Farmers’ markets generated $1.03 billion in sales and $3.09 billion to the Canadian economy in 2008, according to a benchmark study conducted by Experience Renewal Solutions on behalf of the newly-formed Farmers’ Markets Canada.
The study is based on interviews with 3,174 shoppers, 487 vendors and 282 market managers at 70 farmers’ markets of all sizes across the country and 1,308 shoppers at non-farmer markets.
About 28 million shoppers visited farmers’ markets in 2008. On average, each vendor was visited by 50 to 199 customers and realized $100 to $999 in sales per day. Low price was rated the least important in a list of 14 factors that draw customers to farmers’ markets.
Perhaps the most significant finding is the importance consumers place on purchasing food directly from the farmers who grow it. While 92 per cent of shoppers said it was important, 62 per cent rated it as extremely important.
“People want to know who grows their food, how things are raised and what’s in the food. There’s a trust that grows between the customer and the vendor. The vendor has to supply a good product to keep customers coming back and in return they can get paid what it’s actually worth — they become price makers,” explains Deb Claude, general manager of the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market and secretary for Farmers’ Market Canada.
Rather than hosting the typical banquet in a hotel during their interim meeting in June, the Agricultural Producers of Saskatchewan (APAS) arranged for a special evening market.
Everyone on the grounds was given $25 in vouchers to purchase supper and other goods from 30 vendors that made a special effort to prepare something unique. “We hope to do more of it,” says Claude of the market banquet. “It’s a good way to reach commodity groups and people who are involved in the agriculture industry but aren’t aware of farmers’ markets.”
Her observation is in line with the national survey finding that the most common reasons why people don’t shop at farmers’ markets are because they don’t know of any markets that are close by or convenient.
Contact Deb Claude, 306-384-6262;
Tom Blacklock’s 2004 debut as a vendor at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market was a day he won’t forget. Shoppers actually turned the other way as they passed the card table where he stood with his lone Styrofoam cooler of frozen beef. It took a few weeks before people would even stop and talk much.
“Maybe my display wasn’t up to snuff, but I think it was more that it took a while to get people’s heads around the idea that the market is a place to buy beef,” he recalls. “Once we got people buying, we seemed to keep them.”
Blacklock’s family has been in the Angus business for nearly a century. The ranch, located near Grandora, just west of Saskatoon, now operates under the name of Benlock Farms. Retailing his own beef had always seemed like something that would work, but he had never ventured out of his comfort zone as a purebred breeder to give it a try. BSE forced the issue.
“The farmers’ market had a huge draw, which allowed us to ride on its skirts until we got things going. We had no choice. We had to find a way to make it work and it turned out that it was right for us,” Blacklock says. “Retailing is hard work, but we enjoy it. One of the great things about it is that we love the cattle business and this gives us off-farm income that has enabled us to continue on.”
The first step was to link up with a processor that met Saskatoon’s special meat inspection by-law requirement and was willing to mentor him along. Blacklock says Friesen Meat Processors, a federally inspected facility at nearby Warman, looks after all the details from aging the beef for 21 to 28 days, right down to the labelling. The processor’s knowledge of “city” cuts has been instrumental in Blacklock’s success selling into the Saskatoon market and he now supplies four restaurants on a regular basis.
A big part of it was learning how to sell the whole animal, he adds. The fivestar restaurant, Weczeria Food & Wine, serves a “modern French cuisine brought to life with local ingredients.” It requires top-end steaks and runs an ad picturing Blacklock with the caption, “Would you buy your beef from this guy? We do.” Another needs roasts and one takes high volumes of hamburger, while the other requires a half every month. As a small supplier who butchers every week, Blacklock is able to supply special cuts on short notice.
Customers have driven the demand for specialty cuts that a few short years ago he never knew existed, such as flat iron, hanger and goose-skirt steaks and oxtail. There’s a waiting list for tongue. That said, he’s always mindful that he is feeding families budgeting money and time, who might want the assortment and convenience of one of his bulk packs, as well as seniors, who prefer small portions and quick-cooking cuts. He’s even built up a large following of pets who love his soup bones!
“You have to always remember it’s