Farmers markets are an increasingly popular alternative to traditional grocery stores for consumers. In the decade between 1998 and 2008, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (USDA- AMS) estimated that the number of farmers markets in the U.S. increased 71 percent from 2,746 to 4,685 (USDA-AMS, 2008). As such, farmers markets provide an excellent direct marketing opportunity for producers in Nevada.
During the 2008 farmers market season, more than 600 farmers market customers were surveyed at 12 markets across Nevada. Respondents were asked questions about their primary motives for attending the market, the market attributes they value the most, the fruit and vegetable attributes they most prefer, whether they have a favorite vendor and what they like about that vendor, and how they hear about the market. This publication presents the results of these questions by region (southern and northern Nevada) as well as statewide. Vendors and market managers may use this information to better understand their customers and to help them create the purchasing experience their customers are looking for. Results of the full study, including results for each of the 12 individual markets, can be found in University Center for Economic Development Technical Report 2008/09-24, “Who is Shopping at Nevada’s Farmers’ Markets and Why?” (Curtis et al., 2009).
Motives for Attending Farmers Markets
Survey respondents were asked to describe their primary motive for attending the farmers market. In southern Nevada, northern Nevada, and statewide, purchasing produce was the most common response to this question, highlighting that overall customers are most likely to attend a market to buy fresh fruit and vegetable products. In southern Nevada, respondents’ other highly rated motives for attending the market on average were to purchase ready-to-eat foods, for social interaction, and for events and activities hosted by the market. In northern Nevada, social interaction was rated higher than events and activities and purchasing ready-to-eat foods, while statewide, social interaction was rated higher than purchasing ready-to-eat foods followed by events and activities. These results indicate that respondents in northern Nevada value the social and entertainment aspects of farmers markets more than respondents in southern Nevada. Vendors who want to capitalize on this may consider bringing the entertaining aspect of the market to their booth by making it fun and engaging through the use of signs, color and interaction with customers.
Farmers Market Attributes
By region and across the state, product variety was the most valued farmers market attribute. This was followed by some combination of convenient location, free parking, hours of operation and number of vendors. The ratings for product variety and number of vendors show that some customers are approaching the market with an eye out for options. Such customers might be more motivated to select only one or two items from each vendor rather than purchasing many items at one location. The other results indicate that customers seem to view the farmers market in the same light as they view their preferred grocery outlet, in terms of wanting to purchase farmers market products at a convenient, easily accessible location.
Fruit and Vegetable Attributes
By region, across the state and at every individual market, the produce attributes that were most highly valued were some combination of taste, freshness and quality. Local producers have the perfect outlet for advertising the freshness of their products at farmers markets. In most cases, produce was recently picked, possibly even the day of the market. Farmers market vendors should not hesitate to tell customers how fresh their produce is. Quality is an attribute that might be easily detected from visually inspecting a product, but taste is not. Samples are an excellent way to advertise the taste and quality of products, while consistently providing high-quality products will help to ensure that customers will make repeat purchases in the future.
Value was also given a high rating at all markets. While a farmers market vendor might not be able to compete with grocery store prices, they can likely provide products that are fresher than those at grocery stores, and many consumers may be willing to pay the extra money for high-quality, locally produced items. For example, Hu et al. (2009) found that consumers in Kentucky were willing to pay a higher price for blueberry products that had been grown and produced in Kentucky over products grown/produced elsewhere. Emphasizing the aspects that cause farmers market products to be priced higher, such as local, high quality, freshness, organic, 3 supporting local agriculture, etc., may encourage customers to accept premium pricing. It should be noted that although many attributes were rated higher than price, price was rated higher than organic and local production, knowing the grower or farmer, and specialty items. Although this may be a reflection of the preferences of survey respondents, it may also be a reflection of a lack of understanding of these attributes. Vendors may consider providing additional information about the benefits of local and organic production and make a special effort to explain any specialty items he/she sells to encourage customers to purchase these different items.
Preferred Vendor Attributes
Respondents were asked whether they have a favorite vendor and, if so, what makes them value this vendor over other vendors. In all cases, approximately one-third of respondents said they had a favorite vendor, with this figure slightly higher in southern Nevada than in northern Nevada. In southern Nevada, northern Nevada, and statewide, vendor attributes were rated in the same order with product offering as the most important aspect, followed by friendliness and approachability, free samples and providing product information. Taken with the results for fruit and vegetable attributes, the ratings for product offering and free samples show that allowing customers to experience for themselves the taste and quality of products could be of value to both growers and customers. According to the survey, 14 percent of respondents said they value free samples from vendors.
In addition to being rated highly by region, friendliness and approachability were listed as a preferred vendor attribute at every individual market as well. This highlights the importance of consistently providing excellent service and making market booths a place customers feel welcome. Having product information available was also a preferred vendor attribute at many markets, so it may be beneficial to create a brochure about the products being sold, including information about how and where the product was produced (including any information about differentiated production practices such as organic, especially if the products are organic but are not certified as such), storage and preparation information, and recipes. Additionally, the brochure should contain information about the vendor and his/her operation. This will encourage customers to view vendors as more than just salespeople, developing a relationship that might foster repeat sales.
Knowing how customers hear about a market may help vendors and market managers prioritize promotional options. At all markets, word-of-mouth was the most common way a respondent had heard about the market. Drop bys and roadside signs were also popular and indicate that many respondents attended the market at the last minute. This information, taken into account with the number of respondents who indicated the importance of location, free parking, and hours of operation, reinforces the importance of markets being located in an area that is easy to access and in a convenient location.
The information presented here is a brief overview of a full study conducted at 12 farmers markets in Nevada and may be used to help vendors and market managers better understand their customers and what they are looking for from their farmers market experience. Results for each individual market can be found in UCED technical report 2008/09-24, “Who is Shopping at Nevada’s Farmers’ Markets and Why?” (Curtis et al., 2009), and additional marketing ideas can be found in UNCE special publication SP-09-10, “Marketing Farmers Markets: Ideas for Market Vendors & Managers in Nevada” (Cowee et al., 2009).
Cowee, M., K. Curtis and H. Gatzke. 2009. “Marketing Farmers Markets: Ideas for Market Vendors & Managers in Nevada.” University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Special Publication SP-09-10.
Curtis, K., M. Cowee and H. Gatzke. 2009. “Who is Shopping at Nevada’s Farmers’ Markets and Why?” University of Nevada Center for Economic Development Technical Report 2008/09-24. Available online: Who is Shopping at Nevada’s Farmers’ Markets and Why?.
Hu, W., T. Woods and S. Bastian. 2009. “Consumer Acceptance and Willingness to Pay for Blueberry Products with Nonconventional Attributes.” Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics (41)1: 47-60.
USDA-AMS. 2008. “Farmers’ Markets Growth: 1994-2008.” Available online: Farmers’ Markets Growth: 1994-2008.