USDA Grant Increases Local Food Sales
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Foothills Farmers’ Market, located in Shelby NC, recently completed a 3-year marketing and promotions project funded by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. The project launched implementation of a strategic business plan developed in 2018 to realign governance and business operations, foster purposeful collaborations with community stakeholders, and increase direct-to-consumer sales of local foods.
The project, organized around five major objectives, produced significant outcomes and impacts:
- vendor count increased from 75 to 119 (+59%)
- average weekly attendance increased from 1,100 to 1,500 shoppers (+36%)
- total annual sales of local foods rose from $420k to $750k (+79%)
- SNAP/EBT sales increased from $4,970 to $14,222 annually (+86%)
- SNAP/EBT patrons increased from 280 to 595 each season (+112%)
There were several lessons learned that will influence our future work to help the community capitalize on the economic, health, and social benefits of local foods:
- Strategic business planning is extremely important to the long-term viability of any community-based farmers’ market. Stepping back from day-to-day operations and engaging stakeholders in a focused planning process can help determine where the market is headed and what its priorities should be.
- Engaging qualified planning consultants from outside the immediate community can help bring new perspectives to the table, create vision, stimulate creative thinking and buy-in among stakeholders, and generate innovative strategies for achieving the market’s long-term goals.
- Human-centered branding and marketing (focused on people instead of products) can impact a farmers’ market profoundly. Customers should be reminded continuously that the shopping experience of the farmers’ market can’t be duplicated at the grocery store. Market day operations should support that unique shopping experience by providing entertainment, card services for shoppers of all income levels, and engaging learning opportunities for children and adults. Community partners can be instrumental in financing and delivering these programs and services.
- Farmers’ markets can increase participation and build loyalty among shoppers and vendors by continuing to improve infrastructure, adding conveniences, streamlining procedures, and improving programs and services.