Farmers markets provide many social, economic, and ecological benefits to farmers and communities. They support local producers, foster community engagement, and have a positive ripple effect on their local economies. However, many markets are seeing increased competition with a growing number of local food outlets: community supported agriculture box shares, grocery stores, online marketplaces, and a growing number of farmers markets give consumers many options for where to go for locally grown products.
“With all the competition, it’s even more essential for farmers market managers to effectively promote their markets to potential customers,” said Bret Shaw, University of Wisconsin-Extension environmental communication specialist at UW-Madison.
In 2016, a team of researchers at UW-Madison and UW-Extension asked 17 market managers from around Wisconsin to share their words of wisdom on best practices for farmers market promotion. A summary of their suggestions is documented in a new report, Plan, Partner, and Promote: Best Marketing Practices from Wisconsin’s Farmers Market Managers.
Below are eight highlights of successful farmers market promotional practices from the report’s findings:
Set goals to sell more greens
Farmers market managers often work with other key market-decision makers to craft a promotional plan. As managers are making plans, they are also thinking about how they will know what success looks like with their promotion. Whether it’s a certain percentage increase in customers or a higher retention of vendors, identifying a clear and tangible goal for the promotion plan helps managers better measure the impact that their efforts are creating.
Identify the customer bullseye
Market managers create promotional plans with specific target customers in mind. In addition to consulting their vendors and board members, managers also survey their existing market customers to better understand why they shop there and how they heard about the market. Market managers have also found that market research studies on local food purchasers can be useful to learn more about the best ways to reach out to those demographics.
Partner with producers
Market managers can’t promote markets by themselves—they need help from their vendors. Market managers can encourage them to share more stories from their farms and how they got started farming. These stories are often the most powerful selling point for market managers when they are posting on social media or profiling farmers on their website. Managers can also help vendors to work on presenting their products in aesthetically pleasing arrangements, using attractive and clear signage. They often share resources and invite design experts to train vendors about more appealing displays during annual market meetings.
Recruit the community
Many kinds of community groups can also be great partners in market promotion. Local businesses, healthcare providers, neighborhood associations, municipal governments, nearby colleges, farm-to-table restaurants, or aligned nonprofit groups related to hunger and community food systems can all be strategic partners for farmers market managers. Market managers suggest finding ways to collaborate with stakeholders that create shared value for both parties. For example, a local bank may sponsor a cobranded reusable shopping bag, or a local restaurant’s chef could conduct a cooking demo at the market for recipes that they also serve at their restaurant.
Be vocal for local
When it comes time to getting the word out about the farmers market, market managers use many different avenues to reach potential customers. Almost all market managers share that word of mouth is one of the strongest drivers of market traffic: people hear about it from friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues. To generate more word of mouth, market managers will make in-person announcements and share promotional materials with local businesses or community organizations whose employees/membership would be likely to come shop at the market.
Get social to spread the word
Most managers find social media to be one of their most valuable channels for connecting with both new and existing customers. Managers especially use Facebook Pages to attract new shoppers, recruit volunteers, or make important announcements when construction or another conflict changes the market’s schedule. Other online communication, like farmers market websites and e-newsletters, have also been used by managers with great success.
Traditional media channels work, too
Beyond word of mouth and social media, market managers use physical signage and distribute flyers throughout their area; they advertise in the newspaper or write press releases to gain news attention; and, they make public service announcements on local radio stations. While these more traditional media approaches can incur costs, market managers first build relationships with media professionals and call upon the market’s local sponsors to help cover a portion of the expenses involved.
Keep tabs on promotional progress
With clear goals established during the planning phase, market managers can then measure how effective their outreach efforts are in meeting their goals. In order to evaluate success, market managers must engage in ongoing data collection and analysis: counting and surveying customers, soliciting feedback and information from vendors, and keeping track of data like vendor retention and Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) sales from season to season. Managers suggest reaching out to local colleges, Extension offices, and county health departments for help with evaluation, in addition to using online support platforms like University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Metrics & Indicators for Impact (MIFI).