The real question for most California Cottage Food Operators is how and where do I sell my homemade foods? Farmer’s Markets, where people knowingly come to sample and buy food, is often the first place people plan to sell. But getting into a market is not always as “easy as pie.”
Here are some points and ideas to help…
The Markets: A list of SD County Farmer’s markets can be found here. First, decide what days and times fit your schedule. Identify the markets which fit your availability, adding at least one hour to either end of the market session to allow yourself set up, break down, and travel time. Secondly, identify markets within your travel distance. Visit them to see if vendors are already selling your type of product. Market managers usually do not like to have vendors competing with each other to sell the same or similar products.
The Fees: Each market is different and has its own fees. Vendor fees can run between $17 and $40, though the average seems to be around $25 for a spot. That amount is due whether you sell a little or a lot so be sure your products are priced competitively and you can profit enough to pay for your space.
Your Homework: Visit the website of the farmer’s market if there is one. Then check out the market in person. Look at what is for sale already. Market managers want vendors who will draw more customers or improve the market by bringing something new. When you are ready, contact the manager to see if they are open to adding a new vendor. Then set an appointment to meet. Bring pictures of your product, your set up (if possible), and samples of your food. Be ready to answer the unspoken questions, “Why should we let you sell here?” and “What makes your product special or different than similar products?” Remember, you only get one chance to make a good first impression so be as prepared and professional as possible!
Your pricing. Can you make a profit? Add the costs of travel and vendor fees. How many of your products will you need to sell in order to make a profit? Are your products priced appropriately and competitively?
Your time. There is often a lot of competition for a stall space. Once you get into a market, you need to commit to being there regularly. Can you have enough product and be there every week?
Smaller, more remote markets. New markets, smaller, or more remote markets may be easier to get into initially. They will give you opportunity to test the public’s response to your products, the chance to identify your target audience, experience promoting your business, and sales results that may help persuade larger or more popular markets to admit you.
Unique requirements: Different markets have different regulations. For instance, Imperial Beach’s Farmer’s Market requires each vendor to have a fire extinguisher due to city laws. The Horton Plaza, Coronado, and one Pacific Beach farmer’s markets do not allow packaged foods at all. Find out what your target market requires or restricts. Most of that information is in their application packet.
It may take you a few tries to find and get into the right market. Don’t despair! Keep trying. And check out our Facebook page for new markets just starting up. Selling at a Farmer’s Market is a great way to interact with the public, get feedback, orders and leads and get your products known. It’s worth the effort!