Farmers markets see an uptick in closures
- Farmers markets across the U.S. are closing — in small towns such as Reno, Nevada and Norco, California and large cities including Boston and New York City, according to NPR. The Copley Square Farmers Market in Boston reported a 50% drop in foot traffic in 2017 and Oregon saw 32 of its 62 new markets close down, NPR reported, citing a multiyear study.
- The number of farmers markets in the U.S. increased from 2,000 in 1994 to more than 8,600 in 2019. The influx has created a problem where there are not enough farmers to fill the markets and not enough customer traffic to support every market.
- Diane Eggert, executive director of the Farmers Market Federation of NY, told NPR that in addition to the markets, people also have access to community-supported agriculture and home delivery options from Instacart, Blue Apron and Amazon, which may be more convenient for consumers.
Farmers markets aren't disappearing. Rather, they seem to going through an adjustment period to better align supply and demand for locally made products as competition — including online shopping — increases.
Local food sales in the U.S. grew from $5 billion to $12 billion between 2008 and 2014, and are expected to reach $20 billion in 2019, according to a Packaged Facts report. And although consumers are looking for convenience through delivery programs like Amazon and Instacart, most customers still prefer to buy their produce and other fresh goods in person.
As farmers and farmers market organizers look to stand out in the crowded field, there may be new opportunities to tap into shoppers' needs for convenience. Farmers may not be able to tackle delivery on their own (though many community-supported agriculture programs do deliver to homes), but they could band together and partner with a delivery service to reach a broader audience and generate more profit.
Many people believe produce from farmers markets is priced higher than traditional retailers, which could be holding shoppers back in some areas. But prices actually compare well, according to a study by the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, which found prices on organic produce fairly equal between grocery stores and farmers markets.
A new study from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service found that people who shop at farmers markets are likely to buy more fruits and vegetables overall, but that doesn't stop those shoppers from spending just as much money at supermarkets. This suggests that despite retailers' efforts to increase fresh assortment, stock more local produce and offer the farmers market feel in their stores, ultimately farmers markets are not competition for them.
Farmers markets, on the other hand, do face big competition. Natural grocers such as Sprouts and local stores like MOM’s Organic market offer similar products to those found at a farmers market with the added convenience of a fully-stocked grocery store. Some of these grocers also offer click-and-collect services, which makes buying fresh, locally grown produce even easier. Grocery stores across the board are trying to provide consumers with the fresh produce they want, and with farmers markets closing from California's heartland all the way to the East Coast, retailers are well-positioned to capture those produce dollars.
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