this piece was originally published December 22 in Seedstock, the blog for sustainable agriculture focusing on startups, entrepreneurship, technology, urban agriculture, news and research.
Welcome to the second installment of Alisha Lumea and Polly Legendre’s advice column for sustainability-minded food entrepreneurs who are seeking answers to questions about product branding, marketing, development and more.
This week’s questions come from Ryan in San Diego, CA.
How can a direct to consumer seller at a farmers market make their products stand out more for consumers and/or attract more restaurant buyers?
At a farmers market there’s a lot of repetition of goods. If cucumbers are in season, you probably have a lot of them — and so does the stall next to you, and the stall after that. To sell your cucumbers, you can compete on price, or you can compete on style (otherwise known as perceived value). You can build your style and a better user experience with two basics principles: communication and cultivating relationships.
An easy way to communicate with your customers is better signage, including simple tasting notes. A favorite root vegetable vendor at Union Square Market in New York City sells a dozen varietals of potatoes, each with it’s own tasting note and suggested cooking method. The notes are minimal, like: “Peruvian heirloom, great mashed,” but they help encourage people to try something new and sample multiple products.
Signage, though, doesn’t substitute for conversation. Rather, it helps jump-start questions. Not everyone chats easily with strangers, and a little bit of information can be an icebreaker. Guaranteed, if you hang a sign that says “ask me about my expert knowledge of hot peppers” you’ll have more conversations about peppers than ever before.
The in-person connection with customers at the market is great, and you can further that bond with an email newsletter and Facebook. More frequent communication with customers allows you to stay front-of-mind, so on market day they come right to you. A newsletter is good because it allows you to capture the customer’s information at the moment when they’re thinking of you instead of relying on them to remember to “like” your page once their back at their computers. And Facebook makes it easy for people to share the information with their friends and introduce you to new audiences.
Updates needn’t (and shouldn’t) be long and involved. Let people know what’s going on at the farm and especially what’s coming into season. In cold climates, foodies wait for the first asparagus like kids wait for Christmas. If you have a favorite way of preparing something, share it here. The more time they spend thinking about you growing their food, the more invested they are in buying from you.
Use your display to draw connections between your farm and products and what else is going on in the good food movement and within your community. Restaurant customers are powerful endorsements, both for consumers and other chefs. If your products are called out by name at a restaurant, have a copy of the menu laminated and at the stand and called out as, for example: “best melons, as seen on the menu at Bistro X.”
If you would like a restaurant to call out your products by name, talk to the chef and offer to display their menu and call out the connection from your stall. The foodies at the farmers market are the same foodies they want dining in their restaurant. Cross promoting helps everyone.
Once you have chef customers, cultivate those relationships. Stay in touch about what’s coming into season. Talk to your chefs about what they’re cooking and what they use. Ask them if there’s anything they wish they could source locally but can’t find.
If you don’t have any customers yet, use a donation to jumpstart some buzz. How about giving apples for snack to your local kids sports team, getting a picture of the kids with apples, and making a sign that says: “Your Farms’ Cortlands — the official apple of the soccer team.” A sign like that will get you attention and goodwill.
Submit Your Question(s) for Next Week!
About Alisha & Polly’s company: Polish Partnerships
Polish is a branding and communications company for the new gastroconomy. By creating strong partnerships with food and beverage producers, hospitality groups and industry innovators, we go the extra distance, transforming hopes, dreams and expectations into tangible, sustainable and polished realities.