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I admit it – I am a regular Farmer’s Market junkie. I go every week from April through October, although less often throughout the rest of the year. At my local Farmer’s Market (Sonoma, CA) it is more than just shopping, it has become a social scene as well. When I first moved here in 1999, the Tuesday night farmer’s market was well attended by shoppers, and there was also the occasional picnicker, a few families spread out on blankets. What a change a few years has made; now each Tuesday night market there are throngs of people – sometimes it looks as if the whole town is there. There is usually live music, and there are lots of children playing, picnic blankets everywhere. It has also gone upscale – now you even see tables, chairs, sometimes even cook tops brought in brought picnickers.
For our particular group of friends it is very much a social outing. We have a food “theme” each week, and everyone brings a dish, and of course some wine, to share. On occasion, we have been known to cook as well – there was the rib cook-off a couple years ago, a chili cook-off, last year’s famous green tomato night, where we fried fresh green tomatoes, topping each with pesto made from our garden’s basil and local fresh goat cheese. The oyster stand even traded us oysters for a plate!
It made me think about the growth of Farmer’s Market, which seem to have boomed in the last few years. I decided to do my own research and attend a few more.
First installment: The San Francisco Ferry Market Plaza
I had been during the week in the past, but hadn’t been to the Saturday market, which swells the number of purveyors significantly. I wanted to shop, but also wanted to see who was selling what – and what were the most popular products.
Upon arrival I first noticed the Rose Pistola stand, where people were lining up for a pretty large selection breakfast plates. The coffee stand next door had them packed into line as well. Prather Ranch meat seemed quite popular too, where people were lining up for organic buffalo burgers, among other things. I was there with my boyfriend, and wanted to share a plate (better to be able to try more items!), so we waited for something to grab us both. We found it at the tamale stand (I was so busy eating I didn’t get the name!), where we shared the best Chilaquiles I have had – I have had plenty, mostly in Mexico. They were lovely, thick extra crispy corn tortillas sauted lightly in tomatillo sauce, served with eggs, black beans and their own homemade salsa. Enough for two, they were a bargain at about $9.
While we wandered while waiting for our plate to be ready we stopped at Affi’s Marin Gourmet stand were we sampled a wide variety of dips, spreads, and crackers. Not one to usually buy these items, as I love to make them myself, I was swayed by the great flavor of these products, and walked off with Baba Ghannouge, Aubergine, and Roasted Garlic in Olive Oil.
Next up: the cheeses. I have to admit, I rarely meet a cheese I don’t like. Soft, hard, sharp, creamy, I love them all. We liked everything we tried, however only two came home with us – Vintage White Cheddar from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, which had the unusual combination of being deliciously sharp, yet also exceptionally creamy. (And of course we also love Point Reyes Blue). We also brought home a unique goat cheese from Achadinha Cheese Company called Broncha. A semi-hard cheese with a tough rid, it is crumbly, sharp, tangy and salty, and absolutely delicious!
Since we had only shared one plate, it was time for more. We waited in the exceptionally long line of the RoliRoti stand for a Porchetta sandwich and a pig knuckle. Porchetta is one of my favorites, and next on my list of recipes to tackle. Rotisseur Thomas Odermatt carves and serves, and this traditional Porchetta sandwich was succulent, rich with drippings herbs and true pork flavor. Getting full, we saved the piping hot, salty, extra crispy pig knuckle for later (although I admit to snacking on it on the ride home!).
Saving our usually produce buying for our local farmer’s market, and being too full to eat any more, it was time to head home..
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Farmer’s Market Info
Farmers markets are an integral part of the urban/farm linkage and have continued to rise in popularity, mostly due to the growing consumer interest in knowing and understanding where the food they eat is coming from. Farmers markets allow consumers access to locally grown, farm fresh produce and other products, and enable farmers the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with their customers. Today, there are more than 4,300 farmers markets operating throughout the country.
Farmers Market Growth: 1994-2006
In 1994, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) began publishing the National Directory of Farmers Markets which lists all farmers markets operating in the U.S. Since that time, USDA has updated the Directory every 2 years. The following graph shows the number of markets at each update.
Who Benefits from Farmers Markets?
: Those with less than $250,000 in annual receipts who work and manage their own operations meet this definition (94 percent of all farms).
: Farmers have direct access to markets to supplement farm income. Consumers have access to locally grown, farm-fresh produce and the opportunity to personally interact with the farmer who grows the produce.
: Many urban communities where fresh, nutritious foods are scarce gain easy access to food. Farmers markets also help to promote nutrition education, wholesome eating habits, and better food preparation, as well as boosting the community’s economy.
Find a Farmer’s Market in your area : http://apps.ams.usda.gov/FarmersMarkets/
Ahh, customer service… the concept seems so easy, doesn’t it? Treat your customers well, and they will remain your loyal customers. If it’s so easy, then why do we see so many examples of it not being executed?
I have two personal stories from this week, both (in my opinion) with different reasons for their failure to win me over as a customer.
The first began when I saw an extra charge on my credit card from a company I do business with monthly (the largest newspaper in a major market). Besides the regular monthly charge, there was an additional charge for the same amount, then yet another charge for $100. What were these charges for? I had no idea. I went to their website to find a contact number for their billing dept. Click, click, click, I tried page after page to find the number, to no avail. But I could find all kinds of numbers if I wanted to advertise! I finally gave up and called the main number listed.
A young woman answered, “Can I help you?” “Why, yes! I am trying to reach your accounts receivable department please.” Hmm” she says, as if I have just asked a question she does not quite understand. “I don’t seem to have a number for them” she states after a moment. “Well then, can you just transfer me?” I ask. Apparently that wasn’t included in her training either, and she informs me that she cannot. She then asks if there is anything else she can help me with. (Anything else? Hello???) I inform her that actually, I haven’t been helped at all yet, and what can she advise that I do to get the needed help. I kid you not; her advice was “Well, you could call back the number you dialed to get me.”
When things like this happen, I just shake my head in disbelief. This company has been around forever, how can there be this level of dysfunction? I believe they missed the mark in two areas. The first, not having contact numbers for their departments on their website (or buried so far as to be difficult to find). They had numerous numbers in which I could buy, but nothing else. Studies show it is easier, and less costly, to keep a current customer than to win a new one.
Do you spend more time trying to find new customers, while taking for granted the customers you already have?
The second reason was incomplete or poor training. While it may be impossible to train staff for every single eventuality, they certainly should have the basics down. Employees at all levels should also know exactly who to go to when they do not have the information or answer.
The next story is regarding an auto dealership. I have always take my car to the dealer I purchased from for servicing. However, this time I recalled receiving a coupon from another dealership, offering an oil change for $9.95. Although I’d been happy with the service at the original dealership, I like a good deal as much as the next guy! I also needed some additional servicing, the stripping around the windshield had come loose and needed replacing. I called and booked my appointment.
Upon checking in, I was told the estimate for an oil change was $50. I said “Oh, wait a minute, I have one of your coupons for $9.95, let me go get it, it is on the dashboard!” I turned around, and my car was gone. The woman helping me said “They already took it.” However she wrote on the estimate “Coupon on dashboard” as well as “Customer waiting.”
Three hours later, my car is back, I am however informed that it will need to come back for the windshield issue, as they need to order parts. Even though I was not thrilled with a three hour wait for an oil change or the prospect of having to repeat the whole process in two weeks, I had not yet been lost as a new customer.
Ah but wait – here I am at the cash register, being presented with a bill for $49.53. I say “I have a coupon, I informed the person when I checked in.” I get the coupon and present it to the cashier, who stares intently at it for a few moments, then calls the woman who checked me in. She stares intently at it for some time as well. She then proclaims “This expired a month ago, Our coupons are only good for one month.” Where does it say that on this 4 page coupon/advertisement? Well, apparently it wasn’t visible on mine because the mailing label had covered it.
She turns and walks away and the cashier hands me a charge slip to sign for almost $50. I almost signed. I came here expecting a $10 oil change and I am not leaving with a $50 one. I hadn’t agreed to that, and if I knew that’s what it would cost I would have turned around and left. The manager was called (apparently it wasn’t in the cashier’s power to honor the coupon). The manager came out and listened to my story. Then he said “The coupon has to be brought in, not left on the dashboard.” I explained that I had gone to get it, however they had taken the car away already, and that if I knew it was a $50 oil change I would not have stayed. He stared at me for a few moments, then said “I’ll change it for you this once, but that’s it, never again.” I thought “No kidding, you’ll never have the chance at my business again.” I promptly cancelled the schedule service and re-booked it back at my original dealership. (Where, by the way, their regular charge from an oil change is somewhere around $30).
To me this story isn’t whether to coupon or not, it is about intent vs. process and procedures. The reason (intent) the dealership sent the coupons in the first place - and at considerable cost I might add - was to bring in new business. It worked, here I was, a new customer who had never been there and wouldn’t have been otherwise. And now, I was customer lost forever. Why? Process and procedure. They use short expiration dates, and hold to them hard. It is certainly within their right, but why? At what cost? What if they had said to me “Oh my, that coupon has expired, but obviously you couldn’t see that! Of course we’ll honor it and are so glad you gave us the opportunity to win your business; we look forward to having you back with us for your next scheduled appointment!” The outcome would have been completely different!
Sometimes we get lost in the details: in systems, standards, processes, procedures. While these are necessary, we still have to remember the intent of them in the first place, and sometimes we need to operate from the intent, rather than the letter of the law, so to speak.
Once again, do these companies know they’ve lost my business? Do they care?
More importantly: Do YOU know who you’ve lost and why?
Do you have a comment?
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We're just back from the Northwest Foodservice Show is Seattle, where we spent a couple days meeting new folks, and reconnecting with old friends. Seattle was as beautiful and hospitable as ever. I have to say I'm all in favor of the hotel trend of investing in better – and more comfortable – mattresses. We stayed at the Westin in downtown Seattle, where they offered one of the best hotel beds I've slept in.
We also have to tell about the memorable meal we shared with Jean Van Court from Fuze Technology at Lola, the Greek inspired restaurant Seattle Chef Tom Douglas opened in 2004. The Tagine dishes we all had were wonderful, I especially enjoyed the goat dish, which included mavrodaphne, raisin, preserved lemon and pinenuts. After this dining experience I may also seek out a few more Greek wines to try!
The food sampling at the show was fantastic, with a lot of good vendors, many with interesting new products. Some of our favorite tastes included all the products offered by Mohamed Souaiaia from Select Gourmet Foods, who was sampling lamb sausage, duck prosciutto, duck sausage, pheasant breast, duck confit, Hudson Valley foie gras, and more. Nathan Marcus, from Porchetta Primata in Alabama had a whole pig, hand de-boned and seasoned, then roasted. The end result is an artisan product from an animal that is antibiotic and hormone free, traceable directly to the farm. The flavor is completely unique, and, I might add – completely delicious! The cheeses at the Peterson booth were amazing, my mouth is watering just remembering them.
We're also excited about finally ordering the Traeger Grill we've been lusting after for the past year. No wonder they offer show specials – it's that last nudge that makes you just say, "Yes, I must, that's an offer I just can't refuse!"
We had hoped to have every component completed and integrated into our new social network, aptly called the Wine And Hospitality Network, prior to the show, but alas, it was not meant to be. Just like construction, building a website seems to always come in over budget and behind schedule! We are however in pre-launch, which means we are unveiling it for our readers to see – and better yet – to join. There are some components not yet integrated, but that just means there is even more to come! Currently up and ready for your use are the following sections: free classified ads, video and photo sharing, surveys, forum, recipe sharing, groups, an events calendar and more. We hope many of you will join is two ways – both as an individual, and as a company. As a company you can upload your logos, photos etc., and take advantage of free publicity. Have any promotional videos? Post them!
Stay tuned for more features, including "Members Only" offerings and special deals on services, products, etc. from a variety of the great companies who are partnering with us. Have an idea or suggestion? Please let us know.
This is also a great time for employers to have all their jobs posted to WineAndHospitalityJobs.com, as every job posted will also automatically be posted to the WineAndHospitalityNetwork.com. That's a great 2 for 1 deal!