The Vegetable Business

Some interesting take-aways from a talk by Roland Fusami, Senior Analyst for RaboResearch Food and Agribusiness, from Vegetable Grower magazine.

–Convenience is just as important to shoppers as taste and affordability. This explains things such as bagged salads and Brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes in ready to microwave bags. “Half of all eating occasions are considered snacks.” (!!) “People want more convenience in products, but we’re supposed to use less packaging because it can cause issues with the environment.”

–Only 19.7% of Millennial food purchases are at traditional retailers (versus 42% by GenX, 54% by Boomers, and 55% by the Silent Generation).

–Online food and beverage sales will grow dramatically, in a short period of time.

–The biggest supply side challenge is the labor shortage. “Even the best immigration policy will still only solve this challenge marginally in the long run.” As the Mexican economy continues to grow and improve, fewer Mexicans will come to the U.S. to pick vegetables. “Long-term, technology is our only viable solution.”

Some things we’re observing in our community:

–Farmer’s market sales and traffic are dropping. The older people who used to come and buy produce by the bushel (for canning, for example) aren’t coming any more. Many of the 20-somethings who used to do their grocery shopping at the farmer’s market aren’t either (perhaps because the trendiness has faded). Instead of buying the ingredients for a weeks’ worth of meals, many folks now just buy one or two items–a tomato or two, for example.

–Despite the push to encourage people use their SNAP benefits (food stamps) at the farmer’s market, sales are minuscule. At our market benefits are doubled. It’s the best deal in town. Yet very few people take advantage of it.

–Convenience does seem to be the number one factor, rather than taste or price. Foods that require effort to process/prepare don’t sell as well as foods that don’t. Offering to deliver the food to the customers’ homes can increase sales.

–Food prices are dropping so low that it’s hard to compete for the price-sensitive shopper. Aldi now sells eggs for less than fifty cents per dozen. Ours are $5/dozen. Aldi has also increased its organic inventory. Lidl will be opening here soon and I’m told that their prices are even lower than Aldi’s.

None of that is particularly discouraging as long as you’re not trying to make a living growing vegetables on a small scale. It’s a great time to be a homesteader. That will hopefully always be true.


26 comments on “The Vegetable Business

  1. shoreacres says:

    I’ve never heard the expression “silent generation,” so I looked it up. This is typical of what I found:

    “The Silent Generation grew up as the suffocated children of war and depression. They came of age too late to be war heroes and too early to be youthful free spirits. Instead, this early-marrying Lonely Crowd became the risk-averse technicians and professionals of a post-crisis era in which conformity seemed to be a sure ticket to success.Midlife was an anxious “passage” for a generation torn between stolid elders and passionate juniors.”

    That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. I’m sure some marketing genius came up with that, or some academic sociologists who couldn’t change their own tire if they had to.


    Liked by 2 people

  2. Joanna says:

    Was there any comment on box deliveries and CSA’s? The list only seems to suggest that home deliveries are a potential market, rather than a known factor. I wonder how this differs from Europe too. How does your farmers’ market compare? Is the traffic decreasing and are you seeing the same trends? I also wonder how much of it is due to not creating a social atmosphere and a sense of a day out? Too many questions I think 😀


    • Bill says:

      The percentage of customers who shopped at farmer’s markets was pretty consistent across the age ranges. App. 7% if I recall correctly.

      The comment about home delivery was my observation, not from the article. We do it on a limited basis for good customers who place large orders. The comment about decreasing traffic at the farmers market was my observation too. Fewer shoppers this year and it seems that many of the people who come just come for the atmosphere, not to buy groceries for the week.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Laurie Graves says:

    The CSA of our own Farmer Kev comes with delivery, and I have to admit it is very, very convenient. We would happily go fetch it at his farm, but Clif is retired and my schedule is flexible. For working folks with a traditional job, I’m sure the convenience feels like a blessing. One less thing they have to worry about.


    • Bill says:

      We do nearly all of our deliveries to a drop point, which we try to make convenient. As you suggest, many people just don’t have the time or energy (or desire) to get up early on Saturday and go to the farmers market. We try to help by taking pre-orders and holding them (so folks don’t have to get there so early) and by doing drops mid-week. I think people are willing to pay more for convenience, than for any other quality.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. thesnowwoman says:

    Eggs .50 cents a dozen! How bad were those poor chickens treated? I went to the grocery yesterday and there was an excess amount of food there with clearance stickers on it because it was past it’s prime. There is always some, but there was a huge amount. Some of which I bought to use for last nights dinner because I didn’t want it to be wasted. There were large boxes of plum tomatoes for $7 because they were going soft, the produce guy was picking out the bad ones and making the boxes better. I went back a couple times but left as I knew I wouldn’t have time to can them. I may go back today and see if they are still there and can some tomato sauce.


    • Bill says:

      Incredible isn’t it? They’re actually LESS than fifty cents a dozen and my understanding is that they’ll be even cheaper at Lidl, which is opening here soon.

      Grocery stores waste lots of perfectly good food. I’ve seen that are some good initiatives these days to try to reduce that kind of waste.


  5. NebraskaDave says:

    Bill, supposedly I live in a city that has a very high number of restaurants per capita in the nation. It seemed foreign to me to hear my co workers talk about where they would be eating dinner with the wife or family on a daily basis. I just couldn’t understand why anyone would want to do that. Coming from a farm background where Mom always made the meals, I just thought that’s what everyone did. That was back in the early 80s. Today it’s even worse with drive through s encouraging picking up dinner on the way home from work. I understand the time issue but folks have come to rely on it and has become the normal and not special to eat at a restaurant. I still try to eat at home as much as I can. I would say that I eat at home maybe 90 percent of the time. With the garden in full harvest mode, I am eating better this month. Stir fries are my friend with onion, eggplant, tomatoes, green peppers, and whatever else is ripe at the time. I don’t see that it’s going to change any time soon.

    Have a great day in the garden and at the market.


    • Bill says:

      Last year, for the first time in history, Americans spent more on food consumed away from home than on food consumed at home. And the gap continues to widen. It’s more convenient to have someone else cook the food, serve it to you, do the dishes, etc.


  6. BeeHappee says:

    Interesting, but not surprising. I am not seeing a drop off at farmer market here, of course I have no data to compare, but if I do not get to it early, things sell out, by 10 or 11 all the eggs and meat are gone, and often, I call the farmer in advance to reserve my share for pick up.

    Farmers markets around here had done a great job to attract people with activities, there is always of course live local music, and there are activities for kids, pony rides, bean bags, then they organize seed swaps, information sessions on all growing things, and they feature a farm or a product, or a veggie each week at the market, it is a lot of fun, and most people know each other, and growers. When our local growers faced a devastating hail storm damage this summer, there were so many hugs at the market, you would not believe it, and so many donations! I go to my farmers market to literally refill my cup, for the soul, for the people. Food is only secondary.

    I was picking some free apples this older couple was giving away, for free. Even for free, they did not have too many people show up and pick them off. But the lady was cooking a roast in the oven, and was telling me how her grown grandchildren work so hard that their kids (great-grandchildren) eat fast food all the time… So she makes them homemade dinner when they come over. But, they do not have time to even come over often (5 miles), she said with sadness in her voice. And she was so so thankful that I took an hour to sit on her porch and just listen to her. It does make me sad that we had done this to ourselves as human race, that we “do not have time” to just be with ourselves and with each other.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      I’m glad there are people like you in the world.

      Socioeconomics may be a factor. We don’t live in an affluent community. Most of our shoppers are blue collar.

      We’re fortunate to have a loyal customer base and we usually sell out. Whatever we don’t sell we give to the food bank, who has a station at the market. But traffic is down this year and it’s very difficult to small farmers to compete with grocery store prices.

      Liked by 1 person

      • BeeHappee says:

        Well, you are being too kind, Bill, thanks! I am glad there are people like you and Cherie in the world. 🙂

        They had vegetable stamping activities for kids today at our farmers market! There is always something fun going on. There are always barefooted farmer kids running around, and flowers, fresh bakeries, and music and bustling with people. I love it. I used to sell strawberries with my dad as a kid at a market, and markets grew on me. 🙂
        We also have a community garden in town that does a lot of activities, free lectures by master gardeners, a veggie box of the surplus is usually there for taking.

        We do not have Aldi or Lidl here out west. If I buy “organic” ground beef at Walmart, it is the same price as ground beef from my local rancher here, and the local beef tastes 100 times better, leaner and just out of this world. And the lady always adds something else to the order, some gift shakers of salts and spices she makes from her garden, she remember my name! And I know exactly which pasture those cows graze on. Why would anyone in their sane mind would then buy at Walmart?
        Prices at Whole Foods or Sprouts are comparable or higher than farmers market, and I do not trust them on ‘organics’ for a second. We do spend a lot on food, but I view it as an investment in most important thing we have, health.

        Sorry to hear your traffic is down. How big is your town/community? Could it be that more people are getting CSA shares or something else, or you think it is Aldi and Lidl competition? Do they even sell fresh produce?

        When Lidl came to Lithuania last summer, people stood in line outside the door for 2 hours just to get in. . . Prices there are still relatively high in the stores in relation to the salaries, but sadly these supermarkets are starting to push out small farmers and even small gardeners as well.


  7. Sorry Bill, just sounds like an(other): excuse for putting tasteless crap on the market. As to these prices you mention, well it must be a warmer climate thing, ’cause it sure isn’t happening up here, that’s for sure!!!


    • Bill says:

      The lower prices are being driven, I think, by the German companies Aldi and Lidl. Their operations are streamlined and efficient. When we go to a grocery store, we go to Aldi. They’re putting a lot of pressure on other grocery store chains. If they make to your area you’ll probably see some downward pressure on prices.


  8. I read this with interest, and then I realized that I am now one of the old ladies that cans and freezes my vegetable harvest. Thanks a lot! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Zambian Lady says:

    I have only gone shopping to one farmers’ market here in the States, but the prices were exorbitant (for me) and I only bought biscuits and went to Giant store to buy groceries. However, when I lived in one north European country, I used to buy all my produce and fish from a farmers’ market. As you guessed, the prices were very pocket friendly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      It is very difficult for small local farmers to compete with grocery store prices. And here we don’t have a large population of affluent people willing to pay much higher prices for produce.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I love growing my own produce and canning and doing other forms of food preservation. But, that being said, I can tell I’m an exception, just by driving around the small city we have moved to. Many yards are not even full of grass and flowers, much less vegetables.

    We do love to drive out to farm stands that are liberally sprinkled around the countryside, and a couple of days ago my husband took our nephew apple picking at a u-pick farm, after trying 3 different places for the variety I wanted for applesauce (Gravenstein). I guess the crop is short this year. We find that the farm stands and u-pick farms are much less expensive than the farmer’s markets around here. The few times I’ve gone, the prices were much more than I was expecting. I love the atmosphere, though, and we did wander around one in a town at the beach last month. I bought a couple of herb plants, some candied nuts, and a geranium. We were on vacation, and were having fun, so I didn’t pay much attention to prices.

    So, having been raised in a farming family, and still have family members who farm, I feel for the farmers and know firsthand that they deserve every single cent they get. I have done my share of 16 hour days, for sure. On the flip side, people have to make hard choices when feeding their families and sometimes cannot afford more expensive food, even if it is much better quality. I personally have struggled with the choice between quantity and quality at times in my life. In the past, I have also volunteered at a facility that gleaned food and gave it out to those who could use it. Many used it and did great with it, but I did notice that there was a certain group of people who did not even know what to do with produce, even if it was free. It was a real eye-opener.

    I have also seen that others on the web get eggs for 29c, or 49c, etc. I think there is a price war where they live. I wonder if the store is taking a loss. Ours don’t go below 99c around here, and that is an exceptional price for here. When we raised our own eggs, my husband often said that it would be cheaper for me to buy eggs, but we chose to raise them for the difference in quality. It was worth it to us. Now, we have no place to raise chickens, as I am choosing to use most of my back yard for a garden. He also grew much of our own meat for the same reason, and cannot anymore–yup–same reason.

    So, we do what we can and make the best of where we are planted.


    • Bill says:

      It would definitely be cheaper for us to buy eggs than to raise our own hens. But the difference is taste and quality is very noticeable once you get used to it. I enjoy growing food and growing and preserving our own food is satisfying to us. So I plan to continue doing it as long as I’m able. 🙂

      Good for you for keeping a garden even if chickens and meat animals aren’t possible. I’m encouraged by people like you who grow as much food as they can, whether they live in a rural area or an urban area.


  11. Just got back from backpacking, Bill, where food is the ultimate in convenience: Just add boiling water to the freeze-dried food and let sit for 10 minutes. 🙂 I was ever so glad to get back to the real stuff. Eggs and $5 per dozen? Bring them on! –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

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