The COVID-19 pandemic has left supermarkets reeling from lack of supply and supply chain disruptions, pushing consumers to explore new markets and develop new food buying habits.
A survey by the USDA, Colorado State University, Penn State University and the University of Kentucky found that farmers’ markets and direct farmer sales are likely to benefit from the change in consumer behavior.
Thirty-five percent of survey respondents said they bought food from at least one new food store during the pandemic. Of these, 6% were purchased at farmers’ markets, directly from producers and from community-supported agricultural businesses.
An additional 17% of respondents purchased food from a combination of farmers’ markets, ASCs, direct sales, craft markets, local restaurants, and food boxes.
The study also found that 31% of consumers who started buying food at farmers’ markets during the pandemic continued to do so, as well as 34% of consumers who bought from ASCs and direct sales.
“We tend to see American consumers forming habits,” said Dawn Thilmany, professor and outreach coordinator at Colorado State University College of Agricultural Sciences and co-lead of the survey. “But (the pandemic) has caused many households to try new strategies for purchasing food, many of them to support local farms and businesses.”
Kim Hutchinson, executive director of the Virginia Farmers Market Association, noted that some of the organization’s 350 affiliated markets saw a 400% increase in business during the height of the pandemic.
Good prospects for farmers’ markets
Farmers ‘markets were initially deemed non-essential by Gov. Ralph Northam’s statewide shutdown of businesses in March 2020. But Virginia Farmers’ Markets have rallied, implementing and following protocols strict security to reopen safely.
“Many of our markets have incurred infrastructure costs to be able to meet the security requirements to reopen,” Hutchinson said. “And now that our farmers’ markets have made these investments and seen an increase in their ability to sell and control their markets, they will continue to use these mechanisms to increase sales. “
To meet the growing demand for locally produced food during the pandemic, farmers and other vendors have expanded their offerings so that customers have regular access to popular food items. Vendors are now stocking larger quantities of beef, dairy, eggs and poultry, and Hutchinson said many are stocking end-of-season produce to extend product seasonality.
Additionally, many vendors have strengthened their online presence to connect with customers and provide up-to-date inventories, which has helped position agricultural markets as reliable food hubs.
“This pandemic has shown that farmers’ markets are creative, flexible and essential, and I don’t think we’ll ever go back to where markets were before. Hutchinson said. “What COVID-19 has done for farmers’ markets is that it has shown that we all want to provide access to local food, make sure our communities have healthy food and support our farmers, which I could not be prouder. “