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Enhancing the appeal of farmers’ markets to promote local food

Datum:25 mei 2023
Markets selling only local food may have difficulties establishing themselves.
Markets selling only local food may have difficulties establishing themselves.

Local food is regaining space with consumers and chefs. Characterized by its origins (e.g. having been produced less than 100 miles from where it is consumed) and by its more communal characteristics (e.g. “know your farmer”), local food is also associated with the emergence of new farmers’ markets that sell only food that is produced locally. As a result of this re-emergence of local food and of farmers’ markets only for growers, the public street markets that sell a mix of local food and food from elsewhere have new competition.

But markets selling only local food may have difficulty establishing themselves. Public markets that are not oriented exclusively to selling local food have been around for quite some time. They are usually well-located and offer attractive pricing, so they may be able to delay the effects of the competition from markets oriented exclusively to selling local food.

Markets selling only local food can also be pricey, as the food is less likely to have been mass-produced. So it is not always easy for the new markets to sell at lower prices to attract customers, nor to have access to the most coveted parts of town (which are already taken). Similarly, new farmers selling only local food may find it difficult to access the best spots within public markets.

Yet, to succeed and appeal to consumers who care about local food, these new vendors and new markets can leverage their seasonal offers and adopt materials that signal being in tune with the natural environment.

Seasonality authenticates and marks the passage of time

Markets benefit from showing that they are coherent with the natural environment. Local food that becomes abundant in specific periods (e.g. asparagus in April) also marks the passage of time, showing that a new season has arrived. As markets mark the passage of time, they gain more importance in people’s lives. They gain characteristics of powerful traditional festivals that celebrate and evoke cycles of life.

That seasonality effect is not exclusive to markets selling local food. Public markets selling lots of flowers can also benefit from that effect, especially as the abundance of flowers signals the arrival of Spring.

Highlighting seasonality and local authenticity helps these markets for local food to attract consumers who care about the environment. Having foods grown locally and coherently with the season also authenticates markets as local markets. Food that comes from much greater distances and that is obviously not local (e.g. bananas in colder countries) tends to be frowned upon by consumers who care about local food.

Vendors need to pay attention to the materials in their market stalls

For market vendors, showing coherence with the natural environment means, in addition to emphasizing seasonality, using natural materials to display their produce. Not paying attention to it can be harmful to local farmers. Consumers tend to respond better to produce that is displayed on wooden tables and in wooden boxes than to produce that is displayed in sturdy plastic boxes (used by farmers to move produce from the farm to the farmers' market).

The farmers that actively move their products from those plastic boxes into wooden boxes appeal to consumers, who see those products as more natural, and ecological. Not doing that can lead to a discount, particularly as resellers can also move non-local produce into these wooden boxes that consumers may associate with local produce.

Engaging in deeper conversations

Having an ecological, natural, or seasonal appeal is useful, but some of the appealing signs may be at least partially adopted by vendors and markets selling non-local food. Although local produce might have an advantage in leveraging an ecological appeal, some tactics (e.g. adding more flowers to the market in the early Spring, displaying produce over natural materials), can also be used by markets and vendors regardless of whether or not they sell local fruits and vegetables. This illustrates why it is important for local farmers and for movements promoting local food to engage in deeper conversations about it with their customers. It is crucial that local food movements do not lose sight of other ways to appeal to local food consumers (e.g. educating, providing skills, and promoting local farmers).

Author: Diego Soares -