How To Stand Out And Sell More At Your First Farmer’s Market
Photo Credit: Coastside Farmer’s Market, Half Moon Bay, California
Last year was the first that every state in the US offered some kind of cottage food law, the regulatory framework that allows small food businesses to sell legally from a domestic kitchen. These laws also made it easier for new foodpreneurs to enter the market via Farmer’s Markets in their local area.
Check out our article here about why the Farmer’s Market is a great place to test a concept or menu as you scale your food business.
Rolling into your first Farmer’s Market may feel intimidating, but fortunately, most are full of like-minded people who value the community aspect of the market. These events are a good place to launch your new food business for several reasons.
They attract a diverse group of people.
A market offers a place to test your concept and get honest feedback.
They are a way for people to meet YOU, the maker!
Your market table offers a great place to take pictures and use them for marketing.
It is an invaluable forum to network with potential customers and future collaborators.
Markets are a place that encourages communal growth, with vendors helping each other learn the way.
Whether you sell only to friends, on an online plaform, or through a food app like SAPi, Farmer’s Markets are a great place to connect with the public once a week. Your product may be the best available in town, but that’s not always enough to grab the attention of new customers or set you apart from the competition. Your first foray into the market should be bold and polished.
So we’ve created a list of where to start, how to make your brand stand out, and sell more.
8 Ways To Stand Out & Sell More At The Farmers Market
Farmer’s Markets are a feast for the stomach AND the eyes. Walking in, weekend markets can be full of hustle and bustle and people who know what they want. Your job is to be the pleasant new addition to their shopping list.
When it comes to catching the eye of potential new customers, you’ll need to go bold and prepared. While some markets may have just ten vendors, other more competitive markets may have 150 vendors or more. This creates massive competition over the attention of a potentially large amount of foot traffic that you hope to convert to loyal customers.
We love a “fake it til you make it” moment in foodpreneur. We’re not talking about dishonesty; we’re talking about showing people that you are serious about your product, that you have a cohesive vision, and that your product is boldly the best through clean branding that can be more effective than food samples.
While you might think that just dipping your toes in a market environment to test a product out doesn’t mean thinking about a branding strategy, the average consumer doesn’t want to wait for you to believe in your own product.
Coming with matching table clothes, color-coordinated signage, and proper labeling are imperative to building a subconscious experience for new customers. The truth is, humans are visually drawn to and psychologically driven to go towards products that look polished and proven.
2. Clean Signage & Pricing
Clear signage with pricing may seem obvious, but customers like to know about pricing. Not all customers feel social enough or want to wait to have a conversation with you about the pricing of your goods. A clear sign with pricing goes a long way to silently communicating to your customer base, speeding up transactions, and can even be a place where you further explain your product.
Hopefully, you’ll find yourself too busy at your market table to be able to answer every question. When this is the case, signage about ingredients, sourcing, and contact information that can answer customer questions! Also, consider popping a QR code up for people to quickly access a landing or social media page to see your products in action or answer commonly asked questions.
In regards to pricing, do your market research (no pun intended) and make sure that you are competitive with other like minded vendors. Too low and you’ll undercut the competition while potentially making your product look low in value. Too high and savvy shoppers will move on from sticker shock.
3. Stay Clean and Organized
The organization of your Farmer’s Market booth provides insight into your food business operations. While a busy day for a market vendor may mean some chaos may happen with boxes flying, empty sample trays stacked in the back, and marketing materials being blown around, do your best to have your booth represent your brand.
4. Come Prepared
Ensure you bring more than enough stock, marketing materials, sample packaging, and takeaway packaging. The latter is a big one. Imagine having an excited line of new customers and no packaging to serve your product in!
However, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to run out. Let us explain. There is nothing more intriguing to a consumer than a “sold out” sign.
“Was it THAT good?”
“How can I get it?”
“I’m coming early next time!”
It’s the good old crowd that attracts a crowd principle.
5. Everyone Loves A Free Sample
Building on the “crowd attracts a crowd” principle, nothing attracts a crowd like samples. Don’t be precious with your product, especially the first few times into a public forum. Letting people try your product gives them a risk free way to experience your goods rather than weighing a purchase to try.
Be prepared to chat with people, and receive honest feedback. Keep a notebook! Customer trials are a great barometer for what flavors people reach for most, whether you need to tweak a recipe, and if they fully understand the product. It is a valuable, free, real time research opportunity.
6. Founder Representation
Show up. Don’t leave your booth to a teenager who is just trying to make an hourly wage. Selling is an art and authenticity is a gold that should come directly from the Founder’s mouth. No one cares more about your product than you do. No one will be able to answer questions, upsell, and make strong connections better than the maker of the product.
Letting people see you is important in establishing that real local face that is behind your product.
7. Create A Call To Action
Your job isn’t done after the sale is complete. Asking people to become ambassadors in an organic way can create a domino effect in attracting and retaining customers. A call to action (CTA) can be as simple as a sign that says:
“Tag Us On Social Media”
“Follow Us On Instagram”
“Come Back Next Week To Try Our New Flavor”
“Enter Our Contest To Win a Free XXX”
Catching the attention of your audience and convincing them to continue interacting with your brand is the key to food business sustainability.
8. Consider A Market Promotion
The sky is blue, the grass is green, and humans love a good deal. If it’s your first few appearances at a market, start with some goodwill! A two-for-one deal that includes a new product is a great way to incentivize people to buy more and try new products. A sales promotion is a marketing activity that is designed to increase sales, encourage customer loyalty, or generate brand awareness.
Farmer’s Markets are an incubator for new food businesses, a place to grow and learn in equal measure. The connections built and feedback given are incredible assets to a new business. Start small; just start!
Whether you are selling your famous oatmeal cookies or artisan sourdough bread, at some point, after the millionth question you’ve received about ingredients, calories, or volume, you’ll want a label whether it’s required or not.
Laws in every state have been written to help companies referred to as; home-based kitchens, cottage food businesses, or homestead businesses to comply with food health and safety while allowing commercial operations in domestic locations.
We’ll dive into the ins and outs and food labels and the reasons that this information is always good to have on hand, whether it is mandated by state law or not.
In this guide to Cottage Food Business labeling, we’ll explore the following:
Who Requires Labels
Examples of Home-Based Food Production Labels
Why You Should Have a Label, Whether It Is Required Or Not
Resources To Help Create A Label
Each State’s Cottage Food Law For Labeling
Who Requires A Label
Most states require some version of labeling for home-based food products. However, the actual contents can range from essential to complex depending on the stipulations of Cottage Food Laws in your state.
Suppose you decide to partner with, for example, a local coffee shop to sell your baked goods, a farmer’s market, or a retail outlet. In that case, they may also have their own standards to ensure safety regulations are met and to minimize liability.
Some states have exemptions for:
Hot, ready-to-eat foods
Simple Items with low nutritional value; coffee, tea, etc
In all cases, you should check our guide below for what each state’s Cottage Food Laws mandate. Below we indicate typical information asked to be included on home-based food labeling.
Typical information found on food labels includes:
(1) The name of the food product located on the primary panel.
(2) The name, city, and zip code of the Cottage Food Operation (CFO) that produced the food product. (A contact phone number or email address is optional but may be helpful for contact in case a consumer wishes to contact you.)
(3) You must indicate it was prepared in a home kitchen by one of these statements, depending on state regulation, in 12-point type on the principal display panel:
“Made in a Home Kitchen”
“Repackaged in a Home Kitchen”
“This food is made in a home kitchen and is not inspected by the Department of State Health Services or a local health department.”
(4) The registration or permit number of the CFO who produced the cottage food product (if applicable).
(5) The ingredients of the cottage food product, in descending order of weight, if the product contains two or more ingredients.
(6) The net quantity (count, weight, or volume) of the food product, stated in both (pound) units and metric units (grams).
(7) A declaration on the label in plain language if the food contains any of the major food allergens such as milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, and soybeans.
Regarding allergens, there are two approved methods prescribed by federal law for declaring the food sources of allergens in packaged foods: a) in a separate summary statement immediately following or adjacent to the ingredient list or b) within the ingredient list.
Examples Of Cottage Food Labels
If you’d like to know what it looks like to create a label for your products, many states provide mockups for what meets regulations.
Why You Should Have a Label On Hand No Matter What
You may be a part-time home-based food producer who only sells on the weekends at the farmer’s market or to friends and think, I don’t need labels!
If no one requires you to have a label, why should you bother investing effort, time, and money out of pocket? There are a few benefits to having this information on hand that goes beyond meeting regulations. Even if you don’t put it on the physical product, keeping information on hand about nutritional values, ingredients, and sourcing can come in handy when you least expect it. Here are five solid reasons to make creating labels a priority.
1. Streamline Questions From Customers
People will ask all the questions. What are the ingredients? Do you know the caloric content? Is it gluten-free? Does it meet an allergen requirement you may have never heard of?
Consumers have a right to know all of the above, and even if they are satisfied with your answer, you may not want to answer the question several times over. You also might not be available if you end up hiring staff to answer every question, and a label can help your staff point the customer in the right direction.
2. Free Marketing
So you make the best BBQ sauce this side of the county? What better advertisement is there than a label on your product while it goes to a family get together or event? Never miss a free marketing opportunity by having your product do the talking when you aren’t around. Adding your social media and contact information is also a great way to get leads and gain momentum in your customer base.
3. Levels Your Business Up
Intuitively customers trust a brand that looks polished and professional. Your product might be made in a home kitchen, but if you put effort into making it, you should communicate that passion in the packaging. When you make social posts, a sleek labeled product will help separate you from the pack.
4. Shows You Are An Authority On Your Product
Adding nutrition, allergen, and health benefits information shows that you’ve put thought into your products. While you may not need all categories of information (check your state’s regulations in our guide below), adding it demonstrates that you know your product intimately and have done the research.
5. Opens The Doors
Building on all of the above, a labeled product infers that you are ready for partnerships with retailers, events, and expansion. A polished label will open the door to opportunity in a way that an unlabeled and “green” looking product may not.
Resources To Create Your Own Food Label
The good news is, you don’t need to be a graphic designer to put together your own labels. There are plenty of easy-to-use tools online that will help you put together the needed information, design, and print them with ease.
Nutrient / Nutrition Labeling and Analysis
You don’t need a lab to do your ingredient analysis and create a professional-looking nutritional label. Each of these online generators has free options. All you need is a set recipe with defined measurements, and the generator will do the rest. You can save the nutritional information box generated and pop it into one of the design programs below.
In addition, these platforms are a great way to experiment with recipes, especially if you have a health target like a “low calorie” product. Adjusting ingredients will help you envision where the recipe needs to go to achieve the goal.
You don’t need to have knowledge in complicated design programs to throw together your first label. If you feel intimidated, reach out to design friends or try freelance sites like Upwork, Envato, or Fiverr to hire someone. Freelance designers can range in price depending on experience, but it’s not difficult to find an economical option.
Here are several sites to design labels on your own.
Forming a relationship with a local printer is always helpful for a number of reasons. You can work together in real-time on location to get your label locked in perfectly. In addition, there is also generally faster turnaround and lower minimum order quantities if you explain that you are a new business and want to grow with them. Plus, it’s always great to support a local business.
However, this isn’t always an option. You could opt to print your labels at home. Conversely, as you scale your business, the pricing may be better with larger online companies, albeit less personal. Here are a few options for online printing services.
Below we have curated a list of resources for Cottage Food Laws in each state. When possible we listed the government link for the Cottage Food Law in that state. The regulations, labels requirements, and exemptions vary from state to state and are essential to understand before launching your food business.