There is a growing demand among SNAP recipients to use their benefits to buy direct from local farmers. SNAP is the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” formerly food stamps. SNAP redemptions at Oregon Farmers’ Markets & Direct Market Farms increased by 29.8% between 2011 and 2013.
However, SNAP redemptions at farmers’ markets and other farm direct venues represent a mere 0.06% of total SNAP sales for the state. The majority of SNAP benefits are redeemed at supermarkets/supercenters. This is not surprising and mirrors buying habits for the general population: farm-direct sales account for less than 1% of all farm gate sales.
However, increasing the amount of SNAP benefits redeemed at farmers’ markets & other farm direct venues will yield several benefits to communities, including increased access for SNAP recipients to healthy, local, and seasonal foods and increased sales for local farmers. SNAP can also spur local economic development: research from Moody’s Analytics suggests that every additional dollar of SNAP benefits generates $1.73 in economic stimulus, creating a “ripple effect through the economy.”
Who is your typical SNAP shopper? What are their challenges and needs? How do you best respond to them? How do you keep them coming back to your booth or farm stand again and again?
SNAP shoppers cite the following challenges related to shopping at farmers’ markets and farm stands:
- Higher prices (or a perception of higher prices) and a lack of discount pricing
- Inconvenient market hours
- Lack of cooking skills or kitchen facilities
- High perishability of fresh fruits and vegetables
- Inadequate or inappropriate storage facilities at home
- Lack of time
- Lack of transportation
- Market shopping experience too “complex” or “unwelcoming,” including language barriers, lack of culturally appropriate market mix, and other factors.
Many individuals, groups, organizations, policies, and procedures are working to solve these problems – it’s not just up to farmers. Yet farmers can use a variety of strategies to increase their SNAP sales this market season. This list will get you started.
10 Tips & Strategies to Increase SNAP Sales
- Location, Location, Location! Participate in farmers’ markets where SNAP shoppers shop: you can find out from market managers.
- Post “welcome” signs at your booth: SNAP Shoppers Welcome! Market Managers do post SNAP signs at the farmers’ market, and SNAP shoppers can shop at most booths. However, don’t assume that shoppers will automatically come to your booth.
- Personally welcome people into your booth. Engage shoppers and develop relationships that will keep them coming back. (This will help with all your customers, not just SNAP shoppers.)
- Encourage cost-conscious shoppers to purchase lower-cost, in-season fruits & vegetables to “stretch” their food resources. Also:
- Sell products in simple price units, such as per item, or 5 for a $1, and label everything clearly;
- Adopt the "Baker’s Dozen" concept. This relationship-building opportunity “pays it forward” in ways above and beyond sending excess produce to the food pantry at the end of the market day (which is also a good practice);
- Encourage food preservation efforts, like freezing and drying, by offering volume discounts. The OSU Extension Service website provides links to resources on current food preservation & safety practices
- Partner with market managers. Develop on-site marketing programs, expand community outreach efforts, collaborate on social media, deliver incentive programs, etc. Growing SNAP sales is a team effort!
- Offer seasonal food demos and food tasting at the booth, along with the recipes. Food draws shoppers to you and introduces them to “new” foods. Sell some inexpensive sample packs that allow shoppers to have a new “taste adventure” and provide recipes. You can find many recipes that are family-friendly and easy on the budget from Food Hero, a project of OSU’s Extension Family and Community Health Program.
- Have information available regarding proper handling and storage of fruit and vegetables. The OSU Extension Service provides links to resources on food handling and storage and tips for buying, storing, and preparing Oregon-grown produce. Zenger Farm has also created a handout titled “Keeping your produce safe to eat” that you can make available to shoppers at your booth
- Organize produce in a “new” way. Many shoppers, SNAP and non-SNAP alike, are focused on the immediate “what’s in it for me now,” rather than the future when shopping for food ingredients. With that in mind, try displaying your produce in “alternative” categories, such as “Fast cooking,” “Microwave friendly,” “Portable,” “Eat raw or cooked,” or “Easy addition to soups and stews.
- Does your farm offer a SNAP CSA? For more information regarding how to set up a SNAP CSA download “A Training Guide for Farmers, developed by Zenger Farms. Have you thought about using the farmers’ market as a pick-up site? Consult your market manager about this.
- Toot your horn! Promote yourself and your products. Do some of your own community outreach. Sites to consider include health clinics, community centers, schools, food pantries, and low-income housing sites. Contact your local OSU Extension office for help getting started.
Thanks to the following people who contributed to this list: Maureen Quinn, OSU Extension Service, Family Community Health, Washington County; Kristin Frost-Albrecht, OSU Extension Service Family Community Health, Clatsop County; Kathleen Finneran, OSU Department of Anthropology; Sarah Broderick, Farmers’ Market Manager, Zenger Farm; Suzanne Briggs, Collaboration.