“If you don’t have a selection of produce and real farmers present, then people don’t view you as a market and they’re not coming”
Support for local producers is the major reason why people go to farmers markets, says Brent Warner, Executive Director of Farmers Markets Canada. In fact, 92 per cent of shoppers state buying products from an actual farmer is extremely important. “That’s why they’re there. They want to talk to an actual farmer,” Warner told the Step it Up direct marketing conference in Red Deer.
Eighty-one per cent of consumers believe food sold at farmers markets is safer and better than food sold in supermarkets. “This is a trust factor, but at this point in time, it’s yours to lose. One incident at a farmers market in this country, and we are in big trouble,” Warner said.
Canadian farmers market sales are currently contributing between $1.5 billion to $3 billion to the country’s economy. “It’s about time we started reinvesting in that piece of our economy, because we can change what the future looks like,” said Warner.
The findings were part of the first national farmers markets economic impact study, coordinated by an independent company based in Toronto. The survey is the biggest and most comprehensive study ever done on farmers markets in North America, and surveyed 508 farmers markets in 10 Canadian provinces.
About 3,000 shoppers were surveyed onsite and 1,000 nonusers were surveyed online as part of the research. Over 94 per cent of the customers at farmers markets are of Caucasian descent, which is not representative of the country as a whole, said Warner.
“We can look at this in two ways; it’s either a problem or an opportunity. There are more people out there then just Caucasians so we should figure out how to get them there.”
Meat becoming more important
Freshness of product and support for local producers are the main reasons why people choose to visit farmers markets. Over 70 per cent attend to buy their fruits and vegetables, the survey found. Meat is becoming a more significant factor at markets for about 15 per cent of users. Fresh flowers are another commodity that can really bring people to markets. “If you don’t have a selection of produce and real farmers present, then people don’t view you as a market and they’re not coming,” he said.
Typical customers range in age from 25 to 64 years old, and larger markets tend to attract younger customers. Over three-quarters of the customers are female. The national average amount spent at a farmers market is about $32. Younger customers indicated they would like ATMs or debit machines onsite, and Warner believes having these machines onsite can increase sales by up to 20 per cent.
People cite distance as the number one deterrent to visiting a market, and most people use a car. Most markets across the country run on Saturdays, and Warner thinks there is an ample opportunity for strong Sunday sales in many areas of the country. Over half of the farmers markets across the country are outdoors.
Over 26 per cent of vendors nationwide sell over $1,000 worth of product each market day, and 67 per cent of vendors sell between $100 to $999 each day. Warner urged his audience to think about the impact of these dollars on farm families and local economies and said that over 46 per cent of farmers markets serve populations with less than 10,000 people.
Attendance and the number of vendors and sales have all increased over the past few years. “Ninety one per cent of vendor markets are funded solely by booth rentals, which is a tragedy because it restricts your budge dramatically if that’s the only budget you have to work with,” he said.
Over 16 per cent of market managers claim no support from governments in the past five years. “In this industry, we have not been on government radar anywhere in a long time and I think this study may be the one that changes that,” he said.
Managers across the country stressed a need for more advertising, additional vendors with a wide range of products, more food vendors and more financial support from local governments to promote markets.