Give em a nudge…

I love when artisanal producers find a way to urge shoppers to become more than shoppers. One of the possible metrics that may  be added someday to the Farmers Market Metrics program at Farmers Market Coalition is measuring how market shoppers influence their friends shopping and also how they share ideas and tips about local items with other retail outlets. How many times do market shoppers ask their produce manager to stop carrying out of state items and instead stock locally available items during the seasonal high point? How many shoppers are the carriers of information about market items availability for their neighbors and friends?

My guess is plenty…

The Matzo Project uses that same energy to expand their reach across the US of their wonderful crackers.

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 11.06.42 AMTHE+MATZO+PROJECT+CONSUMER+REQUEST

 

How great would it be if markets offered blank cards to their shoppers so they could leave a note and share news of a market offering with their friends and even a few select retail outlets?

 

How “healthy” confuses people

As a secular retail anthropologist and a farmers market consultant, this article is like a bite of my market vendor’s satsumas right now:

DE-lightful!

 The healthy = expensive intuition is just one of “a universe of mental shortcuts” that we rely on to choose food, and many of those shortcuts also appear to be flawed. Previous research has described a “supersize bias,” for instance, in which consumers ignore calorie counts and other health information when presented with a meal that seems like a good value. The majority of Americans also embrace what’s called the “unhealthy = tasty intuition” — the belief that food must be unhealthy to taste good.

Obviously, that last line is the one markets should consider and maybe even draw part of their marketing strategy from it. If used properly, a message like “delicious tastes found here” can be an inviting message and could draw a wider audience to markets than the buy local messages that our field has long employed. And clearly better than using “healthy” to entice eaters who are not in the grips of a healthy living focus.

From the report mentioned in the article:

Schulte-Mecklenbeck, M., Sohn, M., de Bellis, E., Martin, N., & Hertwig, R. (2013). A lack of appetite for information and computation. Simple heuristics in food choice:

According to our findings, people are inclined to rely on simple strategies that limit search when making food choices. In addition, our participants paid more attention to the dishes’ image and name at the expense of nutritional information such as caloric and salt content… However, previous investigations (using, for instance, self-reports and eye tracking) have also concluded that many consumers are reluctant to make use of food label information.

I saw this very thing during my days as a buyer at Whole Foods, and as an office building convenience store chain general manager and even before that, when working back in the 1990s on a campaign to increase the number of organic items in Giant Eagle stores. In all of those instances, I noted how people would evaluate the healthy food with a confused look, often moving with almost a sleepwalker’s mien. In contrast, their physical behavior became very purposeful and focused once on aisles with less choice or less scientific data to absorb (like soda or paper goods). That the amount of data to process for many was simply too much was my takeaway. As an example, I remember a farmers market coworker who had come to healthy food late in life told me that “all” he bought was organic produce and since Whole Foods “only carried organic” he bought all of the produce he could not get from farmers at that store only. I shared the news that no, Whole Foods didn’t ONLY carry organic produce and that the pricing signs were color coded as to whether they were organic or not (and that most was not organic).  He was in shock to find that out; turns out he had never noticed the color coding or the words organic or conventional on the signs, probably because there was so much for him to learn as he began to shop there.

So that was a good example of shopper overwhelm. And from someone who was savvy enough to work at a market too.

So this is the type of aha that I wish for each of you. I also suggest that spending some time on research like this will be helpful to understanding what and how to dole out the info that is vital to any successful marketing/outreach campaign.

The Washington Post

27 days…or less

Bloomberg: On average, the companies surveyed have just 27 days worth of cash reserves – or money to cover expenses if inflows suddenly stopped – according to the JPMorgan study, which analyzed 470 million transactions by 570,000 small business last year. Restaurants typically hold the smallest cash buffers, with just 16 days of reserves, while the real-estate sector boasts the biggest, at 47 days.

I’d like to see cash reserves and other business practices as metrics for Farmers Market Metrics in a later iteration. My sense is that the internal data of a market’s (and of its businesses’) bookkeeping and accounting-norm practices can be collected under the term “Resiliency” and offer advocates some wonderful data in order to extend the lifespan and/or decrease the learning curve of new or expanding farmers markets and its businesses.

It has long seemed to me that many small businesses within markets mistake cash flow for profit which often leads to surprising exits from  those markets. Therefore, the more  a market understands the difference between these two for itself and can begin to assist its types of business with establishing baselines for this data, the more that the USDA and other supporters can be encouraged to offer even more detailed assistance.

Bloomberg

Designing Better Shopping Experiences

Using a variety  of research methods, students with disabilities and conventional students at San Francisco State University studied “how the principles of Inclusive Universal Design practice can promote equity with respect to access and use of the physical environment.” Their findings can certainly assist market organizers and their methods should influence how we gather data.

The Symposium & Workshop sought to orient and prepare students with disabilities to educational and professional career opportunities in the design disciplines. There were three primary goals and collaborative interfaces.

(1) To introduce inclusive human-centered design applications in the design curriculum at SFSU that will orientate students, both the students with disabilities and conventional university design students to the holistic benefits of design education and practice that go beyond the exclusive and limited convention of mainstream design applications.

(2) Exposing students to inclusive participatory design empathy methodology.

(3) Identifying and creating design concepts for the product environment and interior space that facilitates one’s ability to access and manipulate the active learning and recreational environment at home, or at school.

This approach to data collection and design is available to busy and to “under-resourced” food organizers through resources and trainings available for purchase, and in online and in-person individual and group trainings.  The two companies that I usually send people to are Luma Institute for their wonderful resources on how to use this process (I also took their in-person course, thanks to FMC and the Knight Foundation) and Ideo, which has influenced some food system funders, like Ford Foundation. Both offer online individual and group courses.

I would suggest that this sort of professional development is exactly what can be included in grants or even sponsored by neighboring businesses of a market to undertake as a team. This approach is similar to the methods that are either included (or will be) in the Farmers Market Metrics program,  in tools such as the Marketshare section of Market Umbrella’s site and in the Farmers Market Toolkit instruments on the British Columbia Farmers Market site.

The final newsletter  includes  findings from these two projects:

Students Design Shopping Cart for Elderly Community

Supermarket carts are solid enough to lean on, but collapsible “granny carts” often used at urban farmer’s markets do not provide appropriate support for people with mobility issues, Fisher explained. “The idea of a cart is not exotic, but (it’s) important to my life,” Fisher said.

After conducting multiple interviews in the aging community, Lopez and Renard realized the need for a supportive personal cart is widespread. Renard said existing carts are generally constructed with weak materials with little attention to aesthetic.

“People put a little bit of thought and design into (portable carts), but they just paint (them) that nasty old-person beige,” Renard said. “Just because people are aging, they don’t want ugly products. They want something that fits their needs but is also stylish – (a product) they aren’t embarrassed to use.”

They credit their inspiration to Dr. June Fisher, an 82-year-old occupational health physician and Bay Area product design lecturer who worked closely with the duo throughout production.

She said she looks forward to having a CityCart of her own, something supportive enough to navigate a farmers market and pick up a few heirloom veggies without relying on someone else.

“The design came from a particular person’s need – my need,” Fisher said.

Designing a Better Shopping Experience with a Holistic Approach to Aging in Place

Several methods were employed such as group and individual in-depth interviews, immersive observations, shadowing and experience mapping session. By means of these methods it was conceived that elderly face several physical challenges while shopping.

These challenges are mostly due to their physical decline, are mainly coherent with the existing literature most of which have not been responded for many years. The main areas of concern were the large size of food packages, standing in long checkout lines, reading the labels, using the carts and baskets, size and layout of stores, shelves and location of products.

The study showed a very social aspect to shopping experience. Participants found shopping to be an experience than can be fun and social. The nostalgia from old ages and existing cultures around the world were two main sources of comparison for the elders. Elders showed to be very perceptive of personal social interactions of them as customers with the seller or store staff. They desired to personally know the staff and be known by them. They liked the staff to remember them and their preferences. They looked for a personal relationship with the staff; one that helps building trust in both parties. They also liked to make conversations and take advice from them on which food to buy or how to cook a special dish with the food and more. Talking of advice was always hand in hand with ‘trust’.

Findings showed that the seniors associated the personal familiarity with the seller and making regular conversations with him to sense of trust towards the seller. The general view of shopping environment was an environment for shopping, having fun and social interactions. They were specifically enthusiastic about communicating with the younger generation and truly appreciated the young people’s patience when they needed more time to learn.

The participants liked to be specially treated, not in a manner  that suggests they are not capable of doing it themselves or that they are old, but a special care based on friendly relationships,

One of the prominent findings of the research was elders’ discomfort when standing in long lines. Some had to physically strain while standing, finding leaning on the carts to be the only option to alleviate the hardship. Also, over the course of study a few times people brought up the idea of a resting area where they could sit for a while and take a breath. The combination of these findings led the researcher to design a service to address the mentioned issues. The service is called, “Valet Checkout”.

These methods can reduce the learning curve for markets and increase the likelihood of success in the final design.

 

Bob Dylan and Contract Theory

As excited as many are about an American folk/rock singer composer winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, the economic prize is also worthy of mention here. First though, my favorite song lyrics of Mr. Dylan:

I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
Well, I wake in the morning
Fold my hands and pray for rain
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin’ me insane
It’s a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
Well, he hands you a nickel
He hands you a dime
He asks you with a grin
If you’re havin’ a good time
Then he fines you every time you slam the door
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
Well, he puts his cigar
Out in your face just for kicks
His bedroom window
It is made out of bricks
The National Guard stands around his door
Ah, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
Well, she talks to all the servants
About man and God and law
Everybody says
She’s the brains behind Pa
She’s sixty eight, but she says she’s fifty four
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more

Many of Dylan’s interpreters suggest this is a criticism of capitalism or of the military industrial complex. That actually leads us to a chat about the economic prize this year, given to Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmström for their contributions to contract theory. (Disclaimer: not only am I not a economist or a lawyer, my understanding of these theories is very casual and centered on my community organizing work. I may over or understate many of these theories and will always edit when better information comes my way. Feel free to add to my knowledge via email as needed.)

Contract theory focuses on the relationship between the parties in a contract, including those which are asymmetrical in terms of information. The world contains scads of examples of information asymmetry: media, police or military, employers, technology providers etc. When one party has access to more information than the other, the fairness of the contract can be questioned. The other issue that is relevant here is what are called incomplete contracts. This covers the likelihood that a contract in present time cannot always cover every possible outcome and so often must be renegotiated at some time; in that case it is possible that renegotiation can off the rails because of lack of trust.

In many ways, this describes much of our alternative food and farming movement impetus. Certainly, the desire for fairness and trust for both producers and for eaters has led to transparency being one our chief indicators.  The heart of our movement is direct marketing  which offers straightforward ways to create fairness between its agents. But even within those models, there can be an information asymmetry. For example, some farmers markets have created systems where information only flows from vendor to market and not the other way around. In others, vendors cling to systems that ask little of them as far as information sharing with the market. One way to gauge whether this is an unequal contract is at the time that the agreement is being changed by starting to ask for sales data or to request changes in other rules over time. The difficulty in negotiating that update may signal the need for a more detailed market agreement that outlines the requirements and benefits for the market and its vendors.

Still, the very nature of the mutual dependency and face to face nature of farmers markets and their vendors can correct any imbalance. Same goes for other type of direct marketing contracts, especially CSAs which began as a elegantly simple contractual relationship between producers and eaters for a single season and a single farm. Now,  when there is an imbalance it often benefits the shopper and not the farmer because many CSA farmers move outside of the implied agreement in the desire to build consecutive-season relationships. An example of this is when a farmer offers a credit for lost crops, even when the contract in a CSA explicitly states that the shopper loses their investment if the crop fails. Or, when a CSA farmer begins to morph into an aggregator of goods from nearby farms and cottage industry producers without creating a updated contract with their shoppers that outlines the new rules of bringing those goods to the shopper.

However, the concern over unfair contracts really “scales up” for me when systems move into intermediate (back door or bin sales) and wholesale (middle-man or pallet sales) contracts. We certainly hope that restaurant owners and wholesale buyers will build contracts with our producers with the same transparency and information sharing as those in the direct marketing sector, but often that has not been the case.

The key to mutually beneficial agreements on all levels of our food work relies on building contextual contracts and incentivizing them for all  involved. What are the main benefits for a producer to sell at a  lower cost to a chef? Well, two might be consecutive sales and the ease in delivery, and yet rarely are these benefits described in agreements for most of our producers when they sell at these levels. What is the main benefit for the buyer? Often it is either the quality of the product or the name recognition of the producer attached to the goods and yet rarely are those benefits understood and outlined in these agreements.

One way to incentivize the fairness of the contract in these situation may be to create a shared asset owned by all of the parties. Another way to make them contextual might be to have an external party monitoring the agreement. Maybe this is where farmers market leaders can grow their influence?

And of course, markets managing transactions through card technology has led  to lopsided contracts with processors. Markets scramble to understand these complex agreements which exist over different eras of management and open markets  to many new layers of liability.  Another issue is that the energy that markets must reserve for reaching and encouraging benefit program shoppers is often wasted by the lack of good information about the client lists from local or federal government authorities. Too many markets I talk to have no idea how and where to reach these shoppers in their area and when you take in the short time that the majority of these shoppers remain on these programs at any one time (also not shared by most government entities), successful outreach becomes even more unlikely. The vendor in this situation is also underrepresented in a fair contract, as most markets – or the processors working directly with farmers – use boilerplate agreements about card processing with their vendors.

So, one can see from just these few examples that center around direct marketing and intermediate farmers how many contract issues arise. So maybe before the alternative food system becomes another one of Maggie’s farms, let’s spend some time on increasing transparency and incentives for everyone’s benefit.

Trader Joes shoppers and farmers markets: will they come?

As my colleagues wished me a happy birthday last week, they asked me what fun thing I had to do on my birthday: I told them that one of them was to go to the opening of the Trader Joe’s which opened in the suburbs of New Orleans that very day. I am sure some that the choice of viewing a retail store was odd, but not only is grocery store obsession a very New Orleans thing, it is most certainly one of my favorite “busman’s holidays.” (I also went to the inaugural fried chicken festival on Sunday so don’t worry about me too much.)

Whew- made it to and back from Metairie to experience the opening weekend energy of Trader Joe’s.  As others have said, if you like packaged nuts or healthier freezer dinners or basic wines you will find some items here that you like. Honestly, I think this chain (in terms of regular shoppers) is for those who don’t love to shop for food or even want to think too much about food. If that’s you, this store will appeal.
Fruits and vegetables are not what they do well, but you’ll find a sale item once in a while, although having bananas priced as each (19 cents or 29 cents for organic) could be confusing to many, even though their thinking is sound: scales take up space, and lots of people only want a few at a time. That is a good price (as it comes to around 50-75 cents per pound) but not an amazing price as I think Circle Foods had them at 39 cents a pound last time I was there.
I didn’t think the prices beat the NOLa Whole Foods on most items or when they did, by much. This seems especially true since the Broad Street WF is essentially a prototype of the emerging 365 WF store that is designed to try to beat TJ’s. TJ is prolly not going to become your only store and it’s not laid out to wander around in to get inspired….I’m glad it’s here, mostly cuz more healthy choices are now available and I don’t like it when one chain has a stranglehold over shoppers. I’ll pop in a while, but this chain still strikes me as odd and a pale version of stores like Jungle Jim’s in Cincinnati http://www.epicurious.com/…/jungle-jims-grocery-store-ohio-…

Now, speaking as a farmers market consultant…

I think knowing who the core shoppers are for the stores around a market is very helpful. In many cases, research is available on the chains or a visit to the local store (at both its peak and at its slow time) can usually tell you about that store’s demographic.

To give an illustration, I have included some global demographic info from Whole Foods and Trader Joes as well as a few market shopper personas. Forgive the errors and the oversimplifications. The data on the stores comes from retail research available online. The market data comes from the many surveys and data collection reports I have either participated on or read. Do be aware that there are many subgroups within each of these to be explored.

Grocery store shoppers

Whole Foods:”Decentralized” systems: regional management, store team approach and “localized” inventory management

  • Whole Foods focuses on the per capita population that has college degrees. The key customer for the average Whole Foods location is a working parent that is between the age of 30 and 50.
  • From the Yougov site: The typical Whole Foods customer is a female between the ages of 25 and 39 with more than $1,000 in discretionary monthly income. She likely works in architecture or interior design. She doesn’t mind paying more for organic food and she tries to buy fair-trade products where available. Her interests include writing, exercising, and cooking. She would describe herself as ethical, sensitive, and communicative, but also admits to occasionally acting like a self-absorbed and demanding daydreamer. Her favorite foods are sushi and tea and she probably drives a Mercedes-Benz.

Trader Joe’s:Centralized: Secretive inventory management, mostly direct from manufacturers and a detailed screening process for hiring.

  • Most research shows that the TJ shopper is the most likely chain in the U.S.  to be brand loyal and to recommend the store to others.
  • TJ Culture dips into the health food movement, the gourmet food, wine and booze craze, and the ever-popular discount ideal. But all in moderation. “Our favorite customers are out-of-work college professors,” says Tony Hales, captain of the store in Silver Lake. “Well-read, well-traveled, appreciates a good value.” The chain focuses on singles, small families looking for small package sizes.
  • 50% have college degrees. Almost half have an household income of 100,000.
  • Stores carry 2-3,000 SKUS versus 30,000 -50,000 in a normal supermarket. 80% of their items are private label.

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Against the Soda Tax | Jacobin

One of the most thought-provoking magazines on the newsstand gives an argument this month against soda taxes. The argument made here is both in how regressive taxes have been traditionally been spent in the US but also includes the unfair choices of what is being taxed:

While low-income people’s fizzy drinks are getting socked with taxes, most of the sugar-laden beverages favored by the upper middle-class and the rich are conspicuously exempt.

In Philadelphia, drinks that are at least 50 percent juice are excluded from the 1.5-cent-per-ounce fee. The bottled smoothies that line Whole Foods’s shelves? Tax-free, even when they contain more sugar than a Pepsi.

Beverages that are more than 50 percent milk are also exempt, a loophole big enough to drive a tanker truck full of venti white-chocolate mochas through.

Source: Against the Soda Tax | Jacobin