Merry Meeting Kitchen, based in Brunswick, Maine, has developed a new multi-vendor, collaborative marketing model that acts as an online-only farmers market. Run by a group of 13 farmers and producers, the online marketplace allows customers to shop online from their favourite vendors directly.
“For about a year before the pandemic started, we had been talking about how to open up more market potential for us by working together as a group of farmers,” shares Jenn from Turtle Rock Farm. “I have a physical location where many farmers already spend so much time marketing, it only made sense to plug into an online marketplace run by the farmers themselves.”
Finding Local Line
When the local winter market closed due to COVID-19, Jenn and other neighboring farmers needed a way to continue to sell their products. As Jenn already had the “Merry Meeting Kitchen” on site at her farm, they decided they’d use collectively market their products and use Jen’s set up as the pickup/dropoff location.
After doing some research online for multi-vendor platforms, they found Local Line. “We chose Local Line because farmer autonomy is extremely important to us. No money passes through the marketplace. Farmers are in control of their own inventory and payments, instead of having an overarching management team like you would at a traditional food hub or market. We can all sell on the same platform, but remain in charge of our business.”
When setting up the marketplace, Jenn and the other vendors were excited to see what the platform could do. “[I’m] not the most tech-savvy individual,” she says. “As the person setting up the marketplace, new vendors came to me with questions. I was so grateful I was able to send them Local Line’s online resources, how-tos, and the customer support number to help them get set-up. This allowed me to empower people to walk themselves through it.”
Prior to launching, the Merry Meeting team sat down and made agreements to ensure success: “Early on, I put out an ask for vendors to join the Board of Decision Makers. We created a working document to determine the ins and outs of operation. To ensure successful collaborative marketing, we defined marketing language to keep similar communication amongst vendors. Different vendors contribute different elements, such as how-to guides for customers, email newsletters, and social media campaigns. Each vendor has their own unique channels from which we all benefit.”
They also use checkpoints to review documents between seasons. This allows the whole board to ensure everyone is on the same page and that the language and materials are still up to date and accurate.
After launching their online marketplace, Jenn and the other vendors started co-marketing, sharing resources, and created an understanding among all the vendors that every contribution to marketing benefits everyone.
Merry Meeting Kitchen allows farmers to share experiences, knowledge, customers, and supplies. In the height of their busy season, Merry Meeting Kitchen’s sales were growing at a rate of 24% per month—up to 30.3% from April to May, and 29% from September to October!
“You really get what you put into it. Farmers that go all-in with marketing and catalogs are seeing greater sales and success each week. One farmer just keeps saying to me, sales-wise, you’ve created a whole new market! I can be in two places at once now—this is unbelievable! We’re reaching customers that usually don’t go to a farmers’ market!”
Smooth Sailing with Online Sales
The online marketplace offers pickup on Fridays at the Merry Meeting Kitchen location, where customers can pick up all of their orders. Otherwise, Local Line allows vendors to set up their own pick up and delivery plans for their customers. It’s up to the vendor how they want to best serve them. Customers love the option to choose when they want to pick up their orders. This is a luxury not offered by a traditional farmers’ market.
In order to ensure all orders are ready to go on Fridays, as host, Jenn asks all vendors to confirm orders by 4:00 PM on Thursday. On Friday morning, cardboard slates are laid out by customer name and vendors are asked to drop off orders named and pre-bagged in the appropriate spots. This process is non-contact, even between farmer to farmer.
All payments are directly sent to the vendors themselves and the vendors can update their payment options based on their preferences on the platform itself. In Merry Meeting Kitchen, some vendors accept e-transfers or credit cards, while others accept SNAP or cash at pickup. This is entirely up to them!
“We see Merry Meeting Kitchen as an online farmers’ market, where you walk in and there are different departments and vendors. A customer ‘visits’ the different vendors and shops directly from them. The only difference is now that they do it online!”
When asking Jenn what her favourite Local Line feature is, she responded: “You guys are the best feature! I’ve called you many times during a panic moment and support has always been there to talk to. It gives us [as farmers] a sense of groundedness and I am really grateful for how available the team at Local Line is.”
Looking to the Future
Merry Meeting Kitchen is excited for what the future has in store! Having the online marketplace has allowed vendors to sell through multiple channels on one platform. As a cannery, Jenn has seen that customers are now ordering by the case, instead of by the can because they have more trunk space in their cars, instead of having to carry around a whole case as a farmers market.
The online marketplace is looking to continue to onboard more vendors to diversify their catalog.
“Resource sharing is what makes a resilient food system. It is not just about sharing your experience or marketing but having someone to call who is going through the same thing. Collectively you become a ‘grocery store,’ but filled with amazing local food options from a variety of farmers. Having this online marketplace means that we don’t each have to diversify, but instead, we diversify together!”