|Special Features||Economic Impact of Agriculture Studies (University of Guelph)|
4.0 Research Results
4.1. Administration of the participating Markets.
Farmers Markets in Ontario are administered in a number of different ways. Indeed, the variation of Market administration reflects the individuality of each Market.
In some instances Markets are founded by vendors who, through a grass roots initiative, bring together community members to establish a local Market. The Market in this type of setting is commonly operated by a vendors association or a vendors association in partnership with another community group. A Board of Directors is usually elected by the vendors association to oversee the routine operation of the Market. The board acts to regulate Market activities, enforce Market policy, establish and revise policy, set stall fees, collect stall fees, recruit new vendors, plan special events and organize promotions.
Markets are also administered by community service clubs. The administration of this type of Market, is usually handled by a special subcommittee of the service club. The service club performs the same type and range of tasks that are associated with the vendor operated Market.
Vendor and service club Farmers Markets typically depend on volunteers to oversee the operation of the Market. The position of Market manager is usually an unpaid position which is rotated annually among members of the vendors association or service club. The annual budget associated with these types of Markets varies depending upon the degree of volunteer activity and the amount of resources that are donated in kind (land, building, utilities etc.).
A number of Markets in Ontario are operated by a local Chamber of Commerce or Business Improvement Agency (BIA). The administration of the Market is usually handled by a subcommittee of the Chamber or BIA. These types of Markets tend to have a more complex organizational structure than vendor or service club Markets. For example, the Market committee could consist of a combination of Chamber representatives, business improvement representatives, local government authorities, special interest group representatives and vendor representatives. These types of Markets also tend to work with larger budgets and provide funding for paid staff.
City operated Markets share many of the same administrative features that are found in Chamber and BIA operated Markets. However, Markets based in large urban centres tend to operate year round, on permanent sites, and with significantly larger budgets.
Although Markets vary in their profile and character, the research revealed that Markets share similar challenges.
4.1.1. Challenges faced by Markets.
Although the popularity of Farmers Markets has grown in recent years, they face a number of ongoing challenges. In our discussions with Market managers, we were able to identify several common challenges.
Some Markets are experiencing difficulties in maintaining a fixed number of vendors from season to season and/or over the course of the season. When vendors leave the Market without being substituted, it creates a vacant area at the Market. If the number of vendors continues to decline during the season or between seasons, it gives the appearance of a depressed Market and customers tend to lose interest.
Once the number of customers begins to decline, vendors may begin to question the viability of the Market. If the decline continues, vendors may ultimately decide to quit operating or relocate to another Market. When customers leave the Market, their personal testimonials can stimulate or dissuade interest in the Market and Market managers need to ensure that the trip to the Market is a pleasant experience for the customer.
Ironically, the resurgence of Farmers Markets is posing a serious challenge for some Markets that are struggling to maintain the vendors they have. In recent years communities have established new Markets as a means of stimulating local economic growth or redevelopment. Depending on the location of the new Market and the size of the local population, vendors may be persuaded to leave their traditional Market in pursuit of greater income opportunities at other Markets.
Another factor that has a bearing on the Markets ability to retain vendors is a change in operating days at other Markets. Some existing Markets have expanded their days of operation in response to consumer and vendor interest. Unfortunately, this creates a dilemma for vendors who work between two Markets operating on different days of the week. When one of the Markets decides to expand to an additional day during the week, it may interfere with the ability of a vendor to continue to work in two Markets. In some instances vendors take on additional help and continue to work in both Markets. However, for many vendors who are unable to secure or unable to afford adequate assistance, this is not an option. As such, the vendor may feel compelled to leave the one day Market in order to avoid the risk of losing customers at the two day Market.
The loss of local vendors at a Market may create another problem in that it compromises the ability of the Market to offer produce from local growers. As indicated in this study, customers greatly value the opportunity to purchase local produce and talk with local growers. Given this consumer preference, the viability of the Market could be adversely affected if it were unable to feature locally produced goods. Markets could consider offering reduced stall fees to local growers as an incentive to retain their presence at the Market.
Another challenge facing Farmers Markets is the loss of customers through natural aging. The study revealed that Markets in general have a customer base with a high concentration of seniors. Markets have clearly been successful in attracting and retaining this portion of their customer base. However, Markets for the most part have not been very effective in attracting younger generations of shoppers. Markets need to develop Market promotions that offer something to a broader range of age groups. This may involve incorporating new features at the Market to make it more of a family event.
For some Farmers Markets, the challenge is in maintaining quality standards. Customers have indicated that the number one reason for coming to the Market is the fresh produce. This feature of the Market above all other features needs to be closely monitored. As mentioned earlier, personal testimonials from satisfied customers can serve as an excellent form of advertising. However, a negative customer experience related to poor quality and/or bad service can be as equally effective in dissuading customers from visiting the Market. When customer complaints are brought to the attention of the Market administration, action should be taken immediately to try and rectify the situation. Farmers Markets should have a formal procedure in place for handling customer complaints. In the interest of retaining the customers confidence in the Market, the remedy should be quick and to the satisfaction of the customer.
A number of Markets in Ontario are faced with the challenge of finding a permanent site for the Market. Many Markets rent the site where they operate and this expense can consume a considerable portion of the annual budget. Some Markets have been able to negotiate low rental fees but this does not guarantee that the Market will continue to have access to the site should there be a change in ownership or management. Renting the site may also dissuade the Market organizers from investing in facilities such as washrooms or sheltered areas even though customers have indicated a strong interest in seeing these types of facilities at the Market.
4.1.2. Issues and concerns.
Related to the challenges faced by Markets are a number of ongoing issues that relate to the character of the Market.
As emphasized earlier, the Market is a product of local interests. Although Farmers Markets across the province share certain characteristics, there are structural and operational differences between Markets. Some Market organizers attempt to maintain the Market purely as a producers Market that supports local growers. Other Markets rely on local producers and producers from across the province. Some Markets use a combination of local and provincial growers with resellers. Resellers are typically brought into the Market to enhance the selection and variety of produce. For some Markets, the irregularity or shortness of the local growing season requires that they supplement the Market with produce from outside the region. If the Market is unable to attract growers, the organizers sometimes resort to inviting resellers in order to maintain and/or enhance the selection.
The presence of resellers at Farmers Markets is a contentious issue. Producers question the legitimacy of Farmers Markets that utilize resellers. They suggest that the term Farmers Market should be reserved only for Markets that support growers directly and exclusively.
There has also been some concern about the presence of crafters at the Farmers Market. However, many Market organizers recognize that crafts can be a very popular feature. Some Market organizers have adopted guidelines to ensure that the Market retains a high proportion of produce vendors relative to crafters. Again, because the decision is made by the local Market administration, the number of crafters in any given Market will vary considerably. As such, Markets may contain anywhere between 5 and 25% crafters. However, there are some Markets in the province that have intentionally avoided crafters for the sake of maintaining a purely produce based Market. All of the Market managers were in agreement that flea market items do not belong at a Farmers Market.
4.2. Customer profile.
The information gathered in the customer survey enabled the researchers to construct a profile of the customers that visit Farmers Markets. A total of 4,603 customers responded to the survey. An attempt has been made by the authors to highlight the differences between the year round Markets (Brantford, By Ward, Cambridge, Hamilton) and the seasonal Markets. Where applicable, the graphs highlight the differences between the year round Markets (white bars) and seasonal Markets (gray bars) (Graph 4.3; 4.5; 4.7 4.20; 4.22 4.35; 4.37 4.41).
A fairly consistent finding among the 19 Markets, is that Farmers Markets in Ontario attract a higher percentage of females than males. The combined results of the 19 Markets reveal that 65% of the customer base is made up of women. The distribution of customers by gender for each Market and the estimated provincial average is shown in Graph 4.1.
Graph 4.1. Distribution of customer base by gender.
From the provincial standpoint, the largest single age category for Market customers is 45 to 54 years which represents just under 25% of the customer base. The next largest age category is 55 to 64 years with just over 20% of the customer base. Close to 70% of the total customer base is in the age range of 45 years of age or older. The distribution of ages by category is shown in Graph 4.2.
Graph 4.2. Age of customers.
With respect to income, 32% of customers reported an income of $40,000 or more. However, it should be noted that not all of the customers provided income data. In total, 2,252 of the 4,603 customers who completed questionnaires provided income data.
The strong majority of Market customers travel to the Market by car (83%). Approximately thirteen percent of customers walk to the Market. The majority of customers live within ten minutes of the Market. Graph 4.3 shows the average number of travel minutes for customers in each participating Market. The average travel times illustrated in Graph 4.3 are somewhat inflated on account of a few customers in each Market that travel great distances to the Market. Still, it is evident that there is some variation between the Markets in terms of the length of travel time to the Market. As well, when we compare Markets in the year round category (Brantford, Cambridge, Hamilton) and Markets in the seasonal category, there continues to be a level of variation. In some instances the higher travel time is related to the location of the Market and its proximity to a residential area.
Graph 4.3. Average travel time to Market for customers.
(Parkdale & By-Ward data not available)
Focusing on the provincial level, we find that almost 70% of customers have a travel time of less than ten minutes. Graph 4.4 provides additional details.
Graph 4.4 Travel time to Market (provincial average).
Most of the customers (94%) visit the Market by themselves or with one other individual. The seasonal Markets tend to attract a greater number of people who visit the Market as part of a shopping party than do the year round Markets. Graph 4.5 shows the average shopping party size for each Market.
Graph 4.5 Average number of people in a shopping party at the Market.
As a group, the Market customers are very loyal, with approximately 64% of customers having shopped at their local Market for more than five years. If we examine the portion of the customer base that has been coming to the Market for five years or less we find that Markets vary considerably in the proportion of customers that have been attending the Market for 1 year, 3 years and 5 years. Graph 4.6 provides a breakdown of the customers in each Market who have been visiting their Markets for five years or less.
Graph 4.6 Proportion of customers at the Market (5 years or less)
As shown in Graph 4.6, some Markets such as Sudbury and Streetsville have a relatively low proportion of first year customers whereas others such as Pembroke and Carp have a relatively high proportion of first year customers. The Markets in Brantford and Pembroke have a relatively high proportion of customers that have been attending the Market for 3 years or less. The results suggest that some Markets have been more successful than others in attracting new customers and there may be lessons that could be shared between Markets to help boost the number of new customers. Markets that are interested in attracting new customers should examine the strategies being used in these Markets to see if they can be applied locally.
When customers arrive at the Market they tend to linger and enjoy the experience. Indeed, 55 percent (2472 people) of the customers spend more than 25 minutes at the Market. Furthermore, customers are fairly loyal in attending the Market throughout the season or year. Most of the seasonal Markets operate for approximately six months and the survey revealed that many customers attend the Market during most of that period. Similar results were found for the year round Markets. Additional details are provided in Graph 4.7.
Graph 4.7 Average number of months that customers come to the Market.
The number of times a customer visits the Market over the course of a month is partly related to the number of days the Market is open during the month. In some locations where the Market is open for at least two days a week, customers often visit the Market more than four times month. Graph 4.8 shows the average number of visits per customer to the Market in a month.
Graph 4.8 Average number of visits to the Market in a month.
4.3 What attracts customers to the Market?
As shown in Graph 4.9, customers clearly value the availability of fresh produce at the Market. Indeed, this is the number one feature that attracts customers to the Market. Additionally, customers suggested that the Market serves an important social function as a meeting place for friends and community members. Customers also indicated that they appreciated the opportunity to purchase products from local growers and craft vendors.
Graph 4.9 Percentage of customers who are attracted to the Market for the fresh products.
Interestingly, it appears as though the customers at seasonal Markets hold a greater value in the social aspects of the Market than do customers at year round Markets. For many customers, the opening of the Market in April or May is viewed as an occasion that marks the beginning of spring and an opportunity to reconnect with other members of the community. Customers follow the passage of summer as the variety of products change in the Market. In the minds of some customers, the transition to autumn is complete with the closure of the Market and as the winter months progress, customers enjoy the anticipation of a new Market season.
Graph 4.10 Percentage of customers who are attracted to the Market to meet friends and socialize.
Customers at both the seasonal and year round Markets indicated that they enjoy socializing with the vendors at the Market and as mentioned above, they are very interested in supporting local growers. Indeed, over ninety percent of Market customers feel that it is important to support local growers at "their" Market. Information on each of the participating Markets is provided in Graph 4.11.
Graph 4.11 Percentage of customers who believe it is important to support local growers at the Market.
Closely associated with the value that customers attach to supporting local growers, is the loyalty that customers display for specific vendors. Customers and vendors both commented at length on the special relationships that have formed between the two groups over the years. Indeed, the interaction between Market customers and vendors is often underscored by lively conversation. As indicated in Graph 4.12, most customers routinely purchase their products from the same vendor(s) each time they visit the Market.
Graph 4.12 Percentage of customers who make purchases from the same vendor(s) during each visit.
On average, approximately 3% of the Market customer base is made up of first time visitors. A number of Farmers Markets in the study attracted significantly more first time visitors than the provincial average. The research shows that first time visitors account for at least 6% of the customer base in Flesherton, Carp and Hamilton. Additional details are provided in Graph 4.13.
Graph 4.13 Percentage of customers who are first time visitors to the Market.
(Parkdale and By Ward data not available.)
4.4. How did customers first learn about the Market?
Most customers indicated that they have been coming to "their" Market for many years and/or heard about the Market through family and friends. However, individual Markets in Ontario undertake a variety of promotional activities to keep the Market in the public eye and attract new customers. Many Markets utilize signage as a way of promoting the Market. It appears as though some Markets have been more effective in attracting attention to the Market via this method than others. In particular, the signage being used by year round Markets does not appear to be having as significant an impact on customers as it is with some seasonal Markets. Markets that are interested in enhancing their exposure in the community may be able to learn lessons from the promotional techniques being successfully applied by a number of small seasonal Markets across the province.
Graph 4.14 Percentage of customers who learned of the Market through road signs.
(Parkdale and By-Ward data not available.)
Local newspapers are also used extensively by Farmers Markets in Ontario to advertise the Market. As shown in Graph 4.15, this form of promotion has proven to be rather successful in attracting customers in some seasonal Markets. Again, Market customers at year round Markets do not appear to be responding to this form of promotion. Several factors could be responsible for this occurrence. For example, the Market may be doing a minimal amount of newspaper advertising and/or has an ineffective advertising feature in the paper. In any event, it appears as though some Markets are effectively using newspapers to attract customers to the Market. Markets seeking to initiate or intensify this form of promotion should observe the manner in which other Markets have successfully utilized it in their promotional package.
Graph 4.15 Percentage of customers who learned of the Market through newspaper advertisements.
(Parkdale and By-Ward data not available.)
4.5. Satisfaction with the Market
Customers encounter a variety of sights, sounds and personalities during their visit to the Market. As part of the survey, customers were asked to indicate their level of satisfaction with various aspects of the Market including quality of produce, variety of produce, quality of service, location of the Market, and Market facilities.
4.5.1. Quality of Products
Customers were clearly satisfied with the quality of produce available at the participating Markets. On average, over 99% of customers were satisfied with the quality of produce and there appeared to be little difference between seaonal and year round Markets. Graph 4.16 provides additional details.
Graph 4.16 Percentage of customers who are satisfied with the quality of produce at the Market.
4.5.2. Variety of goods
Customers were also largely satisfied with the variety of produce available at Markets. On average, 95% of customers were satisfied with the variety of produce. The results revealed that a slightly higher proportion of customers at year round Markets were satisfied with the variety of produce than customers at seasonal Markets. Interestingly, some of the Markets located in the northern zone where there is limited local production, scored higher satisfaction levels than Markets located in the southern zones. Graph 4.17 provides additional details.
Graph 4.17 Percentage of customers who are satisfied with the variety of products at the Market.
4.5.3. Location of the Market
As noted earlier, the location of the Market in a particular town or city varies from place to place. Some Markets are located in close proximity to the downtown while others are located on the outskirts of town. However, customers for the most part, are satisfied with the location of>their= Market. There does not appear to be any significant difference between year round and seasonal customers with respect to this aspect of the Market. Graph 4.18 reveals how the participating Markets compared to one another.
Graph 4.18 Percentage of customers who are satisfied with the location of the Market.
(Parkdale and By-Ward data not available.)
4.5.4. Quality of service
Customers tended to be satisfied with the quality of service at Farmers= Markets. From a provincial perspective, close to 100% of customers indicated that they were satisfied with this aspect of Farmers= Markets. In their comments, customers frequently mentioned how friendly the vendors are at the Farmers= Market. They also emphasized the importance of being able to interact with the producer directly. Vendors clearly enjoyed the opportunity to meet and interact with the community members as well. The provincial average and the results for each Market are presented in Graph 4.19.
Graph 4.19 Percentage of customers who are satisfied with the quality of service.
4.5.5. Facilities at the Market
The least satisfactory aspect of Farmers= Market are the Market facilities. This was a fairly consistent complaint across all Markets. In particular, washrooms were singled out by many customers as facilities that needed to be improved. The complaints were often related to the cleanliness and accessibility of washrooms. Another common complaint was that there was not enough seating available at the Market. Insufficient or inadequate parking was also noted as a problem in some Markets. On average, close to 15% of customers found some aspect of the facilities at the Market to be unsatisfactory. Additional details are provided in Graph 4.20.
Graph 4.20 Percentage of customers who are satisfied with the facilities at the Market.
4.5.6. Customer satisfaction at the provincial level
At the provincial level we note that approximately 73% of customers are very satisfied with the quality of produce at Farmers Markets. A strong majority of customers are also very satisfied with the location of the Market, the quality of service and the product display. Close to 60% of customers indicated that they were very satisfied with the variety of goods offered at Markets. However, the greatest area in need of need of improvement is in the area of facilities, where only 42% of respondents were very satisfied with existing facilities (Graph 4.21).
Graph 4.21 Percentage of customers who are very satisfied with various Market features
4.5.7. Food safety
Ninety-four percent of customers have no food safety concerns at the Market. There is some variation on this aspect between Markets. The types of concerns raised include food that is left unprotected in the sun or exposed to the open air without sneeze guards, vendors not using sterile gloves to handle meat products, customers touching food products but not purchasing. Details for each Market are provided in Graph 4.22.
Graph 4.22 Percentage of customers who have no food safety concerns.
(Parkdale and By-Ward data not available.)