Food Market Stalls – 5 Things You Need to Know
Food Market stalls can be a great way to showcase your bakes, your brand and make some good money. Some annual Food Markets/Food Shows boast with attendances of up to 20 000 people – craaaazy!
If there’s one thing that humans LOVE to do, and never seem to get tired of, it is eating GOOD food.
I’ve had my fair share of Food Market Stalls over the last 5 years as an Artisan Home Baker. The spectrum of markets I’ve traded at range far and wide; from the super trendy Kamers vol Geskenke to the colossal Good Food & Wine Show to hipster, casual beach vibes at Big Bay Market.
I’ve traded at 7 DIFFERENT markets for a total of 22 TIMES.
Some of my Food Market Stalls were a huge success and others were kind of meh. I’ve danced with joy, I’ve cried with disappointment. Bottom line is – I’ve learned A LOT. Today I would love to share my experiences with you and give you a heads up to help you in your Food Market Stall ventures!
Stick around till the very end because there's a BONUS #6 Tip!
1. Not all Food Markets are What They Seem (often a GREAT thing!)
The key thing to figure out is where your baked goods will fit in. Which Food Market has the right kind of crowd for your specific bakes? This might not always be as straight forward as you'd think…
There was this one Food Market in Cape Town that I was yearning to get into! The waiting list was long as they were super popular. For a few years I kept pushing and pushing to get in. From the times I had been there, it looked PERFECT for my bakes!
Everyone at the market was earthy and they seemed to care a lot about flavour, good ingredients and quality. The vibe was always very lively; LOADS of people, twinkle lights and on weekends they also had live music! TOTALLY MY SCENE!
Eventually their dessert Stall decided to call it a day and go travel the world. I was IN!!! 😀 And I was over the moon! In my mind, THIS would be the food market stall of my dreams where all my bakes would sell in a heartbeat.
Reality can be so crude.
After trading at the market 3 times, I realized that about 90% of the people were only coming to buy beers and burgers. And that was IT. For about 70% of the day/evening, ALL the dessert traders next to me were just standing there… with fully stocked, beautiful food market stalls… And no one was interested.
On the flip side, my most successful food market stall experiences have been at markets that ARE NOT MY SCENE AT ALL! The one market I traded at 11 times – by FAR my biggest number.
It was exclusively a spring and summer market – I don’t really like summer. Sorry if that offends you.
The music was super loud, mostly house and indie vibes – SO not me.
It was in a free-spirited, hippie beach community – SOOOOO not me.
If you attend this market now, you would think that THIS would be a market where folks only attend to buy beer and burgers. Mercifully I was not able to attend the market first before I could decide – because it was brand new. I was attracted to the market for other reasons (which I’ll discuss later) and ended up going ahead with it.
I SOLD OUT!
Practically every time!
The last market of the season, I decided to go crazy and baked 50% more goods than I normally would. We ended up selling everything with 1 hour still to spare. Amazing!
What I’ve learned: Give every market a fair chance. Don’t make assumptions based on appearances. You will probably rob yourself of an amazing food market stall experience, connections and profit.
2. High Attendance Does Not Guarantee High Sales
The higher the attendance rates of a market, the higher the sales, right? Not exactly.
High attendance rates do increase the probability of high sales, but it is NOT a guarantee!
There are so many variables to take into consideration; like the Economy, media trends (anti sugar etc.), Food Market design & layout, the Food Market’s marketing campaigns, time of the year, weather and many more. These are all factors beyond your control, yet they influence your sales drastically.
Very often, you won’t even know the impact that one of these factors can have on your food market stall until you are physically at the market.
For this reason, I’ve learned to work out the WORST case scenario beforehand and make peace with it before the market starts (my genius husband has helped me massively in this area). This also gives one the opportunity to work out an all-important BACK-UP PLAN in regards to finances and left over baked goods.
What I’ve learned: Don’t be naïve and just hope for the best. Be SOBER and PREPARED – this minimizes panic and financial losses.
3. Commitment & Repercussions
This is one of my favourite points. It is probably the FIRST thing I investigate before I agree to trade at any food market stall.
I have a life. Yes I do. I have a life, how about you?
Food market stalls can be very strenuous commitments to make. Do you have a spouse? It will undoubtedly affect them. Do you have kids? It will undoubtedly affect them.
Food markets are typically at a time that suits the general public – after hours and weekends. This means you will need to work after hours and weekends. Honestly, whether you want it to or not, it will have a significant effect on those closest to you. It might be less time to spend with them or needing their help with your food market stalls.
For this reason I prefer to do annual or monthly markets. The degree of commitment is much less and the strain on relationships is not constant, but manageable.
Under this topic, it is also good to mention that markets typically require double the amount of time between initial production and sale. Let me explain: If you bake goods for a coffee shop (for example), you only need to bake it and the “sales” part is up to the coffee shop. It’s out of your hands and you get paid immediately.
With Food Market Stalls you will typically spend a whole day baking your goods and then another whole day selling them on market day. You are now responsible for the sales department as well. If things don’t go according to plan, then you might waste the baked goods as well as the extra day you have spent trying to sell them.
On the flipside, you can charge MORE (in fact DOUBLE) for your goods at a food market because everyone knows you needed to pay for your stall. Customers are also aware that you are giving the convenience of coming to them. They didn’t have to make a special trip to your Home Bakery.
What I’ve learned: I need to consider how my food market stalls' commitment affects my closest family and friends. It is better to do a monthly or annual market because it is more sustainable on my own time, energy and relationships.
4. Have a Back-Up Plan and Be Prepared
Totally have the hyena song from Lion King in my head now! “Be prepaaaaared!”
No, but seriously, be prepared. Sometimes a food market stall pays off – BIG time! But be realistic – it probably won’t go well every single time. And that’s completely fine 🙂 Don’t be discouraged or take it personally. There are things you can put in place so that you at least don’t make a loss.
My first market fail I didn’t plan for at all. It was a random market a friend recommended to me, but it turned out to be a copycat of the ACTUAL market! The attendance was like 100 on the craft exhibition day (day 1), so my friend warned me to not bother going to the Food day (day 2).
I was mortified. I had baked 120 cupcakes. They even came out better than they ever had before. And now they had nowhere to go.
Because I had no back-up plan, I had to sell my goods at a cheaper price to friends and family. They were very sympathetic and supportive, but I felt quite sheepish about it all. It wasn’t fun.
Since then, I’ve made the decision to only sell brownies at markets, because I sell these to coffee shops as well. If I fail to sell all of them at my food market stalls, the coffee shops are more than happy to buy them from me.
Brownies also have a longer shelf life, which means the coffee shops are not getting a reduced quality product from me. This strategy has been a great safety net.
Another back-up plan that has worked really well is to have a network of loyal supporters of your Home Bakery. I’ve built up a very loyal client base that I’ve turned to a few times post market.
There was one incident where I had almost 400 BROWNIES left over (long story) and with a lot of communication and GRACE, I was blessed to sell all of them! Sell the left overs at a very special, “limited offer” price – this helps too.
5. “Increasing Brand Awareness” Doesn't Happen at Food Markets
Yes, yes. I know I'm being TOTALLY controversial here.
…Please put down your pitchfork for a second and hear me out…
Food Market organizers are good sales people. Fact. They will try to convince you that their food market is what your business has been missing! They insist that their food market will open doors for you, increase your brand awareness and client base.
This does not happen.
Don’t do a food market for marketing purposes. Do it for sales only.
This might be contrary to popular opinions, but out of the 7 different markets I’ve participated in 22 times, this “sales pitch” from market organizers has been proven to be totally void.
People attend food markets to unwind, have a good time and consume stuff. They view you as a cute shelf in a grocery store, not a service provider. Just give them what they need at that point in time – which is the super tasty brownie and a genuine smile.
They’re already buying something from you, don’t force a sales pitch for your services in their face. They don’t care. They just want the brownie, so give it to them. I’ve wasted hundreds of business cards and 20 000 kilo Watts of energy selling what food market peeps aren’t looking for.
What I’ve learned: There are other, amazing ways of increasing brand awareness for your home bakery and a food market is not the place for it. SELL YOUR PRODUCTS YOU HAVE AT THE MARKET, AND SELL THEM WELL. Make this the focus and motivation for your food market stalls.
6. The Enchantment of Novelty
It may happen that your Food Market Stalls start off with a crazy amount of sales, but as time goes by it loses its “new smell”. Your bakes might still be amazing, but they're not NEW anymore. All humans like NEW things. They carry an enchantment and excitement!
“New” is a novelty.
So, how do you combat this psychological phenomenon? YOU KEEP THINGS INTERESTING. Every time, bring an element of “new” to your Food Market Stalls.
Here's what I did:
I sold different flavours of brownies – 5 different flavours in total. But ONE of these brownie flavours was ALWAYS a surprize! It was a “limited edition” brownie. It would only be made ONCE, and sold ONLY at the market.
This added major excitement and exclusivity. It worked SO well. Because the regulars at the market always had something NEW to try.
While we are talking about Novelty, it is important to mention that the whole Food Market might lose it's “new” smell.
People are always keen to check out a new market and the Novelty stamp is ALL over it. Over time though, the attendance may decline if the Food Market organizers aren't doing anything to KEEP THINGS INTERESTING.
Food Markets (just like your stall) can seriously lose their “new” smell as well.
If you find yourself trading at such a Food Market; have a chat with the organizers. They might be open to your suggestions to create some excitement at the Food Market. Be it a live band, or a contest of some sort…
If they want to keep everything the same, it may be in your best interest to move on when attendance dries up too much.
And that is it!
I’m curious; Have you ever had a food market stall?
How did it go?
What was your biggest challenge/success/disappointment?