Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is having a moment and independent gourmet housewares retailers are tapping the movement to bring added value to their stores. With a CSA, or crop share, a participant can buy into a farmer or local food supplier’s harvest ahead of time — a help to the farmer’s production costs.
CSA’s generally focus on locally grown fruits, vegetables and herbs, with some also offering cheese, meats and fish. By volunteering to be a CSA pick-up spot, gourmet insiders have noticed the tactic helping to bring new traffic into their stores, as well as providing a boost in related sales.
“With our crop share program, we see add-on sales which is always what we are looking for. There is never a downside to add-on sales,” said Marie Dwyer, owner of St. Paul, MN-based Cooks of Crocus Hill. In addition, she said that having the crop share program also gives the store a category of products that aligns with its customers and appeals to new ones, a bonus for the retailer.
“Our crop share program attracts new customers and gives us an opportunity to explore new partnerships,” she said. “We are always looking for unique, high-quality local food products.”
Winchester, VA-based Nibblins is another store that has reaped the rewards from its status as a CSA pick-up location. “We noticed our sales were increasing and it certainly does give people a reason to come into the store,” said Susan Dolinar, owner, Nibblins. Dolinar explained that it is one of her employees, Mark Bishop, a local farmer, who runs the CSA program that Nibblins participates in. “Being his pick-up location does attract new customers to the store. Often on pick-up days he will bring additional fresh produce, which we noticed draws new people in,” she said.
To capitalize on this, Dolinar recently hosted a class on herbs and Bishop led the class. Dwyer also leverages the crop share program and the fresh foods they are selling to hold classes throughout the year.
“Occasionally, we will partner with one of our farmers for a class, even if it is just to spend an hour on our retail floor and demo the produce and prepare it in some way. If they have a really interesting story, that story needs to be shared,” she commented.
Participating in a CSA or crop share program also allows shops to leverage the seasonality of its produce to promote specialty equipment. For example, on the Cooks of Crocus Hill website, Dwyer is currently promoting tools such as canning funnels, scoops and jars, to help customers preserve their end-of-summer bounties. She uses the same tactics in-store as well.
“Every one of our stores has large canning merchandise displays. We get lots of requests for help with how to can and preserve your bounty from the summer,” she said.
And while Dwyer swaps her merchandise displays, she still carries a good amount of canning and jarring equipment year-round. “We have noticed an uptick on preserving all year,” she said. “It’s fun, even an art for a lot of people and a huge gift item. We try to stay in stock and we have a pretty big variety.”
However, retailers can still capitalize on the CSA trend even if the store is not a drop-off point for goods, explained Lynn Hanrahan, owner of Portland, OR-based Mirador Kitchen and Home. Hanrahan is a supporter of local CSAs and is often queried by customers on ways to cook and preserve the produce they obtain from their local CSAs.
For example, Hanrahan pointed out that CSA participants are mainly purchasing vegetables and end up with an overabundance of product. Mirador specializes in gadgets and tools for everything from canning and fermenting to sprouting and food drying.
“When we opened our store in 1999, we were one of the first stores in the area focused on food preservation all year long. That was a time when it’s popularity went through the roof,” she said.
And while canning is still popular, fermenting foods has also been trending, Hanrahan noted. She said she has seen more customers come in asking about this technique and has held mini-classes right on the spot.
“We talk to everyone about fermenting and are always happy to share ideas with customers looking to do more with their fresh foods. We will rent out steam juicers or recommend trying our food drying equipment,” she said.