So you want to… Sell produce at a farmers market?

How many farmers’ markets are there?

There are now more than 500 farmers’ markets in the UK.

Their number is still growing and they are looking for more producers.

About half of markets are members of the National Farmers’ Retail and Markets Association (FARMA) and 180 are certified.

Certification means that they have been independently inspected and meet FARMA standards which ensure that stallholders are local farmers, growers and food businesses selling their own produce.

Markets are usually monthly and tend to be held towards the end of the week.

When considering which markets to attend, think not only about size, timing and mix of stalls but also about practicalities such as hours, access, parking and other facilities, advises FARMA’s Rita Exner.

Are there rules about what can be sold?

The most important rule for certified farmers’ markets is that the stallholder must have produced the food they are selling.

Producers adding value to primary local produce by baking, for example, are encouraged to use local ingredients like jams and butter, meats and fruit or vegetables, rather than going to wholesalers.

Individual market operators or managers usually have the final say about what can be sold at their market.

Most have a distance rule allowing produce from a 30-50 mile radius, although sometimes this is defined by county boundaries.

London and other urban farmers’ markets may allow produce from up to 100 miles away.

Markets usually try to balance the range of produce to offer a “full basket” shop but also try to ensure a good balance of stall types so that there is not too much direct competition between stallholders.

If you produce something different, you are more likely to be able to get a stall.

How do I know it’s right for me and what I want to sell?

First you have to be sure that the produce you want to sell has an appeal for farmers’ market customers.

Visit markets and talk to other stallholders.

The beauty of markets is that they are a relatively cheap way of retailing, although they may be time consuming.

They don’t require investment in retail premises and are a good platform to promote a farm shop, internet or mail order business, says Rita Exner.

Who do I need to tell if I want to sell food at farmers’ markets?

As soon as you start to sell food, Environmental Health and Trading Standards officers need to be involved. EHOs deal with hygiene and good practice regarding production, Trading Standards with weights, measures and labelling.

Talk to both before you go to your first market.

What legislation do I need to know about?

Food safety, health and safety, trades descriptions, weights and measures are the main areas.

The requirements vary according to the type of produce you are selling.

For example, in the case of fruit and vegetables, some produce must be sold by weight, others can be sold by count.

If you sell by weight, the price per kg must be displayed on the pack or prominently on your stand.

The labelling and traceability requirements are rigorous for meat, and in particular for beef, but any food which is ready for immediate consumption at the point of sale is of concern to EHOs, for example cooked meat products and dairy produce.

Raw and cooked meats need to be kept separate and some form of hand cleaning facilities must be available other than toilet washbasins.

Fitness to work rules within the Food Safety Act affect personal hygiene and communicable diseases, including infections such as gastroenteritis.

If you offer free samples, the same hygiene rules apply as if you were selling them.

In all cases there must be separate handling of raw and ready-to-eat foods, and money.

If you are preparing food at home, your kitchen must meet certain minimum standards and will need EHO inspection and approval.

Some food types need batch numbers, best-before dates, ingredient labelling and detailed record keeping for full traceability.

There are minimum required temperatures for meats, ready-to-eat and cooked foods – your EHO will advise you.

Some foods normally needing refrigeration may be displayed for up to four hours in ambient temperatures but you cannot then return them to a chilled condition.

If you haven’t sold them, you must throw them away.

“Investing in a chilled cabinet may seem expensive (second-hand ones are available) but presentation will be better and your stock-control easier.

Many farmers’ markets offer a power supply to run them.

As an alternative, many farmers’ markets stallholders sell from insulated polystyrene boxes; regular monitoring of temperatures is essential.”

Goods must, by law, be priced.

The price must be displayed on the pack or prominently on your stall.

Having to ask the price puts customers off and some will just walk away, warns Rita Exner.

From January 2006, all food businesses must have a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) manual.

This is a food safety management system which identifies what could go wrong in your processes, how to prevent it and how to address it.

Do I need any training?

It depends what you are selling, but a basic food hygiene certificate (about six hours of training usually run by local colleges) is good practice and your EHO may insist on it for handling ready-to-eat food products.

If you are adding value, or offering certain ready-to-eat foods, an advanced food hygiene certificate will be a good idea.

What sells well at farmers’ markets?

Try to provide something different and don’t compete with the supermarkets.

If you are considering making cheese, for example, don’t make a bulk-standard cheddar, says Rita Exner.

“Carefully assess what’s already on offer and selling well at your chosen markets.

Pricing is important – it has to reflect costs of production but must not be too cheap and not too expensive, especially if a similar product is available in the area.”

Do I need to spend a lot on my stall?

No, but the appearance and attractiveness of your stall is very important.

“Remember that this is not like a shop where people will browse – they are on the move and you have got to get them to stop and look.”

A good display with information about the farm and the produce (with photographs) will all help.

The stall must look inviting and you must be prepared to engage with customers and draw them to you – at a farmers’ market, customers buy from the person behind the stall.

A white coat or coloured apron helps to give a professional image.

Tie hair back, ensure hands and nails are clean.

“If it is in a good position, try to book the same stall each time so customers can easily find you again.

Attend as many markets as you can – it’s important to build loyalty.

Be prepared for a 9am to 10am market start, but be ready an hour before that – regular customers will be.”

Should I pre-pack my produce?

While some people think this detracts from the appeal of fresh produce, it can save a lot of time on the stall, because it means that you can pre-price too.

Some markets are very busy and pre-packing allows customers to choose their produce easily and to handle it without problems.

It also gets over the hygiene issue of one person having to handle fresh food and money.

How much does a stall cost?

Anything from 2 for a stall at a market run as a charity up to 80 at busy city centre markets, but the general range for accredited farmers markets is 25 to 40.

What insurance do I need?

Product and public liability – at least 5m for each category – is recommended by FARMA.

Prices range from about 55 a year.

If you have anyone working for you, you’ll need employer’s liability cover too.

Can I get a grant?

DEFRA or regional grants may apply.

To read Bridget Borlase’s case study please click here.

To read Sue Forrester’s case study please click here.