Since moving to California in 2015, I’ve been able to enjoy one of my favorite experiences more often: shopping for fresh produce and other local products at the farmers market. Both Santa Monica and El Segundo (where I’ve lived) have year-round farmers markets. While I still miss the Mirai corn as a highlight of Chicago area farmers markets, there is a much greater variety of produce in Southern California and more apparent innovation in offerings.
Farmers markets are a known source for the “Adoption” phase of the Menu Adoption Cycle model that Datassential has developed.
According to Datassential:
“Adoption-stage trends grow their base via lower price points and simpler prep methods. Still differentiated, these trends often feature premium and/or generally authentic ingredients.”
Steve Uwahori, Founder/Creator of Salsa Blue and veteran farmers market vendor provides insight into the atmosphere of the market:
“The Farmers Market is a wonderful place to introduce new products. It’s fresh produce, fresh fruit, wholesome, a very positive place to be, with people sharing their local products, and a nice breath of fresh air. I enjoy visiting different farmers markets, such as El Segundo on Thursday and Irvine on Sunday.”
Farmers markets can provide innovation “food for thought” for manufacturers who serve both retail and foodservice, and of course, for retailers and foodservice operators directly. Locally, two prepared foods product lines have caught my eye-- and my wallet!-- with their innovative approaches.
The first product is a line of locally-produced salsas called Salsa Blue. As a starting point, these salsas come in the usual varieties of mild, medium and hot. Things get a lot more interesting though with the addition of imported ghost pepper. A choice is offered ranging from 2X (with 2 grams of ghost pepper in a jar of 454 grams) to 5X, 10X,15X, 20X-- all the way up to 50X. The 50X ghost pepper has 50 grams of ghost pepper, or 11% of the salsa’s content. Just a drop of this will flavor your soups, stews or other dishes.
Salsa Blue is locally made in Anaheim, CA and distributes extensively in farmers markets. We regularly see the owner/creator, Steve Uwahori at our local El Segundo Farmers Market each week. Uwahori explains how the line of products was created as a result of customer feedback:
“It was a public request for this. It kind of snowballed, customers said, can you make it hotter? I took it as a personal challenge, to keep the great flavor and make it hot. I don’t make it in big batches. People are just amazed, they buy the 10 and 15 grams and they love the flavor. I’ve developed a formula that the flavor is still there, and that’s what makes mine special. It’s a little expensive because I do import the ghost pepper from India. Most recently, I have developed a salsa verde line that’s hot with ghost pepper. “
One Salsa Blue customer, who is a dedicated home chef, opened the lid of the 50X ghost variety and his mother (who was seated in another room) could sense it and said, “What is that?” He says what he likes is this salsa still has great flavor despite its level of heat. He reports that he is careful to just dip the tines of his fork into the jar to add flavoring.
Beyond the Olive
The second product line is a line of “Estate Grown Extra Virgin Olive Oils and Balsamic Vinegars” from Beyond the Olive. Their products are all non-GMO, artisanal and some are organic. They are well known for the single varietal olive oils and the balsamic vinegars. A sampling of reviewers on the store’s Yelp page report:
“What makes this a 5-star business is the 25-star balsamic. It's a thick, syrup like vinegar with a depth of flavor I had never known existed. Basically changed my life. I give them as Christmas and birthday gifts. People who enjoy nice things will like this.”
“I love their garlic flavored olive oil and ALL of their balsamic vinegars. Go try it, and you'll thank me. You're welcome!”
“Great selection of oils, spreads, vinegars ‘n sauces to spice up your life.”
The distribution approach is different, however. Unlike Salsa Blue, Beyond the Olive was started in a retail store in 2009. Interestingly, another nearby store, the Bee’s Knee’s Food company, carried Beyond the Olive products, along with artisanal cheese, Dean & Deluca products and wines. In 2014, the two stores (and brands) merged, as they found they were highly complimentary.
Lisa Grabow, owner of Beyond the Olive, explains the move to farmers markets, as a complement to the retail setting:
“Because farm-direct olive oil is such a superior California product, we wanted to bring it to the farmers markets, specifically to moms with kids who may not have the time to come into a store like ours and take the time to taste through all of the products. At farmers markets, kids are exposed to fresh products, gaining education and entertainment, while mom gets her shopping done. Farmers markets offer discovery, something unique, along with the basic produce and the ability to get a quick bite to eat from foodservice vendors. For me, the most exciting part is finding something new.
“We find the farmers market customers buy a different mix of products than the retail store customers. In our store, they may come in and discover a single varietal of olive oil, like Arbequina, Coratina, or Bosana, leisurely tasting numerous products to find his or her preferred flavors - buttery, peppery, bitter, grassy, etc. At the farmers market, people enjoy tasting, but decide more quickly, more often purchasing our infused oils. Our co-pressed jalapeño garlic is the best seller at the farmers market.”
Grabow explains how their product lines have also adapted to customer needs, ranging from more traditional palate preferences to more contemporary ones:
“We offer two different fig vinegars, depending on the flavor profile customers like. The original is from our Italian producer, and that one is thicker and sweeter, and aged in oak barrels. It tends to appeal more to a more traditional, older customer base. The other one is from a farmer near San Luis Obispo who is doing cool balsamics, but in stainless, not oak barrels. The California Fig is brighter and thinner and more acidic, tending to appeal to younger customers. We continue to innovate to offer products to meet customers’ tastes.”
In addition to the retail store, website and farmers markets, Beyond the Olive will also attend the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco later this year, and has expanded distribution, for instance in North Dakota, by attending the Las Vegas gift show.
Both Salsa Blue and Beyond the Olive leaders stress the careful selection of farmers markets, and not all farmers markets offer the right environment for their brands. Picking the right farmers markets is critical as is meeting customer’s needs. Food manufacturers and retailers can find innovative food for thought, not to mention a pleasant excursion, at the right local farmers markets.
Tags: Beyond the Olive, Case Study, Consumer Insights, Consumer Understanding, Datassential, Farmers Markets, Food & Nutrition, Food Marketing Trends, Innovations, Product Strategy, Salsa Blue, Strategic Innovation