9 March 2001

Public buy to back their local farmers – survey

Research reveals a

fascinating picture of

why consumers shop at

farmers markets.

Peter Grimshaw reports

WHY do shoppers visit farmers markets? One of the most important reasons is to support farmers, particularly local farmers, a new survey reveals.

"Most people feel that, in the current farming climate, supporting farmers markets is a way they can help directly," says Alan Chubb. His organisation, Foundation for Local Food Initiatives, advises people involved in farmers markets. It recently completed a report, with Land Use consultants, on consumer and farmer attitudes to markets on behalf of the Countryside Agency.

Drawing together responses to a number of UK surveys, together with a study in south-east England, the report highlights three main reasons shoppers give for visiting markets.

Along with support for farmers, important reasons include product quality and the attraction of buying freshly harvested or made produce. The opportunity to buy organic and welfare-friendly food follows closely, says Mr Chubb.

Its also clear that people enjoy meeting and chatting with producers. A survey carried out in East Anglia revealed that 77% of producers said customers questioned them about production methods, while 62% of consumers said they asked stallholders for cooking suggestions.

About 30% of consumers discovered their market through local papers and 16% because they spotted street signs. More than 25% heard about markets through word of mouth.

Top-selling products are meat, vegetables, baked goods and preserves. Only three per cent of consumers surveyed bought craft goods.

Although only 45% of shoppers said they regularly bought organic produce, 33% of shoppers questioned in Stirling and Bath would like to see more organic food.

More than 60% of shoppers in all surveys said they had visited the town specifically to buy at the market and 75% expected to regularly repeat their visit.

Buyers particularly valued local markets. Of those surveyed, 70% travelled three miles or less. Only 6% journeyed 11 miles or more. But nearly 70% of shoppers travelled in their cars.

Over 20% spent £30 or more during their visit, 30% parted with £10-19, nearly 25% spent £5-9 and over 20% spent less than £5.

Individual surveys threw up other aspects of buyer preferences. Older people tend to use markets more, with 33% aged over 55, judging by a Bristol survey. Most people would like their market to be weekly, with Saturday being the most popular day.

Research in the UK and US reveals that markets in upper or middle class areas do better than those in other areas. Some US markets stress the importance of educating shoppers and exploiting the growing interest in food preparation and cooking.

Customers enjoy the experience of shopping at a farmers market, says Gareth Jones, of the Farm Retail Association. "It makes no difference where you live, apart from London.

"Londoners have almost completely lost contact with farmers and because of the capitals size there are almost no farmers within a radius of 30 miles of the centre."

Jef Tuyn, of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, says the proportion of total UK consumption serviced through farmers markets will always be small. "Its a niche market, but a substantial niche."

and an important one, where good value probably counts more than price."

WHYFARMERS MARKETS?

&#8226 Support farmers; particularly local farmers.

&#8226 Product quality.

&#8226 Attraction of buying freshly harvested or made produce.

&#8226 Opportunity to buy organic and welfare-friendly food.

SURVEYSTATISTICS

&#8226 More than 60% of shoppers in all surveys visited town to shop at the market.

&#8226 75% promised regular repeat visits.

&#8226 70% travel three miles or less, 6% travel 11 miles or more.

&#8226 68% travel in their cars.

&#8226 22% spent £30 or more; 30% spent £10-19; 24% spent £5-9 and 22% spent less than £5.The same percentage spent less than £5.