Preliminary Findings: Comox Valley Farmers' Market research December 2013


Published on has been oontracted to provide social media and research services to the Comox Valley Farmers' Market. In 2013 we conducted exit surveys twice a month, as well as providing a link to a more extensive online survey at These are the preliminary results approximately 6 months into the survey.

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Preliminary Findings: Comox Valley Farmers' Market research December 2013

  1. 1. Preliminary Findings: Comox Valley Farmers' Market Customer Research Becoming a better “grocery destination” The findings in this report are preliminary. They are based on twice-monthly exit surveys at the Comox Valley Farmers' Market (“the market”), as well as a more extensive online survey. They are also based on my conversations and interviews with producers since I began sponsoring social media and research activities with the market. This survey work is built on the basic assumption that the market wants to be even more successful as a “grocery destination” – a place that more people choose to buy more of their weekly fare. Anecdotally, the market is already successful. These preliminary findings confirm this. When asked about reasons for coming to the market, people show a genuine enthusiasm for the market’s mix of social, cultural, and commercial activities. They express general satisfaction with what the market provides, and are thoughtful when considering what could make the market a better, more fulfilling food shopping experience. Preliminary conclusions: For the market to become more successful, it needs to address issues of convenience, perceptions about pricing and variety (or lack thereof), and basic marketing. Why did you come to the market today? Preliminary Survey Results: December 2013 ….. ….. p. 1
  2. 2. Local, Organic, Price? Consistent with recent findings in a cross-BC survey, market shoppers value “local” over other factors, including “organic” and “price.” As a secondary criteria, of those who chose local first, price and organic are approximately equal in value. When asked if local, organic food is expensive at the market, 25% disagreed, 16% said it wasn’t important, 15% didn’t know, and 44% agreed. Of the 44%, a significant majority added comments appreciative of the work of farmers, adding that the higher quality food is (generally) worth the cost. Paradoxically, when asked what would it take for shoppers to increase their market shopping, “better prices” is frequently mentioned. Preliminary conclusion: Shoppers WANT to support producers; they’d find it easier to do so if prices were lower. As we’ll see, there are also issues of convenience. Preliminary Survey Results: December 2013 ….. ….. p. 2
  3. 3. What percentage of your weekly grocery budget do you spend at the market? 67% of market shoppers surveyed spend more than 20% of their weekly grocery budget on “local food.” Only 33% of market shoppers surveyed spend more than 20% of their weekly grocery budget at the market. Preliminary conclusion: Market shoppers represent the easiest opportunity for growth of sales by market vendors. That 50% of those committed to “local food” are finding other sources for their groceries means that the market isn’t meeting needs. What can be done? We’ve been asking two related questions, and a third related to an approach in marketing I tested this past spring: 1. What would it take for the market to attract more of your shopping budget? 2. What is the market missing? 3. If the market had a weekly “fresh sheet” would this increase your local food shopping? As the survey evolves we are asking new questions that should help producers plan for future seasons and expanded sales. Preliminary Survey Results: December 2013 ….. ….. p. 3
  4. 4. What would it take for the market to attract more of your grocery budget? While “better prices” is constantly mentioned when shoppers explain why they don’t spend more of their budget at the market, the most common answer given has to do with wanting – MORE: • more hours (or later hours) on Saturdays (and Wednesdays), • more days of the week, • more variety of produce, • more fruit – even if it’s not local, ie. people see BC fruit as “local enough.” Preliminary conclusion: While price is a barrier to growth of sales for existing market shoppers issues of convenience and variety are perhaps easier to address. Issues of convenience that the market has control over: extending hours, days of operation. Issues of variety that producers can control: providing a broader variety of produce so that the market is more of a one-stop-shop for local food shoppers. Preliminary Survey Results: December 2013 ….. ….. p. 4
  5. 5. What’s missing? Most people say “nothing” is missing, but often add something they’d like to see. So what’s really missing? More... • more vendors (more variety in what vendors are providing), • more or better parking (or better transportation/accessibility), • more kids’ activities, • more shelter - from the sun in summer, from the rain in the spring and fall, • more crafts? No: some want crafts, but most who mention crafts are grateful the market is focused on food, not crafts. Conclusion: This variation of the previous question suggests ways in which the market could become more convenient and attractive to existing shoppers: more variety in produce, better parking (or addressing the transportation issue at the summer market), amenities like kids’ services and shelters. Preliminary Survey Results: December 2013 ….. ….. p. 5
  6. 6. What about marketing? Currently, shopping at the market is a hit-and-miss affair. Many shoppers assume certain things are in-season, but there is no way, except for occasional Facebook posts, for the general shopper to know what is “new,” what is “almost gone,” what is “on special.” Would more effective marketing make a difference in how dedicated market shoppers spend their “local food” dollars? Anecdotal evidence, and preliminary results from a recent addition to the online survey, all suggest it would. In the spring of 2013 I conducted an experiment in creating an online weekly “fresh sheet” using Pinterest, and distributing via Facebook and text messaging. Several of the vendors who were willing to participate remarked that the visual fresh sheet had a positive impact on sales. Recently I began asking market shoppers (in the online survey) whether a weekly “fresh sheet” would help them spend more of their “local food” dollars at the market. Initial results: 69% say a “fresh sheet” would help increase their spending at the market. Preliminary conclusion: Grocery stores have weekly sales sheets with full-colour pictures of in-season and sale produce for a reason: it inspires shoppers to buy. The market would do well to explore ways to produce a weekly “fresh sheet,” and find ways of getting this information into the hands of shoppers. See “Marketing…” below for more on this. Preliminary Survey Results: December 2013 ….. ….. p. 6
  7. 7. Who’s shopping? The most common market shopper surveyed is female, in her mid-late 50s, and is either single or lives with a spouse. Of those who responded, income is fairly evenly distributed. However, anecdotal evidence from producers corroborates findings in other communities: there is a trend at farmers’ markets of younger shoppers, many with young families, seeking healthy, nutritious food. Preliminary conclusion: The market has strong support from an aging “boomer” population, but a shift is taking place. The future of the market, and especially for those who are producing organic food, is in connecting with a younger demographic that is motivated by food security, ethical/political, and health concerns to buy organic, local food. While they are not as wealthy as “boomer” customers, they are putting a priority on health and nutrition. Preliminary Survey Results: December 2013 ….. ….. p. 7
  8. 8. How to reach them? How does the market communicate what’s in season? How does it “tell the story of the producer,” what they’re selling, and at what prices? 56% of those surveyed say they found out about the market by “word of mouth.” 18% said “other” - including street signage. 12% said a story or ad in the local newspaper. 9% said Facebook. Of those surveyed, approximately 1/3 know about existing Facebook, website, and newspaper channels. When asked about interest in a periodic market email newsletter, 49% say they are interested, and have provided email addresses. As mentioned earlier, preliminary results show that 69% of respondents say that a weekly “fresh sheet” would help them spend more of their “local food” dollars at the market. Preliminary conclusion: The market already has an established, successful “brand.” The market should pursue opportunities (email newsletter, weekly “fresh sheet,” outreach to younger demographic via online and collaborative approaches) to build and expand the reach of this brand. Preliminary Survey Results: December 2013 ….. ….. p. 8
  9. 9. Additional observations and suggestions Convenience issues • location crops up as a transportation and/or parking issue: people generally like the Headquarters’ Road issue for its rural ambience (but don’t like the parking, access issus); they like downtown for it’s accessibility AND its proximity to other shopping and services; • hours: while no one asked for the market to open earlier, many asked that it be open later or longer; • frequency: while many indicated they would not shop at a mid-week market, many others said the 9-12 Saturday time/day configuration did not work for them as working people, working parents; • kids’ services: if the young family demographic is the market’s next growth area, accommodating and incorporating kid-friendly activities and services is important, and could possibly give the market a marketing advantage over traditional grocery stores. The emerging young shopper This demographic gets its news and information in different ways than most of the market vendors. Reaching them is critical for the long-term future of the market. Research in other jurisdictions viz this demographic and their interest in healthy, local food suggests the need for novel approaches that address convenience or ease of shopping. Many young people don’t own cars, so driving to the market is an obstacle. Many young people work outside the 9-5, Mon-Fri norm many of us understand as the “normal” work week. Price is an issue (many young, ethically-motivated and healthconscious food shoppers work multiple jobs at low wages, especially in the Comox Valley), but there is willingness to pay for health and food security. “Variety” issues While most people who mention lack of variety and/or glut of one kind of produce (ie. “Why would I buy kale at the market when I can grow it myself?”) appreciate the seasonal nature of the market, their concerns raise several opportunities: • weekly (or monthly) recipes in a newsletter, “fresh sheet,” and on the market blog showing a number of ways of turning the glut of the season into a variety of flavours; • inviting local chefs to do a monthly focus on what’s in season and inviting them to promote their activities beyond/outside the market - this both educates market shoppers about what is in season AND it attracts new shoppers; • proposal: to work with hpm/ to create an “Inspired by the Market” cookbook that incorporates a year’s worth of the above into a revenuegenerator AND a marketing/educational resource. Preliminary Survey Results: December 2013 ….. ….. p. 9
  10. 10. Next steps, in market research As we interpret the data to date, and as I talk to market producers about your issues, the survey tool evolves. For example: • To address the persistent concern with “variety,” there is now a survey question about products that are not currently available, but that shoppers would buy regularly if they were available (the figure above is from other research on “5 staples” those surveyed have on hand at all times, useful information for growers); • After the successful “test” of a market flyer, there are now questions about interest in a market newsletter and a weekly “fresh sheet.” As is clear, the market has dedicated regular shoppers. What is also clear is that most, if not all, of these market fans only spend part of their “local food” dollars at the market. • How to create the conditions so that they can spend more at the market? And, • How to attract new customers? There is a need to keep probing existing customers about how to make their shopping experience more successful. There is perhaps a greater need to reach out and probe nonmarket shoppers about their attitudes towards the market. “Local food” is a growing trend. Among young families, “organic” or “healthy” food is a growing trend. The market is well-positioned to attract more customers. How to do this is what this market research is all about. I look forward to giving you the next update hans peter meyer / "Social Media + Research Sponsor, Comox Valley Record 2012-2013 November 28, 2013 Preliminary Survey Results: December 2013 ….. ….. p. 10