Louisiana Farmers Markets

Linda Benedict, Westra, John, Detre, Joshua D., Clark, Beth  |  3/1/2011 3:11:42 AM

Figure 1.

Figure 2.

Farmers market in Baton Rouge. (Photo by John Wozniak)

How LSU students, who are millennials, will shape the future of these food outlets

Joshua D. Detre, Benjamin M. Clark, Tyler B. Mark and John Westra

The establishment of a local farmers market poses many challenges for stakeholders. Not only must they contend with supply-chain issues and government rules and regulations, but they also must worry about sufficient demand to make the market economically viable. In particular, operators of and suppliers to farmers markets should pay particular attention to the fresh produce shopping habits of the millennials, individuals born in the 1980s and 1990s.

The first group of millennials has begun transitioning into adulthood, joining the workforce and starting families. Millennials are different from their predecessors – Generation X (1960-1980), the baby boom generation (1946-1960) and the Silent Generation (1930-1945). Millennials are more highly educated and technologically connected. They have different attitudes, values, behaviors, lifestyles and ethnic diversity.

A majority of these millennials have just entered or will soon enter college and represent a highly sought-after market segment, given their numbers, trendsetting ability and purchasing power ($200 billion annually). Of particular interest to farmers market stakeholders is that college-educated millennials are more likely to engage in green and sustainable practices, such as buying local, buying organic or recycling, relative to other generations. Moreover, this generation is becoming increasingly concerned about health as they change their diet from one consisting of mostly fast foods to a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Research shows that increased consumption of fruits and vegetables can lower the chances of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Farmers markets provide a viable shopping alternative to traditional retail outlets, and the millennial generation will likely help determine the future economic viability of farmers markets in Louisiana. Consequently, farmers market vendors must understand this generation’s needs, particularly those that are obtaining a college education, and then develop strategies, which meet these needs.

The principal goal of this study was to determine the fresh produce shopping habits of LSU students, part of the millennial generation, at farmers markets. In particular, LSU AgCenter researchers were interested in understanding the specific factors that influence students’ decisions to shop at a farmers market because the motivation behind shopping at a farmers market is often different from the motivation for shopping at a traditional grocery market. The results of this research can be used in conjunction with the LSU AgCenter’s Louisiana MarketMaker program. This free, online, searchable database allows consumers to search for locally produced food from farmers and farmers markets. Louisiana MarketMaker allows local food producers to develop business profiles that showcase their produce and farming operation, as well as use census data on local populations to help target certain demographics, such as millennials, or consumption preferences, such as fresh produce. Consequently, farmers markets and farmers can develop business profiles that appeal to the needs and wants of the millennial generation. For those local producers attempting to establish a farmers market, they can search for areas where there are large concentrations of college-aged and educated millennials.

The student body at LSU has more than 28,000 students, most of whom are part of the millennial generation. As these students transition into higher paying jobs, they will become a coveted and important market segment to Louisiana farmers, especially those who plan to utilize farmers markets as an outlet for their product. To understand the factors and characteristics that influence students to shop at farmers markets, a universitywide questionnaire was administered to all LSU students through the university’s e-mail system, a service that every registered student, faculty and staff has and must use to get official university messages. There were 2,802 completed and usable surveys returned for a response rate of about 10 percent, which is considered reliable to provide data on student perceptions and buying habits associated with farmers markets.

Survey results show that college-educated millennials value fresh produce from a farmers market as part of their diet, but the factors influencing their purchase decisions are quite varied. More than half of the student respondents (57 percent) have previously attended a farmer market, while slightly less than a third (32 percent) of the students use fresh fruits or vegetables almost every day or every time they cook (Figure 1). Though this indicates that students are aware of farmers markets and of the importance of using fresh fruits and vegetables when they cook, there still exists a substantial amount of untapped market potential with millennials.

The top three factors (Figure 2) rated most important to students when they shop for fresh fruits and vegetables are quality (1,706 students ranked it No. 1), price (802 students) and finally nutritional content (591 students). Surprisingly, almost half of the students ranked organic certification as the fifth or sixth most important factor in shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables. These results indicate that Louisiana farmers and other stakeholders involved in the production of fresh fruits and vegetables in their promotion of locally sourced products should concentrate their marketing on promoting quality products with good nutritional content at affordable prices.

If locating in urban areas, it is essential that the market be on routes easily accessed via public transportation, such as a stop on a bus route, or convenient to major thoroughfares. Results from the survey indicate that 71 percent of the students at LSU say the primary reason for not shopping at a farmers market more often is that the locations are inconvenient.

In addition, the results show that the students value convenience in the form of hours of operation, and that it was the second largest factor for why students do not shop at farmers markets more frequently (46 percent). Students indicate they would prefer to shop after 3 p.m., as opposed to the morning when many farmers markets are typically open. It is likely convenience in terms of hours of operation and location will become increasingly important as these college  educated millennials enter the workforce, often as part of a dual income family working a nine-to-five job. Thus, farmers markets will likely have to rethink their business model, location and hours of operation to adapt to the changing dynamics of the millennial generation.

In addition, many of the millennials on the LSU campus, much like many of the other millennials in Louisiana, may not have an agricultural background. This lack of an agricultural background (only 9 percent of survey respondents were agriculture majors) creates a knowledge barrier that must be addressed. Results from the survey show LSU students have concern about the facilities where farmers markets operate and the vendors. These knowledge barriers act as disincentives for millennials to shop at farmers markets. These results suggest that extension educators as well as stakeholders in farmers markets should develop educational material to overcome these knowledge barriers.

Farmers market organizations interested in locating in and around popula tion bases that have a large concentration of college-aged or college-educated millennials are advised to focus on the attributes highlighted in this study. By appealing to these needs, farmers markets can develop business profiles that emphasize their commitment to providing quality products and reasonable prices in easily accessed locations. Appealing to these attributes will help ensure Louisiana-based farmers markets remain financially viable. Future research will attempt to provide a comprehensive analysis of the health and nutritional benefits the millennial generation wants to obtain by shopping at a farmers market.

Joshua D. Detre, Assistant Professor, and Benjamin M. Clark, Extension Associate,Department of Agricultural Economics & Agribusiness; Tyler B. Mark, Assistant Professor, Department of Agricultural Sciences, Morehead State University, Morehead, Ky.; and John Westra, Associate Professor,Department of Agricultural Economics & Agribusiness.

(This article was published in the winter 2011 issue of Louisiana Agriculture Magazine.)

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