Farmers markets across Dorset are proving as popular as ever since re-launching following the Covid-19 lockdown.
Dorset Farmers’ Markets runs a series of markets across the county, providing farmers and food, drink and craft producers, with an opportunity to sell direct to customers. Everything on offer at the markets is produced within 30 miles.
In March, the lockdown forced the markets to temporarily close. Most are now running again on a monthly basis. Organisers say that, not only are previous shoppers returning, but the markets are attracting a surge of new customers.
Dorset Farmers’ Markets Chairman, Karen Welford, said: “Our loyal customers have come back and we’re also seeing a lot of new faces. During the pandemic, many people have sought out independent farm shops and producers and that has reminded them how good local produce is.
“As more people work from home, we’re also seeing new customers who now have more time to shop during the day and support the markets and other local retailers.
“I don’t think there’s ever going to be a better time to get people on board with buying local produce.”
Some procedures, such as one-way systems and clear signage to promote social distancing, have been put in place to ensure the markets can run as safely as possible.
“We can also offer a really safe and enjoyable shopping experience, out in the open air,” explains Karen. “It’s a safer environment and it’s reminded many people of how they used to shop.”
Dorset Farmers’ Markets lost some of its longstanding stallholders during the pandemic, due to some businesses closing, diversifying, or finding new ways to sell their produce. However, a new partnership with Dorset Food and Drink, has helped to attract a number of new farmers and producers, broadening the range of goods on offer.
One new stallholder is Ros Nelmes of award-winning Dorchester-based Fordington Gin. In addition to selling online and through wholesalers, the business usually attends a number of events and shows over the year. The cancellation of such events was one reason for Ros to start selling through Dorset Farmers’ Markets. “We are trading well at the markets,” she says, “but it is not just about sales. It’s about keeping the brand alive and meeting customers face to face. The markets are working well for us and I see this as a long-term relationship. I’m a huge believer in developing customer loyalty and it’s clear that the markets have built up a strong local following.”
Fussels Fine Foods has been trading at the markets in Sherborne and Wimborne for around eight years. The farm diversification business creates single cold pressed extra virgin rapeseed oil and a range of dressings and sauces. Operations Manager, Andrew Bowles Barrett, says: “Selling direct to customers at the markets gives us the chance to share our enthusiasm for the products we make and the history and ethos of Fussels Fine Foods.
“We are very pleased to be back. Dorset Farmers’ Markets have worked really hard to make the markets as safe as possible for traders and customers. We’ve made some of our own adjustments too, such as having a bigger stand to enable social distancing and moving to card payments, and we’ve had a really positive response.
“You build up a rapport with regular customers so it’s great to see them again. We have also noticed many new faces since the markets have relaunched. We are selling more through the markets and our website sales have more than doubled since the start of the pandemic. Shopping habits do seem to be changing and we are seeing more interest from people who want to buy local.”
Cornish Mutual insures Dorset Farmers’ Markets and has sponsored the organisation since 2019. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the South West insurer extended its support to help the organisation survive the crisis.
“We would have gone under without Cornish Mutual’s support,” says Karen. “They have helped us in so many ways, including enabling us to waive our stallholders’ membership fees, which really softened the blow for those whose businesses were struggling. They have also saved us time and money by providing us with information and practical advice so we could relaunch safely and successfully promote the markets.
“What Cornish Mutual have done for us has been profound. It’s made a huge difference.”
Cornish Mutual Field Force, Nick Bunting, lives in Dorset and advises farmers and farm businesses in the county on their insurance needs. He said: “Sponsoring Dorset Farmers’ Markets is a great way for us to support them, as well as the wider rural community.
“It’s really good to see the markets up and running again. In recent months, we’ve seen people rediscovering the value of shopping locally, which is benefiting many of our Members. I hope that enthusiasm continues and that people will keep supporting the wonderful food producers on their doorstep.”