CONCORD, N.H. — Farmers markets and community-supported agriculture isn’t for everyone. But new research indicates that there are ways that marketing could help these local food vendors expand and reach new customers, beyond the loyal but niche following they currently enjoy in New Hampshire and the region.
Polling from UNH’s Carsey School of Public Policy looked at food shopping behaviors, values, and perceptions across New England. The research from the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station found that alternative food networks have struggled to grow beyond their niche market.
Jess Carson, assistant research professor at UNH, and Analena Bruce, scientist at the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station, found that farmers markets have a relatively narrow customer base, limiting how much local farmers and vendors can grow their businesses.
Their goal was to figure out how farmers markets and other alternative food networks (non-grocery store food sellers) can market their products to attract new customers.
One key finding was that more than 70 percent of respondents considered taste, quality, healthiness, and affordability to be important factors when buying food.
People were less interested in food being local or the size of vendors than researchers previously believed.
“A surprising finding from the survey is that a little over half of New Englanders say food that supports fair wages and is sustainable and local is important to them, while only a third say it’s important that their food was grown on a small or family farm,” Bruce said in a statement.
Only 21 percent of people said it was important that they know the person selling their food to them.
More than 31 percent of people said buying organic food was important, while 25 percent said they prioritize places that accept food stamps, the supplemental nutrition assistance program. Around 70 percent of people say getting a good deal is important. And, unsurprisingly, 89 percent said it’s important to get foods they like to eat.
People’s identities also may play a big role in determining who shops for food at a farmers market. The survey found that people who consider themselves the type of person who buys from local farms are three times more likely to buy food at a place like a farmers market.
“We see a relationship between calling oneself the ‘type’ of person who buys local farm food and their reported shopping habits — specifically, whether they buy local foods and from where,” Carson said.
The research suggests that farmers markets might attract new customers by playing up how tasty, high quality, and healthy the food is as well as the benefit to small farms.
The next stage of their research will focus on more in-depth interviews to look at the relationship between cultural identity, food shopping practices, and perceptions of alternative places to buy food.