Tips on how to make a profit at farmers' markets

Is selling via farmers’ markets an option for your small business? Yes! Dubbo, NSW, couple Michael and Sandra Banks sell their Bell River Estate wines and ports in as many as 17 markets per month.

“It’s 90 per cent of our business, and a lot of travel,” says Michael, “but we’ve been able to send our two boys through boarding school in Sydney and had a few overseas trips. But there have been tough times.”

The Banks got involved in their local market in 2002 “for promotion” and, when their cellar door sales went belly up in 2007, they ramped up their involvement.

“People want to taste and touch. Markets have kept our business alive – the profits are ours, not the distributors,” says Banks.

Contemporary farmers' markets started in Australia in 1999 (in Victoria) says Jane Adams, spokesperson for the Australian Farmers’ Markets Association. Adams suggests that today there are more than 160 active markets operating across the country.

“The viability of market participation depends on what you produce, how, your expectations and costs,” she says. “There are few barriers to entry. It can be a good incubator – you maximise your profits to go back into your business growth.”

People want to taste and touch. Markets have kept our business alive – the profits are ours, not the distributors.

Commercial food producer Whisk & Pin started at markets, but Adams cautions that some others, such as a meat producer, “grew so fast he crashed and burned”. You need a business plan, she advises.

“Markets allow you to make connections with customers and tap into powerful support from other stallholders, learn about branding and capture media attention,” says Adams.

A 2014 Rural Industries and Development Corporation study into farmers’ markets found 80 per cent of farmers and food businesses surveyed said they made a profit from their participation in farmers’ markets. However, study author Vicki Woodburn says only 7 per cent of those surveyed used it as their only way to sell produce.

“The research identified that farmers’ markets are growing and likely to continue to grow,” she says.

Markets are a good way to promote and educate people about your product.

On average, people spend about $70 per market. Locals, particularly women aged 30-50, are typical attendees.  And about one 1 to 2 per cent of all fresh food sales in Australia is through farmers’ markets, estimates agrifood sector expert David McKinna.

For fledgling Millthorpe, NSW, business Chocolate on Purpose, farmers’ markets deliver 80 per cent of their turnover. Owner Fiona Ivancsik stocks her bushfood-flavoured treats in some shops, too.

“Markets are a good way to promote and educate people about your product – the therapeutic benefits of Aussie bush foods – our business story and for tastings,” she says.

Margaret Paton

Image: Bud Ellison, Flickr Creative Commons license

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