The project sought to measure the demand for a specific product at farmers markets as well as the impact the marketing of the product might have on the farmers market.
Direct marketing grass-fed meats is becoming increasingly attractive for diversified family farms. Marketing fresh meat and poultry at farmers markets presents different challenges from marketing produce or flowers. Meat vendors must carefully consider health regulations, product handling by vendor and customer and facilities limitations at the market.
Greener Pastures Poultry, a collaboration among four family farms in western Oregon, established a cooperatively operated, licensed processing facility. Under a unified label, it seeks to market premium pasture-raised poultry to restaurants and farmers markets.
This project sought to gauge the feasibility of using farmers markets as major outlets by conducting Dot Poster Surveys, a relatively quick, unobtrusive way of surveying consumer preferences.
To conduct the survey, Dot Posters were set up in a line with a table containing display information about Greener Pastures Poultry at the head. Two or three people asked visitors to participate and handed out stickers, while another person answered questions.
In a Dot Poster survey, customers are handed four stickers and asked to place one on each poster where it makes the most sense. Questions must be broad enough to allow for a short list of answers, like yes, no or maybe, while still being focused on revealing useful information. A population count is conducted at the same time to achieve accurate statistical results.
Greener pastures conducted surveys at three farmers markets during the 2001 season. (The questions asked are listed at the end of this results section.) Participating customers overwhelmingly were interested in pastured poultry. Most indicated a preference for parts over whole birds, and most thought their initial purchase would be one to two birds a month. The results suggest potential initial sales of 200 items at each market.
Project coordinator Aaron Silverman says the most surprising result was that between 38 and 40% of the participants thought that having fresh pastured poultry available at the farmers market would cause them to shop the market more frequently.
Greener Pastures Poultry was a regular vendor at a farmers market that was not surveyed during the project. That market had an average customer population of 4,000 over the course of the season from June to October. The number of items sold increased over the course of the season, eventually surpassing the 200 items suggested by the survey by the end of the season. Most customers purchased two to four items a month, and the ratio of whole bird sales to parts sales was reversed from the survey results, largely because of supply. More than 90% of Greener Pastures Poultry’s supply was sold at every market.
The survey asked these questions:
1. Greener Pastures chickens are family-farm raised fryers grown on grass pasture and a custom, natural grain mixture. Unlike conventional and “free-range” birds, after 3 weeks of age Greener Pastures chickens live in portable pens and ALWAYS have access to fresh pasture and sunshine. Greener Pastures is considering offering fresh, pastured poultry at this market. The current price is $__ per pound for whole chickens. Would you consider purchasing Greener Pastures poultry at this farmers market? Response options were: Yes, Probably and No, thank you.
2. What Greener Pastures Poultry would you be most interested in purchasing at the market? The choices were: Whole birds only; Parts only (quartered, boneless breast, legs and thighs); Mostly whole, some parts; and Mostly parts, some whole.
3. How many chickens would you consider purchasing from Greener Pastures Poultry each month if it was available at this market? Response options were: 1-2, 3-4 or 5 or more.
4. Would the availability of fresh pastured poultry at this market make you a more frequent shopper at this farmers market? Response options were: Yes, No, Maybe and No, but I am interested in pastured poultry.
The response rates for each farmers market were fairly consistent, around 9% of the 3,000 to 4,000 people attending. The weekday market response rate was 30% of the 1,500 people counted. The lower response at the busier markets may have resulted from understaffing at the survey booth.
The Dot Poster method proved to be an adaptable tool for conducting an interactive, unobtrusive survey. While it has demonstrated its value for looking at general customer preferences, this is the first time the technique has been used to focus on a specific product.
FARMER ADOPTION AND DIRECT IMPACT
The survey clearly indicated that a significant demand exists at farmers markets for fresh, clean, local poultry – and therefore, says the project coordinator, for other meats as well. Defining initial sales potential is critical for producers to determine the feasibility of marketing through farmers markets.
“The fact that a sizable portion of those surveyed indicated that they would be more likely to shop the market if this type of product was available is important for a prospective market making decisions about growth or adding facilities needed for fresh meats,” says Aaron Silverman, project coordinator, in the final report. “Dot Posters are a fairly easy way for a market to gauge the needs of its customers and determine how the market can better serve them – and the farmers.”
FUTURE RECOMMENDATIONS OR NEW HYPOTHESES
When using the Dot Poster survey technique, careful attention should be paid to crafting both questions and answers. Too many choices made the data from Question 2 mostly irrelevant. Yes, no and maybe types of answers are easier and quicker to answer, perhaps providing a better picture of how people might really act.
DISSEMINATION OF FINDINGS
The primary method of disseminating information about this project has been the survey itself and the report submitted to Western SARE.