This article describes a marketing opportunity to attract new shoppers by partnering with local employers.
In spring of 2019, MFFM was approached by the City of Bangor’s Wellness Committee to develop a program that will give their 500+ employees incentive to buy healthy food from the local farmers’ markets.
Each year, the city’s Wellness Committee engages in projects that improve the health of their employees. Funds for these activities are granted by Cigna, the health insurer for the employees of the City of Bangor.
Farmers’ markets posed a unique opportunity to support multiple local businesses, while also educating employees and providing access and incentives for healthy food options. This type of employer-market partnership is a great community-building tool for farmers’ markets. With this partnership, markets gain new customers, people change their shopping habits, and employers have an opportunity to provide a reward to their employees. Such employer partnerships can also serve as an alternative to sponsorships from local businesses for the market.
How it worked for employees
For City of Bangor employees, they were eligible to receive two $10 vouchers in June, and two $10 vouchers in August, to spend at one of four farmers’ markets in the Bangor area. In order to receive the $10, the employees had to complete some simple educational tasks that exposed them to lessons on nutrition and wellness. Once the employee completed an assignment, they received a $10 voucher to spend at one of the four participating Bangor area markets. Each participating market falls on a different day, and not all are in Bangor. The goal was to include markets that were nearby to the towns where City of Bangor employees lived and commuted daily, such as Hampden and Brewer. Including multiple markets increased the convenience for the employees to actually use their $10 vouchers.
- Brewer Farmers’ Market (Saturdays)
- Bangor Farmers’ Market (Sundays)
- Hampden Farmers’ Market (Fridays)
- Ohio Street Farmers’ Market (Wednesdays)
How it worked for the Bangor area markets
The four participating Bangor markets all had information booths to welcome shoppers. Upon arrival, the employee would present their $10 voucher to the market information booth staff or volunteer. The employee would then receive $10 in market currency, or a shopping sheet with a $10 credit on it, to go spend with vendors at the market that day.
Markets collected and tracked the incoming vouchers, and submitted invoices to their contacts in the City each month for reimbursement.
And the results???
Summary of Survey Results from Bangor Wellness Project
- $1720 worth of vouchers redeemed at 4 farmers’ markets
- 45% of people were first time shoppers (approx 25 out of 55)
- 50% of first-time shoppers returned to the market on their own, on a different day.
- 80% of all participants spent their own money, in addition to the vouchers. → $777 more, estimated by survey responses
- 43% say that this program led them to shop more at FM’s → $1170 more sales, through the whole year, for 17 people
Hampden Farmers’ Market treasurer, Mary Lou Hoskins (Cedar Mill Farm), reports that many shoppers use the $10 voucher and then spend their own money to buy additional food from the market. The Bangor Farmers’ Market has seen new shoppers coming to their Sunday market with vouchers in hand. “It’s been an effective way to get new people to experience our market” says Brittany Hopkins, of Wise Acres Farm.
There is certainly a learning curve for implementing this type of partnership at markets. Mary Lou Hoskins notes the inconveniences of having extra bookkeeping and treasurer tasks to do during the busiest time of year. However, with the kinks worked out, the program is succeeding in bringing more sales, and new customers, to farmers’ markets in the Bangor area. This fall, MFFM will be surveying employees from the City of Bangor to learn more about their experiences at market. Stay tuned for more results!
You can see a 1-page outline designed to educate market members about this project. Click this link!