The number of FMs in the United States increased dramatically from 1775 in 1994 to 7751 in 2011 with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) providing support such as funding to promote the establishment of more FMs (AMS/USDA, 2011a, 2011b). The increased number of FMs and USDA funding support reflect society’s demand for the services that FMs provide (Alonso and O'Neill, 2010). FMs provide an opportunity for growers, particularly small- and midsized growers, to sell their products for a retail price, thereby serving as another source of farm income. They provide consumers with alternative ways to access fresh, locally grown, and/or organic food. FMs’ social functions also distinguish them from traditional food sales venues. In addition, FMs help revitalize the local economy by generating local business opportunities and are an integral link between the rural and urban areas (AMS/USDA, 2011c; Hunt, 2007).
The prevalence of FMs across the United States provides opportunities for local farmers to expand their businesses in response to increasing consumer demand. Unfortunately, some vendors may take unfair advantage of consumer perception that most foods sold in FMs are locally grown, fresh, grown by farmers themselves, or organically produced (Kremen et al., 2003). Unscrupulous vendors may provide misleading or inaccurate information to sell products that do not meet consumer perception about what is being bought at FMs. In 2010, there were several instances in southern California where some FM vendors repacked wholesale produce and sold the produce as grown by themselves (Grover and Goldberg, 2010; Karp, 2010). Some of those products were imported from Mexico. In addition, some large growers were selling their products at FMs, which contradicts the perception that most FM growers are small- and midsized operations.
Most FMs have strict regulations to prevent the resale of products and will penalize vendors who mislabel or make misleading statements about their products. However, the key product characteristics (e.g., locally grown, grown by vendor, from small farm) that attract consumers to FMs are credence attributes that are not observable to most consumers (Darby and Karni, 1973; Nelson, 1970). [Product attributes can be classified as search, experience, and credence attributes. Search attributes are those that can be observed before purchase (e.g., shape, color); experience attributes are those that can only be observed after purchase (e.g., taste); and credence attributes are those that cannot be observed either before or after purchase (e.g., locally produced, organically produced).] One way to correct this situation is for FM vendors to provide information about their products (e.g., having signs stating that the products for sale are organic). However, investigating potential violations and verifying information provided by the vendors are both time-consuming and costly. For instance, in 2010, 75 famers at 30 FMs in the Los Angeles area were found to have violated FM regulations; inspecting ≈700 vendors at FMs in Los Angeles County that year cost $147,000 for ≈2,050 inspection hours (Barrett, 2011).
For FM managers and honest vendors who strictly follow the rules, one of the most important concerns is the impact of dishonest sales practices on consumer shopping behavior. Will the undesirable practices by some FM vendors turn consumers away totally from the FMs where those vendors sell? Which types of consumers are more likely to change their behavior if they find out that products sold by some vendors do not meet their expectations? Much of the research on FMs has focused on FM consumer profiles (Wolf, 1997; Wolf et al., 2005), the reasons why consumers go to FMs (Feagan and Morris, 2009), consumer demand for FMs (Alonso and O'Neill, 2010), and consumer expectations about FM products (Andreatta and Wickliffe, 2002; Trobe, 2001). Research has also been conducted to determine the nature of the interaction between FM consumers and vendors as well as the factors that affect the development of FMs (Hofmann et al., 2009; Hunt, 2007). Brown (2001) presented a detailed review of the history, definition, and classification of FMs. In addition, Brown (2002) gave a comprehensive review of FM research from 1940 to 2000 that called for more research about the social and non-economic aspects of FMs. To our knowledge, little research has investigated consumer knowledge of and response to cheating, false claims, and other dishonest sales practices at FMs. With the rapid growth of FMs, chances increase that dishonest vendors will sell at FMs to obtain an additional source of income. Consumer responses to these changes in the composition of vendors at FMs will play important roles in the future development of FMs across the United States.
This study examined consumers’ perception of the characteristics of produce sold at three FMs in Florida. The characteristics of interest are credence attributes such as the freshness of the product or whether the product is locally grown. The relationship between the consumers’ perception of these attributes and persistence of shopping at FMs, or loyalty to FMs, was also examined. Both customers and managers of three FMs were included in the study. This permitted the researchers to compare actual credence attributes of products sold at the FMs, as reported by the market managers, with customers’ perception with regard to the same credence attributes.
Alonso, A.D. & O'Neill, M.A. 2010 A comparative study of farmers' markets visitors' needs and wants: The case of Alabama Intl. J. Consum. Stud. 35 290 299
AMS/USDA 2011a Farmers market growth. Farmers markets and local food marketing. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC. <http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/ams.fetchTemplateData.do?template=TemplateS&leftNav=WholesaleandFarmersMarkets&page=WFMFarmersMarketGrowth&description=Farmers%20Market%20Growth&acct=frmrdirmkt>
AMS/USDA 2011b Farmers’ markets and local food marketing. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC. <http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/ams.fetchTemplateData.do?template=TemplateA&navID=WholesaleandFarmersMarkets&page=WholesaleAndFarmersMarkets&resultType=&topNav=&leftNav=WholesaleandFarmersMarkets&acct=whlsldirmkt>
AMS/USDA 2011c Farmers market services. Farmers markets and local food marketing. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC. <http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5080175&acct=frmrdirmkt>
Andreatta, S. & Wickliffe, W. 2002 Managing farmer and consumer expectations: A study of a North Carolina farmers market Hum. Organ. 61 167 176
Barrett, B. 2011 L.A. farmers markets exposed—Often, produce sold at stalls isn't organic, grown by small farms—Or even spray-free. LA Weekly–News. LA Weekly, Culver City, CA. <http://www.laweekly.com/2011-11-10/news/l-a-farmers-markets-exposed/4/>
Feagan, R.B. & Morris, D. 2009 Consumer quest for embeddedness: A case study of the Brantford farmers’ market Intl. J. Consum. Stud. 33 235 243
Govindasamy, R., Italia, J. & Adelaja, A. 2002 Farmers markets: Consumer trends, preferences, and characteristics. Journal of Extension 40(1). <http://www.joe.org/joe/2002february/rb6.php>
Grover, J. & Goldberg, M. 2010 False claims, lies caught on tape at farmers markets—An NBCLA investigation exposes vendors at multiple farmers markets. NBC Southern California. NBC Universal, Inc. <http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/Hidden-Camera-Investigation-Farmers-Markets-103577594.html>
Karp, D. 2010 Cheating scandal rocks farmers market: Was Mexican produce passed off as locally grown? Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA. <http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2010/11/cheating-scandal-rocks-farmers-market-was-mexican-produce-passed-off-as-locally-grown.html>
Kezis, A., Gwebu, T., Peavey, S. & Cheng, H.T. 1998 A study of consumers at a small farmers’ market in Maine: Results from a 1995 survey Journal of Food Distribution Research 29 91 99
Kremen, A., Greene, C. & Hanson, J. 2003 Organic produce, price premiums, and eco-labeling in US farmers’ markets. Electronic report from the Economic Research Service, USDA. Retrieved January 17:2005–2005
U.S. Census Bureau 2011 Demographic information of Florida residence. <http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/12000.html>
Wolf, M.M., Spittler, A. & Ahern, J. 2005 A profile of farmers’ market consumers and the perceived advantages of produce sold at farmers’ markets Journal of Food Distribution Research 36 192 201
Wolf, M.M.G. 1997 A target consumer profile and positioning for promotion of the direct marketing of fresh produce: A case study Journal of Food Distribution Research 28 11 17
Wooldridge, J.M. 2010 Econometric analysis of cross section and panel data. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA