The Farmer in the Deli

Janet Zeller of the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op and I recently led a workshop at the Ecological Farming Conference in California. During the session she described many of the wonderful consumer educational programs the co-op has put together over the past few years.

Examples of programs included a Friday night video event to show speaker clips from the Bioneers conference; retail/farmer/wholesaler meetings; and a variety of different grower demos. All of these have further solidified the co-op’s place in the community as an educational resource. In this vein of education, Janet mentioned many key points to the co-op’s success.

Here are a few pointers that can benefit any co-op that wants to build its own education efforts around grower demos:

  • Listen to what your customers want.
  • Take advantage of the resources and experts available to you.
  • Don’t try to do everything at once.
  • Gather your allies.
  • Start with a strong plan.

Are you ready to move to the next level and start holding your own events in your produce department? If you are, here is a timeline that I found helpful when planning demos and tasting fairs for the produce department.

At six to eight weeks out

  • Brainstorm with your crew–their buy-in is essential to the success of the event.
  • Pick a product or farmer to work with.
  • Know your customer base and think about their buying habits.
  • Consider seasonality–what’s in season locally and nationally.
  • Research availability of partners.
  • Talk with farmers/wholesalers about the chosen item and their ability to do or help with demos.
  • Recruit knowledgeable and passionate staff members to assist the presentation to customers.
  • Choose a date and time–review the store calendar.
  • Coordinate with other departments for cross merchandising opportunities.
  • Choose an appropriate area in the store to hold the event–high traffic, easy access, etc.

At five weeks out

  • Confirm items for demo and advertising.
  • Confirm item quantities with farmer/wholesaler (20 cases or two pallets).
  • Check in with store demo partners.
  • Call fruit or vegetable commissions to send promotional material.

At four weeks out

  • Submit a feature story on the demo and farm or item to the in-store newsletter and/or a sales ad (this timing will vary with each store).
  • Ask farmer or wholesaler whether they can provide POP material for demo. Examples: photos or articles about farm, recipes.

At two weeks out

  • Reconfirm items and quantities with supplier (this can be affected by weather or unforeseen events).
  • Meet in-store partners to discuss logistics of cross merchandising.
  • Check on POP materials; call if you haven’t received them.
  • Schedule needed staff.
  • Have someone review information on the farm and demo items for accuracy.

At one week out

  • Review in-store display area to generate sales; change as necessary.
  • Hand out/bag stuff newsletter to generate customer and staff excitement.
  • Check with in-store partners.
  • Put up POP material.
  • Create handouts from articles and photos.
  • Coordinate delivery of product one to two days prior to provide enough time for display set.

On D-Day

  • Set up display area.
  • Meet with demo persons.
  • Coordinate sampling.
  • Review checklist.
  • Most importantly, have fun with your customers!


  • Tables with nice tablecloths
  • Plates, cups, and utensils for sampling
  • Cutting board and hotplate if necessary
  • Knife
  • Aprons and festive attire
  • POP materials
  • Handouts/recipes
  • Positive attitude

This should get you started. You can adjust this to fit your store’s particular needs as you pull your own event together. Let me know how yours turns out. Good luck!

Useful websites

Washington Apple Commission:

California Artichoke Advisory Board:

California Avocado Commission:

Northwest Cherries:

TexaSweet Citrus Marketing Inc:

Sunkist Growers Inc.:

California Table Grape Commission:

Idaho Potato Commission:

California Tree Fruit Agreement:

Produce Marketing Association: Produce industry website. Free information on 5-a-Day program, all kinds of industry news. These websites offer crop and variety information, marketing materials, history, recipes, nutritional information, and often-free POP material.

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