Boosting farmer sales through culinary events and marketing

Project Overview

ONE16-265
Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2016: $14,992.00
Projected End Date: 04/15/2018
Grant Recipient: City Seed
Region: Northeast
State: Connecticut
Project Leader:

Annual Reports

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Education and Training: demonstration
  • Farm Business Management: agritourism, market study
  • Sustainable Communities: public participation

    Proposal abstract:

    CitySeed stays abreast of best practices and uses innovative models to ensure a healthy and economically viable market place for our farmers. However, farmers report having a difficult time in selling produce that is abundantly available and selling more in previous years at our farmers markets. This project will work specifically to pin point events and marketing strategies that work to help sell more produce for farmers AND demonstrate to what degree they are working for our farmers. It is our goal to find the “sweet spot” of marketing and engagement activities and demonstrate that it has an impact on farmers’ sales at our markets. CitySeed will highlight five to eight products, primarily fruits and vegetables, that farmers help identify. These products will help shape our (1) monthly market themes (e.g. Pickling Month), (2) market events including large scale events (e.g. Cook-Off or Apple Festival), and (3) cooking demos and tastings. and will be a focus in our messaging. Specific and targeted market signage will be designed to steer point of purchase sales towards highlighted produce and a monthly event calendar will be designed for each market to help promote market events and assist in project outreach efforts. Price comparison sheets comparing market prices to supermarket prices for select products and markets will also be designed and distributed online and at our markets to help dissipate the perception that Famers’ Markets are too expensive.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Proposed study idea

    Our proposal is to focus a creative and engaging marketing lens on farm produce and measure the results. It is often less expensive and easier for staff to partner with community organizations for a more general community event at the market rather than for staff to coordinate logistics of an event that has food cooked, sampled or demonstrated due to permitting, health department logistics, convincing farmers to participate and coordinating with them, and being able to show results and success at the end of the event. If funded, we would use a three pronged approach with dedicated staff focused on produce identified by farmers that can help increase their income at the markets: monthly market themes, market events including large scale events, and cooking demos and tastings. Signage, price comparisons and targeted social media will highlight the farm products for maximum exposure to customers. If we are successful in increasing farmer income by highlighting these products, we can continue to do this with the blueprint we could create with this SARE funding. Having results that show this works will help us win support from other community partners, farmers and volunteers to do this more in the future.

    This project will work specifically to pin point events and marketing strategies that work to help sell more produce for farmers AND demonstrate to what degree they are working for our farmers. It is our goal to find the “sweet spot” of marketing and engagement activities and demonstrate that it has an impact on farmers’ sales at our markets. CitySeed will highlight five to eight products, primarily fruits and vegetables, that farmers help identify. These products will help shape our (1) monthly market themes (e.g. Pickling Month), (2) market events including large scale events (e.g. Cook-Off or Apple Festival), and (3) cooking demos and tastings. and will be a focus in our messaging. Specific and targeted market signage will be designed to steer point of purchase sales towards highlighted produce and a monthly event calendar will be designed for each market to help promote market events and assist in project outreach efforts. Price comparison sheets comparing market prices to supermarket prices for select products and markets will also be designed to help dissipate the perception that Famers’ Markets are too expensive.

    Methods

    CitySeed will consult with farmers within our network of markets, including but not limited to Four Root Farm, Hindinger Farm, Gentle Giant Farm, Stone Gardens to design surveys that will help measure the project’s impact on sales, product consumption, customer satisfaction and overall draw to a market, event, or demo within the marketplace.

    a) Pre-event surveys will be conducted with vendors before the beginning of the spring 2016 season and will be utilized to identify five to eight products farmers would like to move more of. The survey will also help determine the perceived barriers that prevent customers from purchasing the product (e.g. don’t know how to cook it, don’t know what it is, etc.). Farmers who want to be full project participants will also be identified in this process and will agree to provide sales data for the promoted products on a regular basis. Social media polling will also be utilized to determine what types of events would attract customers to highlighted produce.

    b) Customer Dot-surveys will be used to poll market goers on the day of the event. Surveys will indicate if customers came to the market as a result of the event, if they are new to the market and if they were more likely to buy specific produce as a result of its promotion or the related event.

    c) Post –event surveys will be conducted on a regular basis with farms who are full project participants and with all farming vendors. The result of these surveys, which will ask questions to farmers, will help determine if they saw an increase in sales or in new customers on the days that we ran events of a certain product or in general.

    These surveys coupled with the sales data given to us by full project farm participants will help us determine whether our event and marketing efforts achieved our goal of increasing farm sales. Also, mid-season, customers will be surveyed about their experience with project events and marketing. The results will be used tailor our events and marketing for the remainder of the season. CitySeed will work to create a tasting, food demonstration and major event calendar that corresponds with the seasonality of our four farmers’ markets. We will host at least two festivals or larger scale events at four farmers markets for a total of 8 large events during the project period. In addition,during the height of the season, from July to October, we would host anywhere between eight to sixteen cooking demos or sampling events. May through June and November through December when only two of our markets are running, we would host two to six additional samplings or demos.

    Large scale events along with monthly market “themes”, tastings and demos will reflect the results of the preevent surveys given out to farmers and customer polls. We will also develop a marketing plan that leverages our reach on social media, our website and our newsletter. CitySeed has over 5,500 followers on Facebook and our newsletter has over 3,700 subscribers. We will also use these social media vehicles to encourage market goers to not only attend the event but to also contribute to content creation related to our themed months to increase our posts reach. Print media, including better point of purchase signage, will be developed so that customers are more aware of which farmers carry featured products in our promotional events. In order to dispel the belief of higher prices at the farmers market compared to grocery stores, we will also develop price comparison sheets for select products. The creation of these comparison sheets will be supervised by our Program Director and carried out by our University of New Haven Fellow who will visit local supermarkets and our markets to compile the data needed for these sheets. These sheets will be available at the CitySeed information booth at our markets and will be linked to our online newsletter.

    Our cooking demos will feature local celebrity chefs and a large number of these events will work with our affiliation with Master Cooks Corps and our partnership with ConnCAT. These programs and organizations give us access to a number of experienced community chefs or chefs-in-training. Our market management team will work throughout the season to identify the availability of chefs within these groups or within our community for these events. They will also ensure that the chefs are equipped with all the necessary tools to conduct each demo or tasting. We will aim to have demos and tasting booked at least a month in advanced so that the events can be properly promoted on an attractively designed monthly event calendar. This calendar will be promoted online and will be printed and will serve as an outreach tool to promote our farmers at our markets. The calendars will be distributed at our markets and at City Hall, New Haven Libraries, neighborhood cafes,restaurants and other local businesses.

    Timeline

    February 15, 2016 – March 2016
    Design both customer and vendor pre-event surveys and post –event surveys with the input from a sampling of farmers from our network of markets including but not excluded to Four Root Farm, Hindinger Farm, Gentle Giant and Stone Gardens.

    March 2016
    Market Management to disseminate pre-event surveys to farmers full-scale project participants will also be identified.

    March 2016- April 2016
    Program Director and Marketing Specialist hold internal planning sessions and monthly themes along with the focus and logistics of large scale events, samplings and cooking demos are determined.

    April 2016 – May 2016
    Marketing Specialist creates a detailed marketing plan covering social media, print media and market. Messaging guidelines are drafted to and disseminated to staff.

    April 2016 – December 2016
    Marketing Specialist and Program Director coordinate the creation of monthly print and electronic marketing material.

    April 2016 – November 2016
    Market Management and Marketing Specialist meet weekly to review successes and to implement weekly and overall project marketing strategies online and otherwise.

    April 2016 – November 2016
    Under the supervision of the Program Director, Fellow creates price comparison sheets with applicable identified products.

    April 2016 – November 2016
    Market Management and staff to secure volunteers and area chefs for cooking demos, samplings and major events.

    May 2016 – December 2016
    Market Management and staff execute large scale events, cooking demos, and samplings.

    June 2016 – December 2016
    Market Management coordinates the execution of post event survey dissemination to customers, farmers and full scale project farmer participants.

    January 2017– February 2017
    Market Management analyzes survey results and compiles report.

    Outreach plan

    The results of this project will be shared on the CitySeed website and on the Connecticut Food System Alliance listserv. This listserve is our most utilized listserve for farms, farmers markets, non-profits and individuals who work to improve the food system in CT. We will also publicize it on CItySeed’s and buyCTgrown.com’s, a statewide buy local campaign administered by CitySeed, facebook page. Our target audience will be other Farmers Markets who can use our project as a model to increase farmer revenue at their markets. We hope that our project will also result in cost savings for other farmers’ markets by identifying the most effective events and marketing strategies for our local marketplace.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.