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 first Trader Joe’s in the area, 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.) Here is my FB post:

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. 
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 havean 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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Louisiana Update #9: A post-flood visit with a market farmer

Spent Wednesday morning tagging along with Copper Alvarez on her BREADA Small Farm Fund site visit to Lucy Capdeboscq’s home and farm near Amite. Copper has been crisscrossing the state seeing farmers who are reporting losses from this month’s floods. It’s important to note that BREADA is not focused only on their market farmers needs, but doing their best to get funds to any market farmer across the state.  Although one of Lucy’s daughters had been one of Red Stick market vendors in the past, Lucy sells only at the Saturday Crescent City Farmers Markets down in New Orleans. As a result, she was surprised when Copper contacted her by phone, asked if she had damage and then offered an evaluation visit in case BREADA’s fund might be able to help.

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Of course, no decisions or promises are made during the visits about any support, but as Lucy commented, the contact and visit were very welcome. Crescent City Farmers Market is also reactivating their Crescent Fund and has already had Lucy fill out their short form to receive assistance. The Crescent Fund is hoping to raise enough money to handle the 8 or so CCFM market farmers who have indicated losses, by quickly offering up to $1,500 for their farm needs.

To get to Lucy’s place, one turns off the main road at the permanent sign indicating it is also the direction to the legendary Liuzza strawberry farm. Although their famous berries are still a few weeks from being planted, other products like cucumbers could be seen in some of their fields. When you know that Lucy is a Liuzza by birth , it is clear why she lives amid those fields, (just off Jack Liuzza Lane) on the land deeded her by her parents. She and her late husband Allen raised their children here and kept their land productive even when they took on other professional occupations.

Allen and Lucy joined the Crescent City Farmers Market shortly after it opened. The Caps (as their farm name is known) were a huge hit immediately due to  Lucy’s charming customer service and Allen’s practical sense for growing their traditional yet innovative items. Lucy’s arrangements of zinnias and lilies with her decorative okra, hibiscus buds and her legendary sunflowers have remained market favorites since those early days.  As Poppy Tooker wrote in the 2009 Crescent City Farmers Market cookbook: “Lucy and Al have built a reputation for forward thinking innovation. They were the first to try early harvested rapini and green garlic made so popular in California.”

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Lucy’s okra, used for her bouquets.

To me, the Caps are a quintessential market vendor type: growing traditional and newer South Louisiana products on a small piece of land behind their home within sight of other family members also still farming. As a matter of fact, on one of my visits to the farm years ago, Lucy told me how much she was looking forward to letting a shopper know that next Saturday that their favorite item had been planted that week and would soon be back at market. That deep awareness of specific customer likes seemed to me then (and still) to be the best illustration of the personal touch of direct marketing farming that I have come across in my site visits.

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“What Works, and Doesn’t, About Farmers Markets? “

Good article linked at the end on Vermont’s market saturation from someone who has been a vendor at some of these markets. There is no question that these very real concerns from vendors must be addressed and soon. However, I think that more attention could be paid to the details and challenges of building new food systems by this author in this piece. The “new” market idea works best when a market is not organized as just another purely consumer activity but instead designed and actively managed as a community activity that reactivates the town square vibe and rewards its ecological mindset. (And that means everyone must honor the town square role, including competing market vendors.)  Let me elaborate:

First, I hope most of us really don’t think we have reached saturation and cannot find a way to bring the 95% of those who don’t yet shop for local food regularly, and don’t think we can’t encourage more producers to provide it even if it means some different organizing tactics. I can certainly see how existing vendors and some long time organizers  may have that opinion but as advocates, I say let’s dig a little deeper. This also includes longtime vendors of markets, many of whom have become comfortable in their spot and with their regular shoppers and spend less time than  they should thinking about newer visitors to markets (notice the lack of prices or details on the farm’s story at many booths as possible indicators) or in assisting in the growth of the market organization once market sales arrive at a sustained level.

A few years back,  I did some early analysis of the VT SNAP token system  and found that the less-than-robust numbers for SNAP use at markets at that point seemed closely related to the extreme low capacity of their market organizations (people are always surprised to hear how there are no year round full-time market managers in the state and low, LOW pay for seasonal managers*) as well as the need for a suite of market technology and scrip set ups and outreach strategies, depending on the market situation. (What I wrote then about technology was that some markets needed only a EBT machine as their small town had the ATM available right next to the market location. Others could have best used a dedicated phone line and plug in as wi-fi connectivity is sparse. Still others could have used anchor vendors to have the EBT machine if they are the only ones with SNAP-eligible goods in a micro market and so on. Some of the situation around EBT is changing since that report was written, but the need for nuanced technology and outreach answers for markets and vendors is still vital.) As far as capacity, the added work of these permanent programs requires training and relationship-building with a kaleidoscope of agencies and entities around the market; that training should be invested in both the organization and in the person of manager. In other words, systems to strategically build these and other programs must be created at the market level and at the network level.

Included in that is the necessary redesign of the market manager job, which in the last decade has seen the need for a whole bunch of new skills and to-dos for the market day that keeps them from the deep customer service and the spot analysis that previous generations could do. Yet:

 * In 2011, Vermont market operators reported an average budget line item of less than $1500.00 to pay for market management with most markets reporting between $3,000- $5,000 as a stipend for the manager and no Vermont market reported having a full-time market manager on staff in 2011. In 2010, 59% (37) of reporting markets paid their manager/coordinator, with amounts ranging from $348 to $14,600, with the funds coming primarily from vendors’ stall fees. Of the 37 reporting markets, only 16 markets paid managers/coordinators more than $2,000 for the year.

 

Once established, those systems would free  managers and overworked vendor board members from the stressful work of recreating the same market structure each season and instead, encourage them to plan mid and long term and spend more time with their community which will lead to better outreach and more intuitive interactions. One of the most obvious indicators of this lack of planning time is the reduction in time in working with or visiting farms or farm leaders. I believe that the move away from markets by some farmers is directly related to their suspicion that some markets see them now only as a tent and a table and are unable or unwilling to assist them with their development as a small business. Another indicator to me of the need for more professional development is the lack of alignment between food hubs and farmers markets that should share the development of vendors businesses even if they have different goals. Another is the mission drift that I often see with older markets that makes it difficult for them to plan for the future,  or the lack of effort to update the outdated bylaws that don’t respond to the issues that their managers currently face.

Back to the vendors: the capacity of current market vendors has certainly become a storm cloud looming: to understand this issue, data on the number of competing outlets that market vendors now use should be gathered and analyzed. It may be that the issue is not too many markets but too many other outlet types that tax the current vendors. In that case, it may mean that new markets should align their strategy with those outlets to at least set up the market to maximize the 4 hours for a smaller group of vendors,  knowing that the vendors have other outlets to sell to as well. Really, just knowing what each vendor is about and who and how they sell is the goal.

An example of the type of information that could help a market manager is a discussion I once had with a vendor who had stopped selling to chefs after being a favorite for many years. When I came behind the table and sat down at a quiet moment to have him tell me what was up, this is what he said:

You see, what happens is at the Saturday market, Chef (from fancy restaurant; supportive guy) comes by and asks me if I can sell him some of my crop this week; he wants to do a big dinner and give me some publicity. So he tells me to call him first thing Monday morning. I go out to harvest, come in around 10 and call him. They answer and tell me he is running late, but to call back in an hour. In the meantime, the deadline for the Tuesday market is coming and so I call you and tell you I am not sure if I am coming tomorrow but will confirm before the afternoon. (As you know, that market has been a little slow lately as it is this time of year so if I can sell it all to one place quickly I’d prefer it this week.)  I wait an hour and call the chef back; they tell me I just missed him and he is in a waiters meeting but told them to tell me he will call me immediately after. You call me back, I have no answer so I don’t answer when you call. Finally, he calls me, still enthusiastic about the crop but tells me regretfully the numbers for the dinner are lower than expected so he can only buy 1/2 of what he thought. That means I have to drop off 1/2 and could bring a little to the market now. Or should I  call another chef to sell the rest? I still haven’t called you to confirm one way or another, so I finally decide to call you to tell you I am not coming even though I’d have a little to sell; you are not pleased of course.

I finally decided the stress compared to the sales were not worth it.

Now this is only one vendor’s story and there are differing situations of every hue to uncover about each market. The point is to know exactly how each of your small businesses are doing, with which shoppers and with which outlets. And to know the demographics of your area to know how you can add shoppers to that group. That takes time and support from your board and vendors.

Data on number of visitors per market, average sale, length of time the average shopper remains at market, # of vendors they visit, and the number of shoppers per anchor vendor for example should be examined by each established market suffering with a slowdown in sales. Some tendency may be revealed, such as an abundance of longtime shoppers who purchase from a small number of vendors first thing in the morning with too few newer shoppers who roam the market later trying an abundance of items. Or, it may be that events that look robust and fun are actually not helping sales but impairing them and should be curtailed during the busy season. Or, products are not displayed with prices and details in all cases, driving away those uncertain about the protocol at a market to find out the information shoppers need. And in some cases, the number of products has decreased, especially in number of new products offered each year. Like it or not, shoppers grow tired of making the same items every night and look for inspiration.

At the state level, the passive approach to the design of direct marketing outlets from some states’ leaders seems an issue. (This seems to be more prevalent in states with a strong farmer/activist core but limited state associations). To increase the chance of success, it seems necessary for leaders to become more involved in exploring and understanding the typology of markets and programs in order to help markets use limited resources extremely efficiently. By doing that work,  they will develop a spectrum of interventions that offer local organizers realistic outcomes for those market types and allow for appropriate and attainable growth to be likely.

Of course, I have great faith in the wisdom and earnestness of the Vermont folks and expect that articles like the one below will keep the conversation going on how to strengthen the fabric of their esteemed direct marketing tapestry.

An excerpt from the story:

What would make things easier? How can we improve? These are questions that farmers market boards and individual vendors grapple with as they reconsider nearly every aspect of the market model. Although many farmers are resigned to markets being less moneymaker and more marketing tool, it would be better if they were both. For the farmers markets of Vermont to be sustainable, and lucrative, most of them will need to change.

Overall, it is the consumers — those who have the least at stake and so much to gain — who have the most power over the fate of farmers markets. Consumers decide whether to show up with cash in hand, ready to shell out for their weekly supply of local goods, or merely hang out eating dumplings or cookies made with nonlocal ingredients. They’re the ones who may not show up when it’s raining … unless there’s a Pokémon to find.

Source: What Works, and Doesn’t, About Farmers Markets? | Food + Drink Features | Seven Days | Vermont’s Independent Voice

 

Update your market

Hopefully, all market leaders know that the USDA directory is the go-to list for farmers markets for those within the department, for market advocates and for researchers and funders. Most media stories about markets use this link to direct shoppers to us. Additionally, all of the evaluation about markets is calculated from this directory and so if your market is not listed, the true impacts of your producers hard work and of your organizational projects cannot be measured.

Do yourself and all of us a favor: take a breather from outside for a few minutes this week and sit down with a cup of coffee or a glass of tea to update the directory for your market. Market vendors: ask your market manager or lead volunteer if they have updated the list recently.

 

Dear Farmers Market Colleagues, 

Get ready, get listed! National Farmers Market week is coming (Aug 7-13) and you want people to find your market! USDA’s Local Food Directories can help you promote your farmers market. This tool will allow shoppers to quickly identify you as a supplier of the local food. It takes less than 10 minutes to add or update your listing.

 

USDA will share the number of farmers markets listed in the directory with media and stakeholders across the country during National Farmers Market Week. We want you to be counted! Time is running out!  New listings or updated information must be entered by July 15, 2016, to be included in the national numbers, so don’t delay.

 

It’s easier than ever to register!  If this is your first time listing your market in the Directory, go towww.usdadirectoryupdate.com to add your market. In less than 10 minutes you’re done.  That’s all it takes.

 

If you do not know if your farmers market is listed, then you can search the National Farmers Market Directory database to find out. If your market was in the Directory last year, we sent an e-mail during the week of June 27th that has a direct link to update your market listing.

 

Even if you listed your market last year, you should check the directory again to make sure all your information is still correct.

 

Here is how the Directory can help you

The USDA National Farmers Market Directory helps you tell customers what they want to know about your market:

  • Where and when your market opens
  • Second and third market locations that you operate
  • What products your market sells
  • If your market  accepts:
    • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
    • Women, Infants and Children Farmers Market Nutrition Program (WIC-FMNP)
    • Women, Infant and Children, Cash Value Vouchers (WIC-CVV)
    • Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP)
  • Whether or not the market acceptances debit/credit cards
  • Consumers can even get:
    • Driving directions to the market they choose to visit
    • Map markets within a radius of their current location
    • Get a state or national map of farmers markets

 

The USDA National Farmers Market Directory used by mobile application developers to help consumers find you or other markets across the nation.

 

The Directory attracted over 400,000 page views from users last year.  It’s the “go-to” resource for consumers, researchers, community planners and more to better understand the size of farmers markets across the nation.

 

Don’t delay, please be counted by including your market by July 15.

 

Thank you.

USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory Team

Vt Farmers Market Conference

 

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Up next: New Orleans, Vermont, Massachusetts

Over the last ten years, my travel schedule has remained pretty constant in the late winter and spring: a.k.a. farmers market/agricultural conference season. Sometimes it means that I am leaving New Orleans during Carnival season, (or my fav festival event) the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival or just at the loveliest time of year. Still, I am honored to be invited to participate in so many market development workshops and say yes to as many as I can manage.

This year my conference travel has taken me to North Carolina, Atlanta and Illinois and next up are three meetings, two in places I know and love, and one new to me:

New Orleans: AFRI-funded “Indicators for Impact” project team/market pilot sites meeting.

Vermont: NOFA-VT Farmers Market meeting

Massachusetts: Mass Farmers Markets meeting

• In New Orleans, I will serve as the host team member and support the FMC team in presentations, facilitating open discussion among participating markets and in absorbing those markets feedback on their first year of gathering and compiling data. This University of Wisconsin-led research is informing the development of Farmers Market Metrics.

• In Vermont, I return for the 5th or 6th year to support my colleague Erin Buckwalter in her work at NOFA-VT to build capacity for direct marketing outlets and to support VFMA. I’ll be presenting some retail anthropology techniques for markets to consider when refreshing their markets. Sounds like I’ll also be called on to facilitate a open session on EBT issues, which should be helpful to the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at the Vermont Law School (CAFS). The students are leading the design of a Legal Market Toolkit along with project partners NOFA-VT and FMC. Exciting stuff coming out of this project, I promise.

• Final stop of the season is to one of the most established state associations and to work with one of the longest serving state leaders, Jeff Cole. I remember well that in the formation days of Farmers Market Coalition, our Market Umbrella E.D. always came back from those meetings with great respect for Jeff’s input. Since then, I have called on him to offer analysis in some of my projects (shout out to some of my other informal advisor mainstays: Stacy Miller, Amy Crone, Sarah Blacklin, Ben Burkett, Colleen Donovan, Copper Alvarez, Kelly Verel, Suzanne Briggs, Helena St. Jacques, Richard McCarthy, Beth Knorr, Leslie Schaller, Jean Hamilton, Paul Freedman, Devona Sherwood  along with a whole bunch of others..)   Jeff has asked me to do an overview on market measurement history (RMA, SEED, PPS audits) and recent evolutions like FM Tracks, Demonstrating Value, and of course Farmers Market Metrics.

So, keep yourself busy on other blogs while I sit in meetings, learning and sharing for the next few weeks. And if you are attending any of these meetings, please say hello and share your news or ideas with me. Maybe it’ll be the next best practice that I post on my return to these pages.

 

 

 

The Seasons on Henry’s Farm

The first full morning back in town after my trip to the IFMA conference was satisfyingly spent on actual labor: helping my pals at Crescent City Books get the store moved to the new location by shelving their cooking and gardening sections. Afterwards, I came back to the Quarter to make a pizza with as many farmers market ingredients as could be crammed on, sided by local ale and all to be enjoyed in the sunny and warm courtyard. As background music from the drums and horns of the pickup band always working for tourists dollars in Jackson Square wafted over the wall, I continued to read a wonderful farming book authored by Terra Brockman, founder of The Land Connection, Illinois family farmhand, and clearly, top-notch writer.

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I met Terra a few years back at the first IFMA-led Illinois farmers market conference and found her to be one of those doers who think with absolute clarity about the ecological and human impacts of the industrial agricultural age. That type of intellect,  paired with that determined pioneer spirit for building logical new systems, is always encouraging to find in one’s colleagues. I knew that since that conference she had put TLC in other capable hands (as I saw through their presentations and available materials at this year’s conference) and had herself gone back to working with her family farm and written this highly regarded book. So, I was pleased to see it available for purchase at the TLC table this year.

If you want to know what it it means for a direct-marketing family farm in a commodity state to live and work in service to their land and its seasons, as well as to their ancestors and their present community, I suggest you pick up her book, “The Seasons on Henry’s Farm.” It is absorbing, beautifully written and organized to give you a snapshot of the life of a farm, season by season, plant by plant, decision by decision. Like any good farmer, any talk of the food being grown also includes recipes and the ones in the book are so good that I dogeared almost every page with one. I think it should be required reading for every grower, marketgoer, market manager and every municipal and regional leader. In other words, everyone interested in food sovereignty and those influencing its future.

http://www.brockmanfamilyfarming.com/terras-writings