9 March 2001

Working at keeping em interested

MOST farmers markets suffer winter twilight, warns Suzie Matthews, co-author of an ADAS report on markets in Lincolnshire. The problems of seasonality are bad both for customer loyalty and supplier cash flow, according to the report.

At the Countryside Agency, Andy Neale reports rumours that some markets have to work hard to keep customers interested.

But Lucy Gillie, Soil Association, predicts that this hungry gap will become less significant. "Producers are getting wise, and changing their production to meet the need, as well as offering alternative farm-produced items, such as processed and preserved food."

Meanwhile, reaction from other retail outlets has been favourable – so far. Some supermarkets, notably Asda, have nurtured farmers markets, offering car parking space and other facilities. Even Macdonalds and WH Smiths outlets notched up increased sales on farmers market days. Last years NFU survey revealed that 70% of markets reported a spin-off increase in trade to other local businesses.

Research in the USA suggests that for every dollar spent on farm products, farmers get 30 cents through conventional marketing, but 56 cents from selling direct. And there is less wastage.

But when markets have become very successful in the USA, local retailers have complained about traffic congestion and the favourable taxation and rental rates enjoyed by market traders.