Breaking into new markets may seem daunting when other farms grow or raise similar products. I remember trying to navigate this when I was first starting out. There were so many farmers with strong followings who already grew unique varieties that I questioned my ability to make a name for my farm.
But that wasn’t the case at all! With a little forethought and planning, I found that there is lots of room for innovation. Don’t be discouraged as the new farmer in town. With a little creativity, there is always a way to set yourself apart from other farms!
Here are some things I considered to make my farm stand out:
Spying on the Competition!
When I first started out, I went to the farmers’ markets where I wanted to sell, and I took notes. I noted what was already there as well as what appeared to be missing. I thought about what I grew and if any of those varieties were different from what I saw.
I looked at the colors of the produce. Were there specific colors of produce not represented? Yellow and purple snap peas, flashy lettuces, or weird—yet tasty—winter squash varieties?
On the flip side, I looked to see if common items, like iceberg lettuce, were missing from the market. At first, I didn’t grow iceberg because it lacks nutritional value. Then I realized some people are looking for a crunchy lettuce bun alternative to meet their dietary preferences.
And don’t forget unique flavors! Are there especially tasty varieties you’ve discovered that other farms don’t carry that might be a hit at the market? I found a small tomato that tasted more like a plum. If you can describe the flavor and give customers a free trial, then you could develop a following for a particular item.
Creating a Unique Display
Next, think about your display—a little extra effort goes a long way in setting you apart from others.
Here are some things to think about.
Abundance Leads to Abundance
Is your display abundant and inviting? Bringing more product than you think you can sell is always a good idea. It makes your stall look full and abundant. No one wants to buy the last bunch of kale or shop from a picked-over stand. Keep breaking down tables as things sell. Arrange the remaining produce on fewer tables to keep the smaller display looking pretty and full.
Easy Access and Space to Browse
Is your stall easy to access? Can customers enter and exit easily? It pays to have more than one stall for this reason alone. Oftentimes customers don’t want to enter a single stall because they feel obligated to buy something when corralled. Giving them space to browse on the outside of the tent is always ideal, if possible. And with COVID, extra space and clear entry and exit points are important for social distancing.
Is your display colorful? Be sure to mix up the colors to appeal to the eye of the customer. Try not to have too many green items next to each other. Separate green items with baskets, if possible, so people can tell them apart.
Informative and Clear Signage
Make sure to communicate clearly to your customer. Use price signs, information about the farm, organic status, or anything else that helps the shopper connect to your farm. Sometimes pictures speak louder than words. For example, photos of animals in pasture may get your message across better than a sign with the words “pasture-raised.”
Engaging (but Not Pushy) Salespeople
Do you have outgoing marketers that engage with customers? There is a fine line between being engaging and being pushy. Pushy salespeople are off-putting. But customers react positively to a worker who greets each customer and gives them a little information on what is exciting and new at the stand that week. Customers also appreciate tips on easy ways to prepare the food you are selling. Having the same people work the market each week allows customers to develop a rapport with your staff over time.
Wrapping it All Up
Spending a little time staking out the competition, creating a beautiful display, and finding ways to connect with your customers will set your farm apart. In no time, your farm will have a strong following of loyal customers!
About the Author: Jamie Collins, owner of CCOF-certified Serendipity Farms near Monterey, California, has farmed organically for two decades. She sells produce via farmers’ markets, CSA, and other direct-to-consumer outlets. On the side, she works as an organic inspector and a farm and marketing consultant, and she writes about food and farming for various publications.
Funding Acknowledgement: Funding for this blog post was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant AM180100XXXXG055.