Between 1994 and 2008, the number of farmers markets in the U.S. increased by nearly 168 percent, from 1,755 markets to 4,685 (USDA-AMS, 2008). This shows the importance of farmers markets as a direct marketing outlet for agricultural producers. To help producers, vendors, and market managers better understand their customers’ preferences and habits, a survey of 669 farmers market customers at 12 markets across Nevada (with 384 respondents in Southern Nevada and 285 in Northern Nevada) was conducted by University of Nevada Cooperative Extension researchers in 2008. This publication presents information gathered through that survey about customers’ food purchasing habits, their agreement with a series of personal statements, participation in lifestyle activities, and demographic information. Full results of the study 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).
Food Purchasing and Consumption Habits
Respondents were asked to describe the type of store they use as their primary food shopping outlet. In both regions of the state about half of the respondents reported that they use a standard conventional grocery store as their primary food shopping outlet. In Southern Nevada, nearly one-third of respondents (27.9 percent) said they shop at a specialty store, which was defined in this survey as stores such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. The proportion of respondents shopping at specialty stores in Southern Nevada was nearly twice that of respondents in Northern Nevada, where a slightly higher proportion of respondents shopped at multi-purpose stores (such as Wal-Mart and Target). Bulk stores (i.e. Sam’s Club, Costco) were slightly more popular in Southern Nevada and discount stores (WinCo, Grocery Outlet) were more popular in Northern Nevada. Respondents were asked how many times in the past month they had visited their primary grocery outlet. Just under half of both populations reported having visited their primary outlet between four and seven times.
Respondents were asked how much money they typically spend during a visit to a farmers market. Statewide and by region the average amount was slightly under $23.00 per visit. Respondents were also asked how much they spend on groceries in an average week and it was found that farmers market customers in the south spend an average of about $10 per week more on groceries than their northern counterparts. In all cases, farmers market spending represented approximately 17 percent of weekly grocery shopping.
Respondents were also asked whether or not they would be interested in joining a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. These results were also similar by region and across the state, with about one-third of respondents (33-35 percent) stating they would be interested in joining a CSA, 20 percent stating they would need more information to be sure, and the remainder stating they would not consider joining a CSA.
Respondents were presented with a series of personal statements and were asked to rate their level of agreement with each statement on a five-point scale from “strongly disagree” (a value of 1) to “strongly agree” (a value of 5). Average ratings for each statement were estimated to determine their relative importance. Each of the statements are displayed in the table on the following page in ranked order from one (highest level of agreement) to 11 (lowest level of agreement). The results were very similar by region and across the state. The strongest levels of agreement occurred with the statements “I am concerned about the safety of my food” and “I am concerned about my health/diet” in both regions of the state. The statements “I am concerned about the origin of my food,” “Agricultural open space is important to me,” and “Supporting local farmers is important to me” also received high ratings.
Producers and farmers market vendors can use this information to better understand product attributes and marketing strategies that may appeal most to their customers. The growing local food movement is driven in part by consumers’ belief that local foods are safer than the conventional foods found in grocery stores. Regardless of the validity of this belief, communicating the safety features of farmers market products, such as following standard safety guidelines, enhanced HACCP training, etc., might appeal to concerned customers. This information can be conveyed in conjunction with information about the origin of the products being sold at a farmers market.
Outlining the short supply chain of local foods may help customers to feel an increased level of safety from buying locally, while providing information about the operation and the people running it can appeal to customers who are interested in agricultural open space and supporting local farmers. Educating customers about the health aspects of products, such as nutritional value and production methods (especially reduced use of pesticides, organic production even if the operation is not certified, etc.) is a way to reach out to health-conscious customers. Providing light and healthy recipes that incorporate the products being offered for sale is also effective.
Participation in Lifestyle Activities
Respondents were presented with a list of lifestyle activities and were asked to indicate in which activities they participate. The table below presents the activities in ranked order from highest to lowest participation. In both regions of the state, recycling was the activity with the highest participation rate, while home gardening was also popular. In Southern Nevada, Earth Day was the next most popular activity, followed by food canning and preservation, composting, youth groups, home beer and wine making, and 4-H and FFA. In Northern Nevada, recycling and home gardening were followed by composting, Earth Day, food canning and preservation, youth groups, 4-H and FFA and home beer and wine making. In both regions, the Master Gardener program and CSAs were the activities with the lowest proportion of participation.
This information can be used to target customer segments in marketing programs (for example, by teaching customers how the remnants of their produce purchases can be used in home composting, or providing information about home canning and preservation of market products) and in developing programming ideas for farmers markets. More information about potential programming and marketing ideas can be found in Curtis et al., 2009 and Cowee et al., 2009 (both listed in references).
Survey respondents were asked for basic demographic information to develop a profile of the typical customer at Nevada’s farmers markets. There were substantial differences between Northern and Southern Nevada, as well as differences between the individual markets. The right hand column of this table shows Census information for Nevada for 2007 so that comparisons can be readily made between the average farmers market customer and the average Nevadan.
The demographic information indicates that survey respondents were on average slightly older than the Nevada population, were more likely to be female, had higher levels of education, were more likely to be married, and had higher incomes, particularly in Southern Nevada. There were some substantial differences between customers in Southern and Northern Nevada; in addition to the difference in income, customers in the north were older, less likely to be married, and more likely to be Caucasian. Vendors and market managers can use this information to tailor their marketing and advertising strategies, as well as future programming options.
The information presented in this fact sheet provides a brief overview of farmers market customers in Northern and Southern Nevada that can be used to help producers, vendors, and market managers better understand their customers in terms of demographics, food purchasing habits and participation in various lifestyle activities.
Curtis, K., M. Cowee, and H. Gatzke. 2009. “Who is Shopping at Nevada’s Farmers Markets and Why?” University Center for Economic Development Technical Report 2008/09-24. Available online at Who is Shopping at Nevada’s Farmers Markets and Why
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 09-10.