Farmers’ Markets Go Virtual

Jul 08, 2009

By Bernice
, Contributing Editor, RetailWire

If convenience really is the most important criteria for
a good shopping experience, we would all do it online. There
are times, though, when information takes precedence. Consumers
want to know what they’re putting in their baskets. But those consumers who
enjoy buying products directly from producers, for example at farmers’ markets,
don’t always have the time. Or the access to products sold at markets not
quite on their doorsteps. So what’s a shopper to do?

Several models
offer alternative solutions. In the U.K., Marcus Carter has started a
Virtual Farmers’ Market (,
currently hosted by Second Life. Its own 3D platform is under development
with Digital Presence, specialists in public information, advertising
and display technology. At, shoppers can browse and chat with
stallholders, placing orders with each one individually and waiting comfortably
at home for deliveries.

As with Second
Life’s other activities, customers create customized avatars that meander
through the aisles, stopping to inspect whenever something grabs their
attention. Video footage of producers can be accessed as well as sending
avatars to sit in a theatre where the producers give talks.

Mr. Carter
stressed, “Customers can enjoy a feeling of connection to the producer,
learn more about their products, have a chat to other customers, share
recipes and experiences…..the fun you can have whilst at the market is
endless…You can simply come to hang out at the café or shop ‘til you
drop….without the sore feet!”

One American
offering (
is based in Maine and takes orders four days a week. Customers shop and
make their selections online but collect their orders in Farmington’s
real world market. Stallholder Angelo Pirri sells milk, cheese and yogurt
made from his family’s goatherd. In his view, “It is the future for farmers’
markets…the start of something really big.” Denis Wilks of King & I
Angus is also happy, having started to recognize repeat customers and
developing plans to increase production.

Run by the
nonprofit Western Mountains Alliance, trading started in April and is
modeled on one in Plymouth, N.H. Although only one market is currently
participating, others may join and more collection points added if early
success continues.

Questions: How big an opportunity are online virtual markets for farmers’
markets? Does this add competition or create opportunities for food

commentary] I’ve known Marcus and his family for almost fifteen years
through their main business, Patchwork Pâtés, which I love and highly
recommend to anyone visiting England (or Wales, where they are based
I am not a big fan of Second Life, however, and will await VFM’s planned
independence and order consolidation system before entering.

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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6 Comments on "Farmers’ Markets Go Virtual"

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Dan Raftery
12 years 10 months ago

One of the limitations of farmers’ markets is geographic pull–for both customers and farmers. A virtual option would certainly overcome this. However, highly perishable items would not be appealing to shoppers who need to see, touch and smell their produce before they buy it. Great way to get Vermont maple syrup in Seattle, though.

Ralph Jacobson
12 years 10 months ago

There is no reason retailers should feel any competition from these virtual markets. The retailers should be hosting them themselves. There are a ton of discussions in several media outlets, including Twitter, where I get daily messages from retailers, farmers, Ag orgs and consumer advocates on this topic. It’s time for more retailers, like Whole Foods and others, to join the fray online. If you haven’t dived in yet yourself, you should give it 30 minutes of your time to see what’s happening.

George Anderson
George Anderson
12 years 10 months ago

If grocers are not paying attention to farmers’ markets as competition, they ought to. The appeal of markets has continued to grow with more opening in states across the nation as they address a number of consumer wants including buying locally, freshness, food safety and price. By expanding their reach online, these markets will only serve to further improve their competitive position. Grocers should be looking, as already suggested, to coop these events. Who at this time can afford to lose even a half a percentage point in important categories such as produce and meat?

Carol Spieckerman
Carol Spieckerman
12 years 10 months ago

I completely agree with Ralph. Virtually hosting farmers’ markets would give retailers huge authenticity points with shoppers in these days of sourcing transparency. I also see potential for retailers to leverage such a platform to tap into the slow and localization food movements.

Marge Laney
12 years 10 months ago

I’m all about local farmers markets and will drive just about anywhere in the greater Houston area for the chance to buy fresh. I also frequent the local grocers searching for the best offerings, but am often disappointed. I just logged on to–everything was SOLD OUT! Obviously there is a tremendous opportunity here, but the product must deliver as advertised; wholesome and fresh. I love the idea of being able to chat directly with producers as well.

Craig Sundstrom
12 years 10 months ago

So much of buying produce–wherever that might be–is in the touching, holding and otherwise inspecting of individual items that I can’t really see this taking off; dairy products, and other relatively homogeneous items might work better, but what about the all-important tasting? You can’t do that through the ‘net…yet! (Full Disclosure notice: I still have a rotary phone at home, so my appreciation of technology may be suspect.)


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