21 Farmers’ markets aiming for greater share

Demographic research points to opportunities among young families by PETER MITHAM VICTORIA – Renewed efforts to promote BC

farmers’ markets are in the works following a study that identified a need for common branding and a greater awareness among consumers of the value farmers’ markets offer. “This year, we’ve secured dollars to launch this BC

Farmers’ Market Trail,” Heather O’Hara, executive director of the BC Association of Farmers’ Markets, told the association’s annual conference in Victoria at the beginning of March. The trail will start in the Kootenays, where the

BCAFM has secured a funding partner (O’Hara would not disclose the partner pending an official announcement). The project will be similar to the BC Ale Trail that the BC Craft Brewers Guild and local tourism associations established. “It’s going to be heavy on digital engagement.

We’re going to have the ability to have videos and tell the story of your market and the farmers within it very strongly and beautifully,” O’Hara said. The launch of the program will accompany efforts

to secure funding to expand the initiative to regions across the province by 2020. It will contribute to a common brand identity for farmers’ markets across BC.

BCAFM is also putting up cash generated from

the investment of funds the province granted for the farmers’ market nutrition coupon program. The coupon program also gave association staff the opportunity to travel the province, building the relationships that make the new marketing initiative possible. The new campaign builds on research Nanaimo-based Left Field Marketing and its Farm| Food|Drink business advisory team conducted last year. Presenting the results of the research during the conference’s opening plenary, research lead Vanessa

Daether said the project aimed to understand how markets promote themselves and what motivates consumers to shop where they shop. “We really wanted to understand how farmers

markets in the province of BC are marketing their markets and engaging with their customers,” she said.

Daether conducted an overview of online

marketing tools – Facebook was key – and strategies markets use to promote themselves to both vendors and consumers. Sixty markets attended focus groups and provided feedback, and this was combined with feedback from a survey of 1,000 consumers.

The study also examined what grocers are doing to adapt to a changing retail environment and how farmers’ markets can keep pace. (Notably, there’s no firm research on what share of the market BC farmers’ markets have.) “Where can we shift consumers from grocery

store dollars to spending more at a farmers market?” researchers asked. “Who are those individuals we can capture?” The project identified three types of shoppers:

• Frequent shoppers are typically women, 35 years and older with above-average incomes who are engaged with their communities and socially conscious. They spend $76 to $200 a week at grocery stores, but visit farmers’ markets about twice a month and spend $20 to $40 per visit.

• Infrequent shoppers are similar to frequent shoppers but often have young families that limit visits to a few times a season. When they do visit, they spend $40 or less. “Prices and time were the big barriers that were limiting them from engaging with a farmers market,” Daether said. “It wasn’t a lack of desire or interest or necessarily knowledge about a farmers market. They’re just busy. They’re swamped


• Non-shoppers are typically people in their 20s with below-average incomes. Most grocery shopping is at supermarkets rather than organic grocers or health food stores. “For this demographic, price sensitivity is heightened,” Daether said. While convenience and price are key barriers to

drawing in younger shoppers, Greg McLaren, managing director of Left Field, said it’s not because they’re not interested. “They’re part of the choir already and we need to bring them along and grow that market. And believe me, the grocery sector is worried about that,” he said. Connecting with them requires being more

convenient, or giving them a reason to see it as a valuable shopping choice. “[It]’s not suggesting to folks that it’s cheap or that

we can compete on price – price is different than value – [it’s] talking to people about how you do community,” McLaren said. “You tie into their values.” But translating those values into a sustainable

future for markets and vendors is another question. “The local food movement has changed drastically,” he said. “We’re seeing small farmers – young, smart, engaged, hard-working people with wonderful values – have been making a good push on things for two, three, five years, and are now exiting, because poverty gets old fast. It’s tough.” McLaren said farmers’ markets, to be viable, need to both attract shoppers and support vendors. “There should be a lot of focus among the

farmers’ markets on viability,” he said. “You need to have that support for the farmers, and offering them the support through the BC Association of Farmers Markets and your markets themselves to recognize that you are not just a shopping centre, not just a place of community, but a place where you’re driving the economy of agriculture in the province.”

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