How to get your product into farmers' markets

Selling your products face to face at markets can be the perfect way to gain presence for your business.  Whether it's getting in front of new customers, building a reputation or making an impression on the foodie scene, there's no substitute for setting up stall and making an impression first hand. But how do you go about it, and what equipment and certification do you need? Gemma Lewis of Dark Matters - an indulgent brownie business with out-of-this-world flavour combinations (peanut butter cheesecake, anyone?) - is a fixture on her local market scene. We asked her a few questions about getting started.

How long have you been selling at markets, and how did you get into it?

My first ever taste of market selling came in 2010 when I started trading at the amazing Greenwich Market in London, selling handmade chocolate truffles and bars made by myself and business partner at the time. We were inspired after visiting the London Chocolate Festival on Southbank and, being in our early twenties, thought "We can do that!" We traded every Thursday to Sunday, producing the chocolate Monday to Wednesday, for an exhausting 7 months. It was definitely a baptism by fire, but I wouldn't have had it any other way.

How do you get into markets – do you have to apply, or can you just turn up?

You do need to apply, and we typically fill our diary a few months ahead of time, but are able to jump onto things at the last minute (I have a bit of reputation for doing this!). Many regular weekly or monthly markets have a waiting list, so the best thing to do is to visit on a market day and have a chat with the market manager.

What are the things you need to think about from a licensing and certification point of view?

All market traders are required by law to have Public Liability Insurance, to protect yourself and the market should anything happen whilst trading. This only costs about £40 a year and is the first thing markets and events organisers will ask you for. If you're planning to work with food or drink you need to have passed a short course and get a Food Hygiene Certificate. This you can do online for less than £15 but it's critical if you're working with food. Also make sure you're registered as a food business with your local council, because events managers will check!

What equipment is essential to you?

Brownies, business cards and bunting! Everything else is just window-dressing, but its important for the stall to look welcoming and attractive, and for us to all have smiles on our faces! We also like to make sure everything we give the customer is branded in some way - we have a great self-inking stamp we use on everything with our name and Twitter handle, so people can remember where they bought their awesome brownies!

What’s the most challenging part about market selling? What’s your favourite part?

I'll be honest and say I STILL find the late night baking followed by early morning set-up a challenge, but it goes hand-in-hand with my favourite part, which is the people and the big market-family we're lucky to have become a part of in Dorset and the South West. There's nothing like arriving at a market at 7am and getting a coffee and a hug before you've finished unloading the car!

How do you make your stall stand out from the rest?

As soon as I started Dark Matters I wanted to make sure it would differ in style from other bakery stalls which could be heavy on the pink and frilliness, so we went the other way with a darker palette. The product should take centre stage, but its still important to draw the customer over with a well thought out, tidy and visually appealing stall. Make use of all the space and ensure that every person passing knows exactly what it is you're there to sell!

Do you find there are best/worst times of days to sell at?

Selling a luxury food item we tend to struggle with sales before 11am, people just aren't thinking 'Cake!' at that time, unless they're panic buying for a dinner party or event that evening. We're always busiest from lunch onwards, and love events which allow us to trade into the evening, particularly at Christmas time when people are feeling festive and up for a treat!

How do you keep people coming back for more – do you market on social media beforehand?

Social media has been a god-send to us and has allowed us to build  a strong following and a really awesome 'Brownie Tribe'. They take time out of their lives to promote us to their friend groups, build hype about new flavours and seek us out at markets, and for this we are incredibly thankful! We love to get ideas and feedback from our online community too and think its important for them to feel really engaged with our business and brand. For a long time our Facebook and Twitter pages were the main point of contact for our customers so now we have a larger online presence its important we regularly reward our likers, fans and followers with competitions and discounts.

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