Frederic Laforge Co-Founder & CEO @ The Farmers' Truck

We Share Our Top 5 Financial Tips for Mobile Farmers’ Market Success

6 min read

a smiling man holding a bag of fresh rhubarb stalks in front of a smiling family;

Mobile farmers’ markets are as diverse as the foods they serve. And their reasons for being are very worthy. But if you want to keep doing good work in your community, you have to make sure you have a solid plan in place.

All too often, we hear of the financial struggles that mobile farmers’ markets face. And that’s a narrative we want to see change.

At The Farmers’ Truck, we ran our own mobile farmers’ market for years. What we learned from our first few years was a solid understanding of what it takes to run a sustainable mobile market. And now, we want to help you do the same.

With that in mind, we want to share with you our top 5 financial tips. With this advice, you’ll have a solid foundation to keep your mobile market running for years to come.

1. Giving Free Food Will Always Have its Merit, But is it Really What The Community Needs?

a smiling vendor in a mobile farmers' market holds out an item for a customer

Mobile farmers’ markets are one of the most cost-effective ways to tackle food deserts. And unfortunately, food deserts are also more likely to be found in lower-income neighborhoods.1 

These areas are usually in remote and underserved parts of the community, where there’s no grocery store in sight. Having the mobility of a farmers’ market on wheels allows you to travel to and serve these locations a lot easier.

In 2020, more Americans were living in food insecurity2 than is the whole population of Canada. Crazy, right?

But, only 58% of food-insecure households took part in one or more of the major federal food assistance programs.3 So, in other words, 4 out of 10 people who are eligible for food assistance aren’t using it. What’s going on here?

The Stigma of Charity

a close up image of food being packaged at a food bank

It’s because of the stigma around accessing food assistance.4 And that stigma presents a major barrier to accessing charitable food programs.

This makes not charging for food at your mobile farmers’ market a good intention. But, in practice, it’s not likely to properly deal with the problem of food access.

People don’t want to have to rely on charity. And it can feel pretty uncomfortable being seen accepting charity in a public place – or admitting that you need help. People feel more dignified when they’re able to access food in the same ways as everyone else.

With that in mind, we highly recommend charging at least cost price for your products. There’s pride in paying for your food and at least you’ll break even on your food costs. 

Food costs are the biggest item in your budget, followed by salaries. By paying close attention to your mobile market’s finances, you’ll be able to support your organization and keep operating for years to come.

You should also have reasonable prices that appeal to the broader community. This way it’s not thought of as a program just for lower-income people, but that it’s for everyone.

“When someone feels they got a great deal like everyone else, and not a handout, it plays a huge role in increasing social inclusion and dignity.”

Frederic Laforge – CEO of The Farmers’ Truck

2. Is Your Mobile Market Accessible to Patrons…and Sponsors?

a tall sign that reads public market in red block letters

Besides charging for your products, we suggest having different locations at which to park and do business. Balancing your stops between busy street corners and lower-income neighborhoods will ensure you have a financially sustainable mobile market.

“You will make more money parking in busier neighborhoods which can help offset the costs of providing a much-needed service to more remote communities.”

Frederic Laforge

This balanced approach will help get you through changes to grant funding and other unreliable funding sources.

Securing Funding From Partners and Sponsors

customers gathered in front of a mobile farmers' market display on a sunny day

Another option is to find a funding partner. We like the Center for Land-Based Learning’s approach in how they run their mobile market.5

To make their market more accessible in lower-income neighborhoods they work with a funding partner. This allows them to offer SNAP customers twice the bang for their buck. For every dollar spent through SNAP, customers get two dollars worth of produce. 

It makes locally-grown options more accessible and helps food dollars stretch even further.

At the Farmers’ Truck, we loved doing pop-up market events. The idea was to help businesses with their employee-wellness initiatives. 

For a fee, we’d hold a market at the business to serve their employees. They always served as mutually beneficial partnerships. 

The businesses saw it as a health benefit for their employees, and a way to support the community through sponsorships. They loved having the truck parked outside their building. It gave them (and us) great visibility.

Their employees loved it because it made fresh local food convenient and saved them a trip to the supermarket. 

We scheduled our pop-ups once a week throughout the summer and charged $1,000 per stop. Make a whole event out of it and have fun. Don’t forget to include food tastings, recipe cards, and play music to engage with you the crowd.

Ultimately, you have a better chance of staying viable when you have a bunch of ways to finance your mobile farmers’ market.

3. The Art of Pricing

a colorful display of fruit with price signs

Finding the right price for your products can feel more like an art than a science. Some items you’ll break even on, while others will generate lots of profits for you. 

A great place to start with setting prices is to turn to your local supermarkets. Keep an eye on local flyers to benchmark your prices and deals. This helps you stay competitive with other local food retailers. Don’t worry, you learn as you go… as we all do.

An important part of budgeting for your mobile farmers’ market is to account for food waste. After all, not everything you offer will be sold. Food waste6 generated from markets is about 10 to 15%. We recommend pricing items to account for this waste.

Besides pricing adjustments, you also have options when it comes to dealing with the actual food waste itself. So, for example, you can find a processing partner that’ll take the food waste and repurpose it. Food waste is often still perfectly edible food after all.

How about transforming food waste into delicious soups7 or stews? You can then turn around and sell these wholesome meals at your market the next day. It’s another way for your mobile market to earn some cash.

(Bonus: you can show your customers how they can repurpose their food waste at home. This helps them stretch their food dollars even further.)

4. You Can’t Manage What You Don’t Measure

a modern point of sale system, a plant, and soap bars all on a wooden background

Aside from bringing money in, a big part of your mobile market’s financial success is to track your sales. Sales tracking helps you make important decisions regarding your financial sustainability.

There are several systems out there to choose from. But, we recommend using Farmers Register.8 The Farmers Register mobile point-of-sale (POS) system is designed specifically for vendors just like you. That’s why we like it so much.

Using a POS system means that you can accept a variety of payment methods, including cash. They’re also great in that you know how much you need to sell to break even. And you can keep track of your sales for each stop.

Knowing all of this information will help you plan for how much you need to order in the future. It allows you to operate more efficiently, and to reduce waste.

Reviewing and tracking your numbers tells you which stops are working, and which aren’t. If there aren’t a lot of people at certain stops you need to ask yourself why that is.

It might be time to find a new location within that community. Or maybe you need to increase your advertising budget. 

The key takeaway here is that you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

5. Your Marketing: Get Yourself Seen and Heard

a bunch of loud speakers on a poll with trees in the background

There are so many benefits for non-profits operating mobile farmers’ markets. But there are challenges too that differ from having a brick-and-mortar shop. 

Being on the go means that you need to be in constant communication with your customers. They need to know where you are and when, and what you’re offering that day.

Mobile farmers’ markets have a lot of moving parts. Without constant marketing, your operation will suffer because people won’t know where to find you. 

Trust us when we say that having a solid marketing strategy is key. Marketing has to be one of your main considerations when planning out your mobile market’s finances.

“Marketing efforts are often very low on the priority list, and that is a big mistake.”

Frederic Laforge

You need to own your social media and online presence. Engage with your customers and add value to their lives. You can use an email marketing service like MailChimp9 which is free, to collect your customers’ email addresses.

SMS marketing is pretty popular these days. It’s a great way of getting your message to your customers. Take advantage of cloud-based text message services like Sakari10 to boost your outreach.

There are a lot of options out there that you can and should take advantage of. Just make sure that you’re using more than one medium to connect with as many people as possible.

What’s Your Mobile Farmers’ Market’s Financial Plan?

a person typing on a laptop with charts and graphs on the screen; mobile farmers market finances what's your plan?

As you can tell, there’s no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to mobile markets. And that’s a good thing. It just means that if one method isn’t working, you can shift to something else. 

You can focus on your mission better when your mobile farmers’ market has a solid financial plan.

Stay on top of your price points and make sure you’re providing the things that people need and want. Don’t forget to rethink food “waste”, and track money going in and coming out. Oh, and of course, don’t be afraid to advertise and post your market’s details regularly.

If you’re feeling a little stuck, or you just don’t know where to start, give us a shout. We’ve helped other mobile market operators, just like you, with their finances. Not only are their markets surviving, but they’re also thriving. And because of that, so are the communities they serve.

Check out our Instagram page where we highlight our mobile farmers’ market clients every month.


Frederic Laforge Co-Founder & CEO @ The Farmers' Truck

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