How to Sell Prepared Foods at Farmers Markets

Stallholders and shoppers at the Elwood Farmers' Market in suburban Melbourne, Australia
••• travelgame / Getty Images

If your ultimate goal as a prepared food or beverage entrepreneur is to get your products on store shelves, a good place to start out is your local farmers market. Selling your products there is a relatively low-cost way to get feedback on what you've created and begin establishing a base of customers who are excited about your business.

Of course, there are limitations to the farmers market experience. You typically have an opportunity to sell your products only once a week and maybe only for limited times of the year. And foot traffic can be weather-dependent.

But there are several things you can do to increase your sales, get people interested in your brand, and create a memorable experience for your customers.

Designing a Standout Booth

Consider using mostly white with splashes of bright colors to make your booth attractive but not overly ostentatious. If your booth is invitingly beautiful, people will be drawn to investigate it and see what you're selling.

Your booth's decor should also reflect your brand. If you're selling honey under, for example, The Sweet Bee name, you could emphasize images of bees and flowers.

Use signage intelligently to make it clear what types of products you're offering when people are still at a short distance from your stand. If people are unsure why you're there, they may just keep walking, no matter how attractive your booth is.

You can also start the conversation with your customers in written words by noting on your signs what makes your products special: gluten-free, made from locally grown fruit or heritage breeds of farm animals, vegan, your grandmother's recipe. Play up what separates your brand of prepared foods or beverages from items they could get at the grocery store.

Keep your displays orderly and make it easy for customers to pick up and read the labels on your product packaging.

Continuing the Conversation

You are the most important selling point in your booth. Be enthusiastic about your creations, and make the enthusiasm contagious.

Continue the conversation about your products that began when market-goers read your signs. Give people a smile and tell them a bit about your passion for your products and why you're there.

Be sure to offer samples. Many people will be reluctant to buy a product from a new vendor without first trying it. But the good news is, people who frequent farmers markets are generally interested in supporting small businesspeople—otherwise they would be at Kroger or Trader Joe's instead of having made a special trip to the farmers market. That will be especially true once they get to know who you are and realize how good your products are.

Answer any questions and ask people what they think of your offerings after they've had a taste.

When someone buys something, thank them. If they don't, smile anyway and maybe ask for feedback. And don't be discouraged. No product is universally beloved. You have to please enough people, not everyone.

Pricing Simplicity

Don't haggle on your prices; the last customer, who paid full price, wouldn't appreciate it. Determine what you need to charge to pay yourself for your time and effort and stick by it.

Put your prices on signs or display cards, so customers don't have to ask how much everything is. You might consider offering a discount for volume purchases if your profit margin will allow for one, but otherwise keep your prices firm.

Raising Awareness

Before you go to the market, establish a presence on social media to generate interest in your company and products. Post on Facebook or tweet about the new variety or flavor you're bringing to the market a couple of days from now.

Work with the manager and PR person for the farmers market to get as much free publicity as you can. And ask food bloggers with loyal followings to consider trying your products and writing about them.

Reviewing the Day

When you're done with the market for the day, consider how your sales went and whether you were as successful as you would have liked. And remember that success can be measured in different ways. Maybe your sales weren't as great as you'd hoped but you started having repeat customers. Or maybe you got a good suggestion from a customer for a new recipe that you can try out that week.

Don't be afraid to change things that aren't working, and see everything as a learning experience. Focus on growing the business by word of mouth, and above all else, make your interactions with customers a positive experience for everyone, because your ultimate success will depend on them.