Monday, February 3, 2014

Toward an Applied Methodology for Price Comparison Studies of Farmers' Markets and Competing Retailers at the Local Scale

This study began with the impetus from a research project that included a survey of three farmers markets in the greater Austin area. When one is comparing the prices of various food products purchased from markets, vendors, and grocers, often the information gained can overgeneralize and have little relevance to specific locales. Information from a local price comparison study, on the other hand, would aid related businesses and allow them to more effectively engage their customer base.

As the researchers began interacting with market operators and vendors, they found that many individuals identified the lapses in existing price comparison studies and how beneficial a comprehensive local price comparison could be. The survey information from this study comes from 3 farmers market locations: downtown Austin, Cedar Park, and Georgetown. The research features three complementary components: price comparisons, surveys, and participant observation. The researchers employed convenience sampling methods and refrained from asking any ethically complex questions.

The survey data revealed a general trend of visitors acknowledging that the products were more expensive at the farmers market but justified for various reasons. In addition, in a segment where they were asked to list as many qualities they look for in their food purchases, the responses revealed a strong priority for items being “local” and “organic” (each of those being chosen by more than 50% of the respondents).

From this price comparison study, we can see that farmer’s markets products were more expensive overall for these sites. However, there were many instances where the farmers’ market prices were lower than similar products at natural grocers and conventional supermarkets. The researchers identified the difficulty in finding qualitatively similar items at each food provider with product origin being the largest contribution to difference as shown in Figure 2.

This research has built upon the successes and inadequacies of former price comparison studies, and the model and methodology will hopefully enable future research opportunities. Finally, the researchers identified seasonality and convenience as factors which need to be addressed more deliberately as their model is improved over time. 

Figure 1. Map of Local Definitions by Venue Type

Figure 2. Maps of Item Product Origins by Venue

Long, J., Sounny-Slitine, M. A., Castles, K., Curran, J., Glaser, H., Hoyer, E., Moore, W., Morse, L., O’Hara, M., & Parafina, B. (2013). Toward an applied methodology for price comparison studies of farmers’ markets and competing retailers at the local scale. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. Advance online publication.

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