Finding New Venues To Serve Customers
By Dave Harrison
For many growers, producing the crop is only half the battle in sustaining the business.
Marketing the produce or plants is the other half.
And for an increasing number of greenhouse growers across Canada, it’s the latter challenge that’s causing the most sleepless nights.
Finding new markets, or systems through which to market, is getting much tougher.
How about farmers’ markets? A 2009 national study found these markets had a $3-billion impact on the Canadian economy, including about $1-billion in annual sales.
The study also found that 92 per cent of survey respondents say that buying directly from a farmer is important to them. (Of that number, 62 per cent rated it as “extremely important” to buy food directly from the farmer who produced it.)
The study found that farmers’ markets are the second most popular source for groceries for 62 per cent of shoppers. “Fresh, in-season products and locally produced products top the list of what shoppers want.”
Consumers enjoy shopping this way. “They are very popular with their customers: 96 per cent of customers said their farmers’ market experience met or exceeded their expectations.”
For small or medium-size growers, they are an ideal venue to showcase their products. The previously mentioned national survey found there were 28 million shopper visits in 2008, with vendors welcoming from between 50 and 199 customers each day.
In our personal experience with the Brantford Farmers’ Market (in Ontario), there are two produce vendors who carry greenhouse products for much of the year. Both usually sell out of greenhouse products (primarily tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers) by late morning.
And in our travels with the magazine, we’ve spoken with growers in Alberta who have mastered the craft of marketing via farmers’ markets – Doef’s Greenhouses and Gull Valley Greenhouses.
Helen Doef says shoppers like to see familiar faces when they visit the booth. “They’ve watched our children grow up behind the table and now ask regularly about our family. Customers love to see a friendly, familiar face behind the table and also expect someone who is familiar with growing practices.”
Growers find that farmers’ markets are a great way to test new varieties, and see when and why older varieties are becoming less popular. The interaction with customers provides great feedback.
And if farmers’ markets aren’t your cup of tea, “food hubs” are now gaining in popularity. Such hubs usually consist of a warehouse in which local farmers and stores sell their produce to wholesale, retail and/or institutional customers. There are three such food hubs in Alberta alone at present.
And of course, roadside stands offer a handy outlet for produce or flowers.
If traditional sales outlets have levelled out and you’re looking for new opportunities, farmers’ markets, sales hubs and roadside stands are worth checking. There are new customers waiting.