Attitudes about food are changing in ways which may affect the lives of farmers and sales at farmers markets, says Brent Warner, executive director of Farmers’ Markets Canada.
Things have changed quickly in the past 10 years in North America due to urbanization, Warner told the recent Step it Up Marketing Conference here.
“The farm population in Canada is now down to about 1.6 per cent,” said Warner. He sees this population gap as an opportunity. He believes many urban people want to learn more about their food which means farm visits will grow over the next few years.
Warner expects big changes for the produce industry in North America. The San Joaquin valley in California, which grows much of the produce consumed in North America, will soon be facing a water shortage due to the impact of urbanization in the area. “Ninety-five per cent of the lettuce we see comes out of that valley. If they can’t produce that lettuce, someone else is going to produce it. This is a huge opportunity. There’s going to be a shift in where product comes from, whatever we do and whatever the crop is, there’s going to be growth opportunities,” he said.
Warner believes the “buy local” movement may be one of the best things that has happened for producers. People are starting to distinguish between local and organic. People prioritize the purchase of local products before organic products.
“In 2005, organic producers were starting to lose ground to local food as people started to make the switch to buy local,” said Warner. Commodity organic sales have also dropped since Dec 2008, due to the economic crisis. Organic product in the supermarket chains retails for a higher price, and people who shop at supermarkets are now choosing lower price, he said.
Retailers are now starting to buy local, which is good for farmers markets, he said.
COOKING IS BACK
Culinary tourism is a growing field which offers opportunities for both farm vendors and farmers. Warner also emphasized the possibility of working with chefs and getting locally produced foods into urban restaurants.
He advised his audience to think about loyalty programs and Internet coupons, both of which are growing in popularity throughout Canada. “Seventy per cent of Canadians said they are more likely to use coupons during a recession,” he said. “That’s 70 per cent of your customers because I don’t think there are many people who don’t think we are in some sort of recession at this point.”
Warner also noted some “back to the future” steps as a result of tough economic times. For instance, an interest in the “domestic arts” appears to be growing. Flour sales have jumped in 2009. Freezer sales went up 7 per cent in the last part of 2008, at the same time that sales of all other appliances dropped 8 per cent, he said.
Warner said people are back to storing and preserving food, with sales of canning and freezing supplies up by 92 per cent. While book sales have declined, sales of cookbooks have soared, he said.
“All these things are starting to say to me that people are starting to do these things themselves, rather than buy them already made.”