Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Farmers' markets losing their attraction in Victoria

Farmers' Markets seem to be losing their attraction in Victoria – probably because too many are now operating. In the early days they were useful vehicles for selling farm produce, but recently buyers have been put off by seeing markets set up all over the place, often with the same stallholders.The Department of Regional Development Victoria has splashed millions of taxpayers dollars in providing seeding grants for new markets which have sprung up like topsy. Producers are rebelling against exorbitant fees charged by some market managers. As a result of declining market sales, we no longer sell at farmers' markets. Churchill Island was our last farmers' market and when we complained that the new managers at Regional Farmers Markets Pty Ltd., were less than competent and needed to learn communication and marketing skills, they had a tantrum and banished us from the market. Didn't really matter because we were only waiting until after Easter to see if there was any prospect of improvement. We work on the basis that stall fees should be no more than 10% of the value of sales at a market. At $55 per stall, Churchill Island was not viable for most of the year. Extra markets held over the holiday period at Christmas and throughout January helped to make up the shortfall in the past. But with the change in management this year, the summer markets have not attracted customers in the numbers required – because the lack of promotion meant that few people knew that the extra markets were being held.With egg production running at a lay rate of over 90%, we need consistent sales and at a $55 stall fee, supplying shops and restaurants together with farm gate sales is a more viable proposition than attending markets.


MNilan said...

It is a deeper issue than competent management of farmers' markets. Even extra promotion doesn't have much of an impact. I totally agree with you regarding the dilution of existing markets by new ones. It looks like every town wants to get in with their own market, but it is only cannibalizing sales from surrounding ones. I would rather see the Department of Regional Development Victoria help existing markets consolidate and promoting them, but I am loathe to be the one as a small farmer and farmers’ market stall holder to ask for handouts from the government.

There are 2 types of shoppers at the farmers’ markets, most of them are just looking for an outing during the day, and will buy some read-to-eat food and maybe a couple of token purchases. It’s the other type that I rely on, those that are actively shopping for produce, deliberately reducing supermarket purchases to make way for buying direct from the farmer. It is a tough sell as prices are typically 2 times to 4 times that of the supermarket. It seems like the active shoppers vastly outnumber those who are just out for an outing. The supermarkets have managed to squeeze suppliers causing serious price deflation of many foods, and for anyone looking to reduce spending it seems to me that buying direct from a farmer at a farmers’ market is one of the first things to go.

MNilan said...

Did a quick google search, in the US there are also declines. I think all farmers have to convert their stalls to include ready-to-eat foods, also selling cook at home product, that requires no preparation, just warming up. Remember what Daniel Salatin (son of Joel Salatin) said: “It’s not about the food, it is about the convenience!”
Have farmers markets been spoiled by their own success?
Instead, he blamed the “hipsters” for sucking the oxygen out of the market. By hipsters, he meant people who come to the market but then don’t end up buying much produce.
Sipping on their lattes, deep in conversation, they care more about the scene than the cilantro. They might purchase a breakfast taco, he observed, but no basil. Maybe a pint of strawberries, but no rhubarb. And in their unhurried schmoozing they clog up the aisles like arterial plaque, impeding the flow of serious shoppers looking for actual produce. But that’s if the serious shoppers can even get to the market in the first place, because parking stinks.
How farmers markets are evolving to be less about the farmers

So what's going on? Why do farmers face these financial challenges?
For one, it comes down to the fact that markets have become a social experience. People are shopping with their eyes and do not care about the season. Young people, in particular, love the idea of a farmers market, which is why they go – not necessarily to stock their fridge.
“The decline in sales is, arguably, one result of the contemporary farmers market, which has evolved to meet the needs of a new generation of shoppers who view these outdoor markets as more a lifestyle choice than an opportunity to support local agriculture.” (Washington Post)
Fewer people cook these days. Everyone wants prepared, pre-packaged food, which is why many vendors have moved in that direction. Buying vegetables from a farmer inevitably requires more work than lining up for wood-fired pizza and smoothies from a food stand – and why wash, peel, chop, and roast if you don’t have to?
Hardly anyone cans or preserves their own fruits and vegetables anymore. Farmers don’t see the same volume of food moving from their hands to customers in the form of bushels and other large amounts.

More articles…

(good comments in above article worth reading)

freeranger said...

Yesa, value-adding is one way to go to boost sales - but a major problem with that here in Australia is the cost of compliance. For a while we used our eggs in baking various treats for dogs and that worked pretty well to help cover the cost of stall fees. Preparing food for human consumptions requires A whole new buraeucratic layer of compliance - including operating a registered kitchen.