13 January 2011

PFM Vendor Selection Process

Have you ever wondered what it takes to become a vendor at one of Portland Farmers Market’s six locations?

Jeff Falen, Persephone Farm

Our primary objective in operating farmers’ markets is to support our local farmers and the small businesses that support the farmers.  Our vendor pool is weighted accordingly, so that the majority of market space is allocated to farmers. The market is rounded out by value-added vendors, which include hot food concessions as well as bakers, chocolatiers and other food artisans. Without strong farms, value-added and hot food vendors wouldn’t have the raw ingredients to prepare their delicious creations for market-goers. Farmers are much more vulnerable and have to contend with the seasonal challenges of their profession such as weather, pests, and diseases. As such, we make room for more farmers’ booths to spring up as the season progresses and often value-added vendors are displaced during plentiful times like berry season.

We also carefully consider the right mix of products to ensure that all vendors can be successful.  This mix of vendors ensures that PFM shoppers can fill their market baskets with everything from farm-fresh seasonal fruits and veggies to breads, meats, flowers, cheeses, seafood, condiments and wine—essentially creating a complete, one-stop shopping experience.

In 2011, PFM divided its vendor selection process into two stages. Stage one is for returning vendors, the second stage is for new vendors. By breaking it up into stages and starting the process earlier than in years past, we can determine how many available slots are open for new vendors to enter the market.  In the vendor selection process, we are charged by our Board of Directors to:

  • Give first preference to farmers for market space;
  • Leave space for new farmers to enter into the markets each year; and
  • Provide opportunities for new value-added food entrepreneurs to enter into the markets

Berry Vendor

Value-added vendors make up the majority of applications we receive each season.  Spots at the Saturday PSU market are the most sought after as this market attracts more than 15,000 shoppers every week during the height of the season.

So how do we decide who gets a coveted spot? Besides the criteria stated above we have a Vendor Handbook which outlines the criteria for vendor selection and governance. Each year we make slight revisions reflecting the evolution of the market and who will be best suited to participate, but we always stay true to our mission of first and foremost supporting farmers. We also want to be sure we offer a balance of types of vendors at each of our markets to ensure a good product mix and a great experience for shoppers and vendors alike.

In addition to the criteria in the Vendor Handbook, we also look at the following:

  • Is the vendor’s product available at other locations? If so, how many?
  • Is their product directly competing with farmers/vendors who have a similar product?
  • Have they participated at any of our other smaller markets? If so, for how long and at how many?
  • Does the vendor have a brick and mortar location? If so, how many?
  • Does the vendor source products locally if possible?
  • How much do they need us to be successful or maintain their business?

Portland Farmers Market has been an incubator for local food entrepreneurs to create and launch new businesses. Currently more than 40 small businesses in the area have started at the market. Many have flourished and used their success at the markets as a springboard into a brick-and-mortar location or to build out distribution channels to traditional grocery stores. It is not our intent to limit hot food concessions and/or value-added vendors for being successful, but the reality is even the most popular vendor can outgrow the market.

One example of a vendor that launched at PFM is Dave’s Killer Bread. In 2005, Dave’s Killer Bread offered their now legendary loaves to shoppers at the PSU market, where they gained a strong local following for their products. Dave’s Killer Bread can now be found in grocery stores across seven states—a true success story! We met with Dave and his team last year to let them know that although we love their product and presence, we wanted to make room for up-and-coming vendors—just as they were six years ago. Dave recognized that he had ‘graduated’ from PFM and wanted to explore ways he could help the up-and-coming new vendors at PFM, since our organization played such a key role during the early years of his business.

We’re pleased to announce that Dave’s Killer Bread has decided to return to the market as a season sponsor this year!  For the PFM team, this is the ultimate reward. A business that our organization helped to nurture and grow will now enable PFM and other future vendors to prosper as well.

So that’s what it takes.  If you’d like to apply to become a vendor, please click here to submit your Vendor Interest Form by January 21st.  See you at the markets soon!