Farmers’ markets are facing welcome challenges

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As EVERY retailer knows, the past four years has been pretty tough with everyone guarding the contents of their purses in the recession.

Those taking stalls at farmers’ markets have not escaped this tightening of the purse strings but Douglas Watson, the national development officer for the Scottish Farmers’ Market Partnership, said they had two plus points when it came to sales.

“People who value good food are far more conscious of its provenance nowadays,” he said. “They want to know where it is from and how it was produced. That approach has helped those at farmers’ markets.”

He added that another bonus for those selling local fresh produce was there was now far more media interest in food and cooking. From this interest there was a spin-off in that more people were prepared to buy fresh produce and go home and cook it.

“These are challenging times but both these issues have been very helpful in maintaining sales,” he said.

He said the next big challenge for those supplying produce to farmers’ markets was to try and break into the catering and hospitality food sectors while another large sector in the food industry was in public procurement, which he said had massive potential.

He admitted these options provided another layer of challenges with issues such as supply conditions and price pressure but the rewards for those who met the standards were considerable.

He was also hopeful that local food suppliers would grow into regional suppliers and their produce would then become associated with a geographical area of the country.

“When visitors come to an area of Scotland, it helps with their overall experience if they eat food produced locally,” he said. “It is an important part of creating an overall view of a part of the country.”

Watson was speaking at a conference at Birnam where 80 delegates heard Scottish cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead extol the benefits of local and regional food

Recently the Scottish Government announced a £2.5 million package which will be used to support and grow local food initiatives and Lochhead said he saw food and drink playing a key role in the economic