Farmstands And Farmers Markets Enjoy Growing Appeal Among Shoppers — Nothing More Than Produce Purchasing As Tourism

Farmstands And Farmers Markets Enjoy Growing Appeal Among Shoppers

By Rick Stein, Vice President, Fresh Foods, Food Marketing Institute (FMI)

August 2019 – It’s road trip season across the United States, as many families take off on summer vacations. Traffic is also picking up this time of year at roadside farmstands and farmers markets in cities and towns virtually everywhere.

There’s a certain allure to produce stands, whether set up along a two- or four-lane byway or in the center of town in a municipal parking lot. It’s a slice of Americana and a reminder that in much of the nation, this is the ripe time to savor produce from local farms. I’ve stopped at my fair share of stands and markets over the years while on my way to a store visit or business meeting, because the taste of a drive-thru meal just can’t compare to some just-picked peaches or perfectly red cherry tomatoes.

The 2019 Power of Produce report from the Food Marketing Institute shows that what might seem to be a charming throwback is remarkably relevant to today’s shoppers. According to research conducted for FMI by 210 Analytics, LLC, farmers markets and roadside produce stands each draw a significant share of shoppers’ spending on produce. What’s more (and perhaps surprising to some), Millennials represent a higher percentage of those who buy fresh produce on occasion from these vendors and directly from farmers.

In fact, 79% of younger Millennials say they buy produce from farmers markets, compared to 62% of Baby Boomers. Nearly three-fourths (72%) of older Millennials like to buy fresh fruits and vegetables from roadside stands, versus 58% of Gen-X consumers.

Although these occasional purchases aren’t nearly as large as in other traditional channels, strong interest among buyers, particularly younger consumers, indicates a competitive market for shoppers’ produce budgets. Also underscoring the significance of these buying behaviors, the latest Power of Produce found that 69% of people visit farmers markets specifically to buy fruits and vegetables, making it a true and direct destination.

There are implications in the marketplace as these trends continue. Farmers markets and roadside stands can capitalize on such interest to grow their respective business. Traditional retailers, meanwhile, can look for ways to maintain their share of shoppers’ produce dollars.

Those traditional retailers may want to begin by taking a look at why farmers markets and roadside stands are so appealing to shoppers, including discerning buyers in the younger demographics that will drive future sales. The 2019 Power of Produce report shows that while the fun and interesting buying experience is one draw for these markets and stands, it’s what’s in those baskets and bins that is important to many shoppers: freshness is the top reason people shop at farmers markets, followed by a perception of better quality, desire to support local farmers and perceived better taste.

Supermarkets can tout the in-season freshness of their fruit and vegetable offerings as one way to stay competitive with nearby farmers markets and produce stands. This can be done through signage or, in a personal connection that’s also a hallmark of produce sold at small local vendors, talking with produce department staff about what just arrived from the farm or what’s coming next. This kind of information is increasingly important to consumers in general, with more than half of shoppers saying they are looking for expanded local and seasonal assortments.

During harvest season that lasts from mid-summer through early fall in most parts of the country, traditional stores can also keep their consumers engaged by creating a kind of farmstand experience in their produce department. This can be done by sharing the names or brief profiles of local farms and farmers where seasonal produce is sourced as one way to connect people with those who grow it and highlight the freshness of the products. This approach can be effective with summer crops like tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn, peaches, blueberry and other seasonal items and continue the excitement through fall, with items such as local apple varieties, kale, potatoes and pumpkins, to name a few examples.

From a merchandising standpoint, stores can mimic a farmstand with elements like bushel baskets of recently harvested fruits or a chalkboard listing the latest produce arrivals. They can even create a pop-up farmers market onsite in an area of the store’s parking lot or front entrance on a designated day of the week or weekends.

Additionally, there are cross-merchandising opportunities that lend a roadside stand or farmers market charm to a traditional produce department. In my visits to such freestanding markets, I’ve picked up freshly made pies and jars of jam or jelly to take home to my family. I’ve also bought impulse goods like homemade apple cider doughnuts and freshly-squeezed juice to enjoy on the way. Why not bring some apple pies from the store bakery to the apple display in the produce section, or put out some salsa in a cooler display near the tomatoes, onions and cilantro?

Ultimately, the popularity of farm-to-table eating boosts the overall market for produce businesses, whether their crops are sold at parking lot and side-of the-road markets or supermarkets. Growing the category with fresh, quality fruits and vegetables is the perennial goal.

For more information, visit www.FMI. org/FreshFoods or follow Rick on Twitter @Ricks_FreshFood. Food Marketing Institute is a trade association that advocates on behalf of the food retail industry. FMI’s U.S. members operate nearly 40,000 retail food stores and 25,000 pharmacies. Through programs in public affairs, food safety, research, education and industry relations, FMI offers resources and provides valuable benefits to more than 1,225 food retail and wholesale member companies in the United States and around the world.

Nothing More Than Produce Purchasing As Tourism

By Jim Prevor, Editor in Chief, PRODUCE BUSINESS

Much of the research devoted to farmers markets, roadside stands and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has been focused on ascertaining whether shopping in these venues means these consumers buy less through conventional venues, such as supermarkets.

The best answer we have for this is no. Certainly, many studies have now found that people who shop in these direct-to-consumer venues actually spend more on fresh produce at conventional venues than consumers who never buy via direct-to-consumer vendors. Of course, we can’t actually tell if this is because these shoppers simply love produce — and they would buy even more in supermarkets if direct-to-consumer channels didn’t exist — or if the existence of direct-to-consumer channels gets people excited about produce, and they thus buy more in conventional stores.

One has to be careful in deriving lessons about how stores should merchandise from the fact that many people enjoy farmers markets. It is hard to get great statistics but, at Produce Business, we estimate that less than a half of 1% of produce consumed in America is sold through farmers markets.

Although many consumers love the farmers market, what they seem to really love is the experience of being outside, going with family or friends, interacting with growers, seeing unusual items, etc. Consider it produce purchasing as tourism. It is true that displaying produce at retail in wood barrels and baskets may remind consumers of some of these pleasant experiences, but the business of produce is a large and serious one, and it is not clear emulating the farmers market experience results in greater sales.

Lots of studies claim that farmers, capturing the full retail value of their products, profit from direct-to-consumer sales. Dig deep enough and you typically find that these “profits” depend heavily on free labor from the farmer’s family.

One wonders how many consumers realize that much of the direct-to-consumer sales are exempt from food safety requirements that produce sold at supermarkets has to meet?

Do consumers realize that, permitted or not, loads of produce sold at farmers markets and farm stands are frequently purchased off a local terminal market?

Produce sold in these venues is often, in fact, not “local” and not “organic.” The consumers may chat away with someone at the stand, but they are not getting to “know your farmer” … it is an industry rife with fraud.

In many cases, the operators of farmers markets turn a blind eye to this because, after a boom, many farmers markets are now struggling. The boom was not motivated by consumer demand as much as by urban planners looking to use farmer’s markets to stimulate activity in urban and suburban communities. The impact often has been multiple small markets that serve to weaken the larger pre-existing farmers markets.

In addition, many farmers markets are operated on valuable public property and represent a de facto subsidy to the vendors. This gives them an unfair advantage over supermarkets that have to pay full real estate and other taxes.

And when it comes to taste and condition, there is precious little research indicating that in blind taste tests, consumers find produce from farm stands to be more tasty than produce from their local supermarket. Note that this type of research is both easy to do and relatively inexpensive. You go to a reputable university and let them purchase produce from supermarkets and from the farmers market, let consumers sample without knowing which is which and find out which source they rank higher for taste.

It is so easy to do this study that it would be surprising if various farmers markets hadn’t tried this research, so the fact that little has been published is damning.

Those in the industry know that the lack of available refrigeration almost certainly means that produce is not being well cared for in most farmers markets. Many vendors go from market to market to display each day and simply keep produce on their unrefrigerated trucks overnight. This reduces the “shelf-life” of the produce once the consumer gets the produce home.

Consumers may like the idea the produce is “fresher” at farmers markets and farm stands, but this just tells us how influenced consumers can be by atmospherics. If a farmer has two acres and grows one crop, this may create a halo effect over the 50 items the vendor buys off the local terminal market!

Retailers have a lot to be proud of. They support their community as upstanding taxpayers. They support farmers by paying large sums of money as an outlet for large volumes of product. They offer world class food safety standards, transparent supply chains, certified sustainability and employment for millions. They maintain the life of shopping districts and support local community institutions, from Little League to the local hospital. They gather the fruit of the world into one convenient place and, today, typically offer delivery for the convenience of consumers. They are a triumph of Western civilization.

There is nothing wrong with a little farmlike décor — but supermarkets should not yield the moral high ground to direct-to consumer shopping.Supermarkets do more to help consumers, localities, indeed the whole world … than farmers markets ever will.