Products, Packaging, and Pricing

Product Considerations.
Depending on the rules of the market, you may only be allowed to sell products grown or made by you. These restrictions on local markets are designed to support both the health of the community and the robustness of the market. Respecting these guidelines as well as your fellow vendors is crucial for long-term market viability. For example, if you sneak non-local fruit into the market at your stand, you will diminish the trust customers (and other farmers) have in your stand, and undermine their understanding and appreciation of seasonality and RI grown fruit. Use the market as a chance to highlight what your farm does best, whether it's a special hot pepper jam, heirloom beans, or beautiful braided garlic. Giving yourself a niche helps customers remember you and draws on your strengths as a producer.

Some vendors sell by the piece, others by weight, or by bunch or bag. Selling by the piece implies that each piece is approximately the same size or otherwise equivalent. If you decide to sell by weight, a display of a stated amount of that product can assist customers. For example, bag up a pound of green beans priced $2/lb to show people. (Often people will just go for the pound, for instance, if that's what you show them.) These signs should be beautiful, and uniquely you! It is another way to attract your customers.

Specialty Items.
At many markets, you are pre-approved to sell a specific set of items. This was determined by your application and your discussions with the market manager. These items cannot change without telling the market manager. For example, if you are a vegetable grower you cannot bring jams or cider without discussing it with the manager first. Imagine how your business would be affected if a vegetable vendor all of a sudden started to buy apples in to sell at their table without any prior notice on their application. Please respect your fellow producers and make sure you communicate with your market manager about these issues.

It can be difficult to know how to price a product. Some other things to consider:

  • It takes more than one farm to have a farmers market, and price wars can jeopardize a market. Growers turn to direct sales at farmers markets to make a fair living, but cut-throat competitiveness can undermine the spirit of the market and farm viability.
  • Factor in the socioeconomic demographics of your market customers when you set your prices. One market may be in a community of mostly lower income families and another in one of those with a higher disposable income.
  • You may want to be strategic and bring seconds (and deals on seconds) to the market where you think they will be sold.
  • Be prepared to explain your pricing. People are curious, more than anything, about their food. Take it as a compliment that they want to know more.

Clear labeling of your products is important in furthering the relationship between you and your customers. This, too, is a valuable form of communication. Consider the following when labeling what is on your table.

  • Are your labels large and simple?
  • Are they typed or hand-written?
  • What is the name or variety of each item?
  • Can you make small suggestions on how to prepare certain items? (e.g. "great for stir frying" or "super sweet!")
  • Is there any nutritional information available?
  • Do you want to use color in your labels?
  • Do you have translations in Spanish for your labels?

Playing Nice.
Most of the information presented here about selling at farmers markets has been about you, your presentation, and your produce. What hasn't been expanded on is the amazing diversity of personalities that are at any given market. They are your new friends and coworkers. You make the market what it is so make the most of the situation. Every farm has its own draw, and the number of people at your market is dependent on that, so that should be acknowledged if/when conflicts come up. The market is a place of work and a community space, and everyone needs to work together to ensure that. The market manager is always there to help with anything if it arises.

You have many options when you have an excess of product at the market.

  1. As the market is coming to a close, you might have customers who are interested in purchasing your seconds (items that aren’t at top market quality).
  2. You could try giving bargains on your remaining product. This can be a useful way to clear out the day's product, but may also encourage customers to count on your end-of-the-day blow-out sale.
  3. Alternately, if you go to a market two days in a row or more, some produce can maintain their quality to come back to market consecutive days. In fact, harvesting enough heartier produce for more than one market day at a time can streamline your process. 

Another option is organizing with your market manager and other vendors at the market to donate leftover food and products to a local soup kitchen, food bank or shelter. There are many people and small food pantries in your community who would appreciate it. Check out Farm Fresh RI’s Farm to Pantry program for more ideas and information or contact the agencies below.

Next section: Tips for Selling More

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