clear signage, business cards with their website on them, and packaging with all the vital info on it.

I don't expect farmers and small producers to have fancy marketing - although many do - but I want them to succeed, and that takes some attention to the basics.  So next time you buy some local produce or something at a farm market, ask for a business card or brochure to share with your friends and see what happens.  And if you get one, be sure to actually share it.

3 Responses

  1. Cathy
    Does every stand at a Farmer's Market really need brochures, business cards, and even bags with their name? I thought part of the charm was that these are bare bones, family run places that focus on fresh food, MOT marketing. Nantucket Wild Gourmet and Smokehouse sells smoked salmon that you can order online, so it makes sense to have a website and marketing. But Hi-Rise sells fresh cookies and cakes that probably would go bad by the time they are shipped to you in the mail. Every time I have been in either of their branches they are crowded and bustling with business. So why do they need a website and all the paper junk? Seems like a waste of paper and resources to me. If they are doing well without them, why bother?
  2. Hi Cathy, and thanks for the comment. It's good to know somebody is thinking about buying local food. I'm assuming (and we all know where that can get us) that the owners of these small farm businesses want to grow them. I don't really mean that they want to get huge and turn into factories, but that they want to live well and send their kids to good schools. If that's true, then I really believe they should invest in at least the bare minimum of marketing - something with their information on it that you and I can take (or not take) that will help us spread the word about these businesses, which we both really want to succeed and continue to offer us great stuff. Both my purchases last week were given to me in plain white paper bags, which I recycled. I'm thinking a rubber stamp or sticker would be a small addition that would be just as recyclable. It's Wednesday again, what will you buy at the Davis Sq farm market today? PS folks interested in learning more about the economics of running a small farm business might want to visit the Federation of MA Farmers Markets or Julia Shanks Food Consulting
  3. David- I have run a farmers market for eight years and am deeply involved in the local food movement. What people need to understand about many vendors, is that the farmers market is both a way to sell their product and as a platform to market themselves to new venues. Conventional food distribution systems are not well equipped to get local food into restaurants, specialty food stores and grocery chains. A farmers market provides a vendor with direct contact with not only consumers but commercial buyers as well. I agree that some vendors become "too slick" in their approach, but any honest marketing tool they can take advantage of should be encouraged. I want my vendors to suceed and hopefully outgrow us. This success breeds new farmers and ultimately this is what it is all about. Farmers Markets might seem "quaint" to some, but these are real people working for the dreams shared by all.

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