FEATURES


Tips for Increasing Farmers' Market Sales

By Kathleen Hatt




Plentiful produce artfully arranged both horizontally and vertically conveys a sense of bounty.
Photos by Kathleen Hatt.

Is arugula your specialty? Blue potatoes? How about maple syrup or apple turnovers? "Be famous for something," says Nada Haddad, food and agriculture field specialist, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. "Be noticed, remembered, preferred and trusted. That's a good way to keep your farmers' market customers coming back week after week." Whether or not you've had a bad sales week, you too should be at market every week. "Consistency is important to maintaining and increasing sales," says Haddad.

Whether this will be your first market season or your 15th, here are more tips to help improve your sales:

Who are you?

When someone thinks about your farm, what comes to mind? If you have spent any time at all talking with your customers, they are likely to think first of the story of your farm. Perhaps you are a new farmer. Perhaps you are the third generation working the same land. Whatever your story, it's part of the value of the products you display. Bear in mind that part of your customers' farmers' market experience is talking with you. When customers choose to buy local, they want to know who "local" is.



Full containers create a sense of bounty.

When you talk with customers, be sure to do it on their level. "Leave your chair at home," says Haddad. "Farmers' market is not reading time. If you need something for support, bring a tall stool to lean on."



Customers respond to well-stocked displays.

Brand your farm

Isham Family Farm, Windswept Maples, Breakwind Farm - your farm probably has a name your customers and your state government know. If not, and before you make signs and business cards, be sure that no other business in your state has the same name. This can be done by searching registered names, usually in the secretary of state's office. After you've determined that the name you have chosen for your farm is available, protect it by registering it. And yes, Breakwind Farm is for real; they specialize in baked beans.

Help your customers find and recognize you and your stand at the market. If market rules allow, consider setting up in the same area of the market every week. You can make your stand easier to spot by choosing a canopy with a colored edge and/or by adding a banner or sign to the canopy border. The canopy itself should be white or light tan. "A brightly colored canopy can be eye-catching, but it can also be tricky. Bright yellow sun shining on a blue canopy can make lovely ripe peaches look green," Haddad explains. Other canopy colors can also change the true color of your produce. Another reason to stick with white or tan is that dark colors absorb heat.

You can help your customers recognize your farm by choosing a consistent color scheme, logo and typeface for your farm sign, business cards and brochures. People should be able to read your farm sign from 50 feet away. Be sure to include the location of your farm so customers can drive by to see where their food is produced, and so they can purchase food at your farm.



A happy marketer, attractively arranged products and clear signage invite customers at a winter farmers' market.

Price and product signs should be easy to read from 3 to 4 feet away. "People are not at the farmers' market for an eye exam," says Haddad. Black on off-white is the easiest color scheme to read. White on black is harder to read, as is red on yellow or yellow on red. If you have fewer than 10 different items for sale, you could list all products with their prices on one sign. To avoid confusion when you have more than 10 products for sale, make individual product/price signs. Product signs should list the item (e.g., carrots) with the price per weight (e.g., per pound), unit (e.g., 10 carrots) or volume (e.g., one bunch) together with a suggested use, especially for more unusual items (e.g., Mustard Greens - Can be used in stir-fries). Some items, like apples, may warrant longer descriptions. Include the name of the variety, a little history and suggested uses.

If you design and print signs on a computer, choose a font, such as Arial, that is easy to read. Courier is an old standard, but some find it rather dated and boring. Avoid printing signs in all caps or italics. Both are difficult to read at a distance.

"Help your customers eat their veggies," says Haddad. Recipes that utilize your produce, especially less common varieties, can also encourage sales.



Keep yourself and your customers safe. Anchor your canopy.

Invite customers to your booth

Few people can resist a smile, nor can they resist samples. Invite customers to taste your products. A small plate of sliced apples or carrots or some bits of cheese may tempt people to stop. Samples displayed on larger plates may invite people to take more than you intended. Put out one jar of each of your jellies or salsas, along with pretzels for dipping. If necessary, add a sign discouraging double-dipping. Whatever food you offer, be aware of food safety issues. Include toothpicks to spear finger foods and a container for disposing of used ones.



When serving food portions or offering samples, observe safe food practices.

Displays that sell

Although the booth area at farmers' markets is often limited to about 10 by 10 feet, display space can be increased by utilizing the vertical dimension. Where safe and feasible, build upward. Risers at the base of canopy poles will add a foot or more to vertical space, while also anchoring your shelter. Increase elbow-to-eye-level display space with portable fixtures. Begin with the typical folding table, add a lower table or shelf, and then place sturdy containers at an angle between them. Inclined containers show off products to their best advantage. Try to avoid placing items at or near ground level, where they could trip or injure people. As you are constructing your booth, be sure to leave an empty waist-level space adjacent to the scales and cash box for customers to place purses or parcels while they pay you. "Without that purse and parcel space, a nearby basket of lovely tomatoes may be juice by the end of the market," says Haddad.



Coolers that are not easily accessible or with hinges turned toward customers will discourage repeated openings and thus help keep the contents cool.

Contrasting colors and different sizes and shapes of fruits, vegetables and other products create eye appeal. Bring only the highest-quality products to market. Products should be clean and harvested at their optimum maturity and freshness. Keep your display simple and consistent, clean and nice.

The level at which products are displayed directly affects sales. By displaying containers of 100 tomatoes at four different levels, researchers have found vastly differing sales results:

Selling Position Sales per 100 Tomatoes

Customer must stretch to reach..... 70

Eye level (See-and-take level)..... 100

Bend shelf..... 55

Floor level..... 20

Conclusion: People don't like to bend.

Create a sense of bounty from the beginning of market day to near the end. Maintain that abundant look by refilling containers as they empty, and putting diminishing supplies in smaller containers. Having a range of different-sized containers available is helpful.



Large and legible signs are a must at farmers' markets.

Keep it cool and safe

To keep mesclun, lettuce, broccoli and other leafy produce looking fresh, use crushed ice or a spray bottle of water. Be sure you have only potable water in your booth. For meat, poultry, eggs and other perishables, use a cooler kept at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Be sure to keep an appliance thermometer in each cooler and refresh ice as necessary to maintain the proper temperature. Orienting coolers so they can only be opened from your side of the booth will discourage customers from repeatedly opening them and thus warming the contents. Consider taping a photo of the contents to the cooler lid.

Recycling is great, but foodborne illnesses are not. "Protect yourself and your customers by using only new, clean bags at market," says Haddad. "Avoid cross-contamination."



Products displayed at ground level invite tripping and falling.

Here are a few more market day tips from Haddad:

Kathleen Hatt is a freelance writer and has been a frequent contributor to Growing since 1998. She resides in Henniker, N.H.