When starting a new farmers’ market, attracting new customers is one of the biggest challenges, especially when opening a farmers’ market in a community where local residents may not be accustomed to shopping at a farmers’ market. In those communities customers may have misconceptions about what products are available at a farmers’ market, how affordable the food will be, and their ability to use their public benefits such as CalFresh. Many of these misconceptions can be most effectively countered by getting customers into a farmers’ market to experience it for themselves.
In communities where price and affordability are primary concerns, incentivizing shopping trips to farmers’ markets can be an effective strategy for encouraging trips to the market. The incentives can be either coupons which offer free or discounted purchases or items that might interest your shoppers such as free reusable shopping bags. Coupons can also be used to encourage shoppers to try products they might not otherwise try or to make purchases from a farmer whose sales are lagging. For example you might offer free strawberries to shoppers who purchase $5 or more in vegetables or a free head of broccoli to customers who purchase $5 or more in peaches. You can opt to foot the cost of these coupons as a marketing expense or you can plan the promotion in partnership with those farmers and ask them to share in the costs of the coupons.
Economically successful and sustainable farmers’ markets depend upon multiple repeat visits by farmers’ market customers. This means encouraging customers to develop new habits of purchasing more fruits and vegetables, purchasing fruits and vegetables primarily at the farmers’ market, and planning their weekly meals around when the farmers’ market is open and they have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Developing these habits among shoppers can take a long time.
Frequent Shopper Programs
Some farmers’ markets have experimented with frequent shopper cards to encourage repeat visits to the market. The concept is that each week the shopper has his or her card punched to show that they made a purchase that week. When they have accumulated enough punches on their card, they receive a prize of nominal value or are entered into a drawing for a larger a prize. This larger prize might be market-related or might be donated by a nearby business also interested in promoting itself to your customers.
Educating consumers can also help them to develop repeat shopping habits. Teaching customers how to properly store their purchases so they stay fresh can help them to avoid waste and can encourage them to purchase more products. Providing recipes can also help customers to see the potential of using more farmers’ market products and using them in different ways. For example, fresh beets at the farmers’ market often have the stems and leaves still attached. These beet greens and stems are edible (and delicious) if cooked within a day or so of the harvest date. The root portion will last for several days in the refrigerator before it needs to be cooked. The single beet purchase has then supplied food for two meals, and you have taught a customer a new way of preparing this vegetable.