The secret to selling coffee at farmers’ markets

Kahwei Yoong
July 28, 2021
coffee farmers' markets

If you’re a specialty roaster, where do you sell your coffee? Online? In a grocery store? In bakeries and cafés? A popular option, particularly for micro roasters, is to sell coffee at farmers’ markets. 

Farmers’ markets are designated venues for the sale of fresh food and drink. As well as providing an outlet for local products, they can help generate traffic for nearby businesses and help roasters strengthen social ties within their communities.

They can also be useful as a testing ground, offering roasters the opportunity to hone their selling techniques, try out new products, and discover their target markets.

To find out about making the most of farmers’ markets, I spoke with the owner of Wagay Ethiopian Coffee, Temesgen Melese.

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farmers' market
Farmers’ markets offer a good testing ground for micro roasters

Why should roasters consider selling at farmers’ markets? 

In many communities, farmers’ markets have been a staple for centuries. Offering an open space for the trade of goods between farmers and consumers, they are often associated with fresh, local, and artisanal produce.

For specialty roasters, selling coffee at a farmers’ market provides somewhat of a middle ground between a physical and an online roastery: it doesn’t demand the long-term overhead costs of a brick-and-mortar business, yet provides a great opportunity for direct consumer engagement.

Temesgen Melese moved to the UK from Ethiopia in 2003, and has been roasting and selling Ethiopian coffee at farmers’ markets for over five years. He explains that one of the main benefits is the face-to-face interaction with attendees. 

“I get to communicate directly with my customers,” he says. “It’s easy for me to show them what kind of coffee I have to offer since they have a chance to sample it. I also get to build relationships and gain a regular customer base. When customers are happy with my coffee, they tend to refer their friends and family to my business.”

When customers are happy with my coffee, they tend to refer their friends and family to my business.”

Indeed, a Harvard Business Review article indicates that human interaction can be powerful for creating social and economic value.

Face-to-face interaction elevates the perceived value of a product or an experience as it showcases intention, effort and authenticity of the producer, which creates meaning for consumers.

Instant feedback from customers also helps roasters understand demand for their coffee. They learn what consumers like and dislike about the product, which allows them to improve and adapt to consumers’ needs.

Furthermore, recent research by Mintel found that 25% of UK consumers are shopping more with local businesses as the “community spirit” becomes more significant since the outbreak of Covid-19.

As farmers’ markets tend to be localised events, they provide a great opportunity for specialty roasters to enhance their community presence and offer customers the chance to buy their products without venturing out of their neighbourhood.

borough market, london
Putting a good plan in place before setting up at a market is paramount

Tips for selling at farmers’ markets

Despite being a relatively informal setting, it’s always important to have a plan in mind before setting up a stall at a farmers’ market.

First, you should do some research on the different farmers’ markets that are available in your area. For example, in the United States, you can search for farmers’ markets listing through USDA National Farmers Market Directory or LocalHarvest.

Once you’ve narrowed it down, put aside some time to visit the markets and survey products sold there, as well as the type of consumers who attend. If there are lots of other coffee stalls or the clientele is vastly different from your usual customer base, then it may not be the right fit.

In addition, each market has their individual rules and regulations to follow. Therefore, you will need to check with local market organisers or talk with existing stallholders to understand what’s involved in running a business at the market.

For example, Temesgen tells me that where he sells his coffee, roasters have to have specific certifications, such as Fairtrade and Organic in order to set up a stall. They also have to provide documents to the market organisers on where they source their coffee.

“At my stall, I will burn frankincense on charcoal.”

Once you begin selling, the way you present yourself at the market plays a big role in how visitors perceive your products. Maintaining a clean and well-presented stall will help create a welcoming impression and encourage passersby to stop and try your coffee.

When they do, try your best to engage with customers in a way that’s friendly and open. Share stories about your coffee producers, walk customers through the coffee production process, and recommend different ways to brew the coffee, at the very least.

It’s also important to make your stall stand out in what can often be a crowded space. Temesgen tells me that he’s found a unique, yet personal approach to attracting attention at farmers’ markets.

“At my stall, I will burn frankincense on charcoal, which is a practice used during Ethiopian coffee ceremonies,” he says. “It creates a nice and fruity smell which attracts visitors to my stall.”

Lastly, prepare some promotional materials such as brochures or business cards that can direct people to your website or social media page. Even if visitors don’t make an immediate purchase, you may improve your chances to gain follow-on sales further down the line. Providing samples, meanwhile, is an effective way to encourage people to try your coffee without pressuring them into parting with any money.

sustainable coffee bags
Coffee packaging is one of the most effective ways of attracting attention at a farmers’ market

Appealing to market-goers through product packaging

Packaging is a powerful marketing tool and has a direct impact on sales. It influences consumers’ perception because it’s the first thing that consumers see when they encounter your product. Therefore, it’s important that your packaging reflects the true quality and value of your coffee beans.

“Good packaging to me is one that keeps the coffee fresh and safe, but at the same time has a design that reflects the story of the coffee,” Temesgen says. “For example, I like to have a more traditional design because I want to bring the Ethiopian culture and experience to my customers.”

“Good packaging to me is one that keeps the coffee fresh and safe, but at the same time has a design that reflects the story of the coffee,”

While vibrant and colourful packaging can draw attention and make your coffee stand out, colours can also shape consumer perception since they have different psychological effects on people. For instance, red creates a sense of urgency while blue promotes feelings of tranquility and peace.

Naturally, each farmers’ market has its own character and atmosphere. Some might be more fast-paced and catered to busy shoppers, while others have a more relaxed vibe that serves as a social space as well as a place to buy fresh produce.

If you’re selling at a busy market, using colours such as red or yellow for your coffee bags can be good way of stimulating purchasing behaviour. For more relaxed venues, calming colours such as blue and purple can be more effective.

Sometimes, you might not be able to engage with everyone, especially during peak hours. When this happens, consumers should be able to look at your packaging for information that will help them make a purchasing decision.

Alternatively, using QR codes that lead customers to your website or social media profiles can help maintain a minimalist aesthetic while providing all the necessary product details.

coffee packaging
High-quality coffee packaging is key to preserving freshness and standing out from the competition

For specialty roasters, selling coffee at farmers’ markets is not only a great way to test their products, it also offers an opportunity to engage directly with customers and understand their preferences.

One of the most effective ways of attracting attention at farmers’ markets is with high-quality, sustainable coffee packaging. At MTPak Coffee, we offer fully customisable pouches made from recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable materials that will keep your coffee protected and help attract attention to your stall.

For more information on our sustainable coffee bags, contact our team.

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