Summertime means finding reasons to go outside. And when bakeries take advantage of seasonal events to grow business outside their brick-and-mortar locations and meet new customers, the possibilities are endless.
Farmers markets are a key platform for seasonal sales: There are more than 8,500 active ones in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And then there are festivals—which 48 percent of Americans counted among their favorite summer staycation activities in a survey from the National Recreation and Park Association.
These events provide bakeries an opportunity to access a new revenue stream and reach a wider consumer audience, according to Jen Musty, owner of San Francisco’s Batter Bakery, which has a retail shop and kiosk, and sells products at two year-round farmers markets and a number of craft fairs, food fetes and other events around the Bay Area.
Jen Musty, owner of San Francisco’s Batter Bakery, sells her wares at an outdoor market. Photo credit: Batter Bakery
“A lot of what off-premise sales provide is exposure to a larger community—whether
it’s pop-ups or farmers markets that are generally much more trafficked by people from around the city or tourists,” Musty says. “People have found us for their weddings by running into us at one of these events; we’ve gotten new
clients. It’s been really valuable for our business.”
Determining which products to sell at events can initially involve guesswork. Musty
suggests first-timers start by focusing on the event’s theme.
“For the farmers market, I bring lots of items that highlight seasonal produce and ingredients; people are extremely receptive to those items there,” she says. “For craft fairs, I try to highlight the artistry of what we do—whether that’s hand-decorated shortbread or cake with candied fruit or vegetables on it, something people look at and say, ‘That really is art.’”
Tracking sales—both annually and on an ongoing basis—helped JET’s Bakeshop in Osceola, Wisconsin, estimate how much product to bring to the two farmers markets it attended last summer.
“We use [the previous] year as a starting point and make decisions week to week,” says owner Jonathan Timm. “Looking at a particular product, [we say], ‘We sold out of that in the first hour, we should probably
make more of it—or we brought stuff back; we don’t need to make as much.”
It’s important to regularly evaluate offerings and make adjustments as necessary, just as you would in your bakery.
Grain Artisan Bakery exhibits exclusively at farmers markets and events in the Seattle area. At the start of the 2018 summer season, owner and Pastry Chef Lauren Sophia Anderson logged the numbers and types of items that were left at the end of the day in an Excel spreadsheet to determine what was selling best at each location.
Owner and Pastry Chef of Grain Artisan bakery Lauren Sophia Anderson at a pop up market, Bar Bravata, in Washington state. Photo credit: Danny Willis of Bravata
“It’s helpful so I know savory items at the Capitol Hill Farmers Market are the first things to sell out,” she says. “In Snohomish,
it takes the whole day to sell the same quantity [of savory items] sometimes.”
External factors can also affect demand at farmers markets and festivals.
“Keeping an eye on events in the surrounding area helps,” Musty says. “If there’s a baseball game or march, there could be an increase in foot traffic.”
Conversely, construction or road closures could discourage pedestrians, resulting in lower sales.
It’s key to proactively plan for weather conditions—both rain and shine.
New York City-based Orwashers Bakery builds its farmers market game plan around the forecast. If rain is expected, the team brings less bread and pastries to one of the 12 area farmers markets it sells at each week—or the bakery may skip the market altogether. Due to products’ prep time requirements, that decision usually happens a couple days in advance of the event, according to owner Keith Cohen.
“We work on a two- to three-day cycle,” he says. “For the market in Long Island on Wednesday, we have to have the order in by Monday afternoon because Tuesday morning at 3 a.m., the mixing [starts].”
Sunny weather can require just as much planning as rain, especially on sweltering summer days.
“With baked goods, the sun is really not your friend,” Timm says. During JET’s first season selling at farmers markets, Timm invested in a portable tent to shield his booth from the sun, but the tent was too easily toppled by wind. “We learned you need to attach the tent to something heavy—we attach it to the delivery vehicle,” he says.
In addition to blocking direct sunlight, bakers should perfect product insulation. When Anderson offers custard cups, for example, she packs them in reusable plastic totes that are slightly larger than a shoebox.
“I put a rack in the bottom and fill the whole thing with ice so it keeps cool,” she says. “We nest the totes in wicker baskets so they look nice.”
Along with protecting products, planning for inclement weather requires ensuring proper shelter and storage for booth equipment. For this, bakeries can work with event administrators. Orwashers’ booth, which is reminiscent of a country store, is an integral part of the bakery’s presentation and brand, so keeping it in tip-top shape was essential. After team members noticed its setup equipment was getting damaged in transit each week, they talked to farmers market organizers, who agreed to let Orwashers store equipment at the event space.
Certain events require registration and regulatory compliance: For instance, to participate in farmers markets, JET’s has been asked to provide a food handling license and prove its bakery is a licensed facility. And Musty has found organizers often ask for liability insurance and a temporary permit if the event is on national park property.
“You often have to submit an application and be really well-versed in sampling procedures; hot and cold holding procedures; how to set up a handwashing station—they have to make sure you’re handling goods safely at the event,” Musty says.
Research every event thoroughly before committing to it, and consider attending it ahead of time to get familiar with the location and avoid potential logistical headaches during setup.
Where your bakery sets up shop within a farmers market or festival can have a huge impact on the business you do.
Sometimes, event organizers assign vendors a specific location. However, if you have a choice, there are easy ways to pinpoint an optimal booth spot.
Jen Musty, owner of San Francisco-based Batter Bakery, suggests positioning your setup near merchants that offer goods that complement yours.
“For a weekend or shorter-term event that has more concentrated foot traffic, for us, it makes a ton of sense to be around a lot of other food vendors; that way you can be part of the snack shopping when people first come in or are partway through,” Musty says. “If there’s coffee, I often request to be in the general vicinity—that’s a good pairing.”
She’s also found being near vendors she patronizes can be beneficial.
“Our apple vendor is across the pathway, and we get chai from the tea vendor next door,” Musty says. “It allows me to keep a close eye on what’s in season and what’s coming out, and I know what to expect—I see the first cherries and know if you wait a week or two, they’ll be the best of the year.”