Farmers market research – best practices

We conducted interviews with managers that represent different types of markets. You can read the report in full by downloading the PDF, or read the highlights or the report in the blog post below.


Highlights from Plan, Partner, Promote

Top Eight Tips to Support Wisconsin Farmers Market Outreach and Marketing

Marlie Wilson, Bret Shaw, Laura Witzling, and Alfonso Morales

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.


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. Sharing these best practices will hopefully help other market managers and their supporters sustain farmers markets so they can continue to benefit local producers, strengthen community ties, and positively impact local economies. Here are eight highlights of successful farmers market promotional practices from the report’s findings:


1. Set goals to sell more greens

Farmers market managers often work with other key market-decision makers to help them craft a promotional plan. A market’s board members, vendors, or important community sponsors can all be willing and helpful allies in developing a strategy that will support the market and stay within the market’s limited budget. 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.


2. Identify the customer bullseye

To spend their limited time and money more wisely, 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.


3. 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.


4. 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.


5. 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.


6. 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.


7. 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.


8. 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).


Learn More

Are you a farmers market manager, or do you help to support a local farmers market? Be sure to take a look at our full report—Plan, Partner, and Promote: Best Marketing Practices from Wisconsin’s Farmers Market Managers (PDF, 18 pages, 7.4 MB), which shares more detailed information from farmers market managers on their best practices in promotion and marketing. The report also includes an annotated list of additional resources to provide some next steps on building a successful outreach campaign.


Happy farmers market marketing!