How to run a successful farmers’ market stand

It is slightly premature in our journey to focus on this subject. However, as it happens I am starting to attract everything called farmers’ market! On my lunch break from packing supertan lotion on this leap day at vanguard speciality coffee co. I picked up an issue of New Zealnd lifestyle block magazine.

Nina Planck, founder of regional food council in the UK and the woman behind the 1st farmers’ market in London in 1999 is the author of this article. I thought it was worth banking these tips in the knowledge tank and we might revisit this when the time is right. So here we go,  from the horses’ mouth 22 tips for running a successful stall:

  1. The more information the better- prices are the bare minimum. Nina suggests that a good signage is invaluable. Everything must be labelled and priced as shy customers neither ask nor buy if produce is not priced. Sell a story on the produce. Apples are marked as we don’t use fungicides, cheeries are scarced as we had a massive frost. Write detailed description of the farm, its location, mini climate, family history, people who work. Have these displayed so people can read. Recipes are indispensable handouts too.
  2. Charge for what it’s worth- is it superior, rare, organic? Nina cleverly suggests that refrigerator at each home can only be that big and families can only eat that much each week. So tell customers why your product is superior and then charge accordingly. Similarly, if you have too much to sell or slightly inferior quality stuff then give bargain price and promote it.
  3. Offer samples, people love to try things. It also generates a notion of reciprocity. Teach them about your favourites too and how do you use the product in your recipes.
  4. Value for money is always right. It is not a question of high or low prices. If the product doesn’t sell then you can assume that either the price is wrong, the customer doesn’t want your product or is not attracted by the way you are selling it.
  5. Suggest ideas, especially when it is familiar or in surplus. People often just don’t know what to do with things they see. Tell them how to make the most of a surplus.
  6. Eat your own food. You should know the taste and flavour of your produce.
  7. Give customers personal opinions.  Good for baking, nice as a dip or a fantastic marinade for chicken on BBQ.
  8. Tell them how to keep it. No one likes to waste a good product. Keep this cherry jam away from light in the refrigerator.
  9. Quality is everything. One of Nina’s earlier lesson running a stall was quality product and quality relationship with the regular customers. Interestingly, survey done at farmers’ market in London suggests that people come to market for freshness and quality. No other answer- meeting the farmer, saving family farms- came close.
  10. Choose good varieties and breeds. Supermarkets offer the same cosmetically perfect bland foods from apples to cheese to bread. For processes foods, use good ingredients and tell customers why your cherry jam is better,mike it is hand made and has no preservatives.
  11. Have something to sell all season. It is not worth coming to the market to see a few asparagus. This is more important for fruit and vege stall holders. Extend the season by growing cold weather crops.
  12. Sell a variety of products. Displaying only product is a risk, customers want it or not. Even in small quantity, offer options.
  13. Make bags readily available.
  14. Work with the manager. The manager serves you and represents you to the public.
  15. Cultivate regular loyal customers. That means the people who are doing the weekly shopping at the farmers’ market, often for a family, week in and week out, and it usually means people who come for quality and not rock bottom prices.
  16. Pile it high and fill it up. You must restock constantly. Consider who takes money and who will restock. Always use the smallest container rule. Pack it full.
  17. Don’t be afraid of competition. A good market has a balance of producers with balance of produce and prices. Farmers’ markets are a basic form of cooperative. You all agree to sell by the rules for a few hours each week. You are stronger together than alone. It seems like a paradox:at market, the farmers need each other and they also compete with each other.
  18. Make chilled food visible. Meat, poultry, dairy and egg producers and those selling chilled processed food like pasta, have particular challenges in display. You need to show off your food just as peach and tomato farmers do, piled high and colourful and seductive
  19. Bring photos of your farm. Bring not only your food but also your farm to the market. Pictures of farm, animals,mproducts being made etc
  20. He cheerful and active. A bored sullen person behind the counter is fatal. Don’t be hyper sales monster but be enthusiastic and friendly. You must demonstrate high opinion of your products. You can not be ignorNt about the products. You must give customers a reason to buy. WLk to the front of your stand every now and then and look from a customers perspective, clear any clutter or rubbish.
  21. Perfect your marketing equipment. Don’t neglect the infrastructure of marketing; have a box with marker pens, blank paper, tape. Create a market report that tells you how much customer bought that week, what price it was sold at, and when it sold out.
  22. Run the numbers. It is a business so keep a tab of all the expenses and finally how much profit was made.


The article is a very interesting read  and it would be an idea to go back to the market and see who is at the top of their game based on these learnings.


Morning at Otago Farmers Market

We went on a trip to the farmers market on this beautiful summer day. We were briefed nicely by Richard on observing as a design tool for research to solve problems. This is one the place to find high involvement customers or foodies. We were actively looking for actions like who was purchasing, when were they purchasing, what and how much were they purchasing. We also were going to quietly observe interactions happening between the buyers and vendors and different kinds of groups in the buyers category. Since the project involved us being a vendor one day selling our cherry based product, it was obvious that we were going to study vendors very closely too.

As a team we strategically decided to closely monitor the merchandising and see what vendors were actually doing. Whether their actions were having an impact on the sales and if they were leaving their mark on the customers as well. We were also briefed on the fact that free tasting does generate a notion of reciprocity and customers end up buying some goods from the vendor.

Part of the observation was the context. Dunedin is a small city and a rugby game or a cruise ship can have a huge impact on not only the number of people visiting the market but also the mix. Similarly, weather plays an important role indicating if the market is going to be busy. Early part of the year and students in town definitely promotes the visitors to the market.

We were also looking for people who visited the market from demographic point of view. Equally important was to note what sort of groups were they flocking in. Friends circle, families, local or tourists, economic status, lifestyle were some of the parameters that were to be observed as well.

With this new acquired knowledge through lectures from Richard and Adrian, we landed in the market on this beautiful sunny day at 9 in the morning. The market was packed and it was such a vibrant scene at the enter acne where an artist was playing piano. Since it was the Saturday at the end of the O week, the market was exceptionally busy with students new to the town exploring the city. Unlike some of the regular older customers who would go to their favourite fruit and vege vendor, students were going around in circles just chilling basically. These loyal customers had shopping bags and stuff while students hardly had bags suggesting that they were there to consume food/drinks and buy minimal take home stuff. Sometimes these so called loyal regular customers go to their specific shops and are hard to convince to try new products and vendors.

We also made another general assumption that majority of the younger crowd were females. Those who were typically wearing Lycra and sneakers and those who were wearing designer tops and flash sunnies. A lot of these were choosing juices and staying away from baked sweets. It was evident that they came to the market to socialise. Also interesting was the fact that majority of the interactions were face to face. There were hardly any people on phone. Owner operator vendors were actively doing relational interactions as well while employee manned stalls had predominantly transactional interactions. Girls selling strawberries at the Waimate stall and girls at Who ate all my pies stall were a typical example of the above observation. On the other hand people at havoc,mcheese stalls, honey vendor, organic herb lady were all keen to have a chat to build relationships.

Another key observation about the stall itself was that the busy ones definitely had a well stocked up stall. Stack them high and watch them fly. Some of these guys had stalls built at lowere level and had minimum physical barrier between them and their potential customers. It would be safe to make another general assumption based on our observation today that fresh produce stalls were the busiest and meat stalls were the quietest.

There are many regulars who come to this market each week. There were so many shopping with the official farmers market bags. Overall, it was a very happy experience and it certainly made me look beyond the produce and products. There is plenty to be learned if I keep my eyes and ears open and just simply observe with an open mind.