Consumer preferences for fresh produce has driven more people to choose to buy their fruits and vegetables straight from farms or at farmers’ markets, according to a new Colorado State University study.
Up to 30 percent of consumers prefer to buy their fresh produce from farmers’ markets and direct from producers, the study found, countering a long trend of increasing purchases through supermarkets and supercenters. The United States Department of Agriculture, or USDA, reported that between 1994 and 2006, the number of U.S. farmers’ markets more than doubled to more than 3,700, and the value of U.S. agricultural products directly sold increased 37 percent from $592 million to $812 million (http://www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/).
"Consumers who tended to buy directly rank variety available and support for local producers relatively higher than other consumers, suggesting a strong connection to local food systems and good motivation for producers to explore unique varieties and cultivars of fruits and vegetables," said Professor Dawn Thilmany, who conducted the study with Jennifer Keeling-Bond and Craig Bond, both assistant professors. All three are faculty in Colorado State’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, part of the College of Agricultural Sciences.
It is not surprising that those who buy direct look for fresh, nutritious and locally grown produce, but it is interesting that they rank pesticide-free higher than organic produce (like other consumers), possibly suggesting a lack of understanding about organic certification, Thilmany said. Still, initial results suggest that those that purchase direct are willing to pay 7 percent to 23 percent more for produce that is differentiated by being organic, local or nutritionally superior, helping to offset the higher marketing costs of producers who may choose to target these food niches.
The study also revealed a snapshot of typical farmers-market customers and other direct consumers. They tend to be older and spend more on produce, live in midsize markets (from 50,000 to 500,000 in population), and are more likely to be upper-middle income compared to supermarket consumers.
Thilmany said farmers and produce sellers at farmers’ markets often hope to increase their profits by directly marketing to consumers, thereby avoiding middlemen, but the success of such strategies requires continued consumer support and community support for farmers’ market venues and other entrepreneurial marketing ventures by producers.
A fact sheet on the study can be found online at http://dare.agsci.colostate.edu/csuagecon/extension/docs/agbusmarketing/ABMR-MAY%2007-03.pdf.