Farmers Market Marketing Grant Findings – Northeast SARE Report

In 2016, CitySeed was funded by Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Resource and Education to measure the impact of creative marketing measures on market sales. CitySeed’s full report will be available on Northeast SARE’s website in the next few weeks.

CitySeed uses innovative models to ensure a healthy and economically viable marketplace for our farmers. However, farmers have still reported difficulties in selling produce that is widely available and increasing their sales from previous years.

Over the course of 2016, CitySeed: 1) reached out to farmers to identify fruit and vegetables to promote during the market season; 2) planned and hosted seven major scale events and two smaller events to promote the selected fruits and vegetables; 3) recorded market statistics and surveyed customers during these major events in order to understand the relationship, if any, between these events and market attendance; and 4) polled participating farmers after the events to assess their impact on market sales.

Based on input from vendors, major events focused on Salad Greens and Strawberries and in the fall, Apples and Squash.

Through social media polling, customer interest in market activities broke down as follows: 32% were most interested in product samplings and tastings, 27%, special guest vendors, food trucks and carts,  12%, recipes from farmers, chefs and staff, 10% in kids cooking or general activities and finally 10% in themed market days.

Our major events were pre-publicized, promoted selected crops using increased signage, included at least one sampling or cooking demo, and had at least two other event components – such as kids activities based on the selected crops, guest vendors with specialty products that incorporated the selected crops, crop information/identification table, or live music. Our point-of-purchase signs identified the selected crops, suggested other farmers market produce to pair with the selected crops, and highlighted recipes using the selected crops. In addition to this, CitySeed also held regular cooking demos that incorporated the selected crops. All cooking demos had a representative at the table preparing a dish, giving out samples, answering questions, and providing recipes for customers to take home.

Based on our market statistics and surveys, we saw that major crop-themed events – such as the Strawberry, Apple, and Squash Events – lead to significant increases in market attendance. Compared to markets held the week before, each event brought an average of 240 additional customers, or an increase of 36%. Unfortunately, according to data from post-event surveys, these events did not significantly contribute to increased vendor sales at the markets. Instead, farmers overwhelmingly reported that sales of the promoted fruit or vegetable were the same as sales from the previous week, even from the previous year. Sales of other products on the days of these events were unaffected as well.

However, although these events did not directly boost sales for vendors at the markets, they may have indirectly done so. On average across the events, 40% of farmers reported increased customer engagement at their stands – more conversations about the promoted product, questions about ways to use the product, and, as one farmer concluded, “new and deeper relationships” with market customers. We hope that these new conversations and relationships will lead to higher rates of customer retention at the markets.

Although major events that incorporated tastings, cooking demos, and increased activities did not directly result in more sales for farmers, we believe that these events contribute to a healthy marketplace and assist in building and maintaining a loyal, informed, and engaged customer base. These events also increase market attendance and introduce new customers to the markets. These benefits should not be undervalued. We believe that these events coupled with other sales/marketing strategies can maintain and increase market financial health in the future.