Farmers markets, local stores benefit from Market Basket shortages
Myrna Camp of Contoocook picks out heirloom tomatoes at the Lewis Farm booth at the Steeplegate Farmers' Market in Concord on July 24, 2014. "I am sad about Market Basket," said Camp, who shops at the supermarket's Warner location in addition to regular visits to the farmers' market. (WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)
David Hammond, 15, left, completes a transaction at the Lewis Farm booth for Kathie Palfy of Concord, standing with Nathan Palfy, 10, and Angela Palfy, 7, at the Steeplegate Farmers' Market in Concord on July 24, 2014. "We like the fresh stuff," said Palfy, who is a regular Concord Farmers' Market visitor. (WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)
Whether motivated by zeal for Arthur T. Demoulas or just plain desperation, Market Basket shoppers are increasingly turning to farmers markets, independent stores and competing chains as the prolonged dispute drags on.
Stacey Cooper, an employee at the Yankee Farmer’s Market store in Warner, said the store sold out its vegetable stock Sunday and has been working to keep up with demand ever since. The outdoor market on Main Street in Warner this week also drew “the most people we’d ever seen,” she said.
“In Warner, this is a really big deal. There’s a Market Basket to shop at, and that’s pretty much it for supermarkets,” she said. “You’d have to drive 25 or 30 minutes to get to another major store. At the farmers market, people were definitely stopping by just to find something for dinner, and many people said they were there mainly because they couldn’t get what they needed at Market Basket.”
Jane Lang, president of the New Hampshire Farmers Market Association, said she expects the increase in farmers market customers to continue through the weekend. She said the timing is good for the farmers too since most are just entering their peak harvest period.
“We really like the idea of people who have never been to a farmers market now taking the opportunity to get there because they don’t have their go-to produce option,” she said. “We’re hoping that now, maybe once people get to their local farmers market for the first time, they’ll decide to set aside some of their food budget for the market each week and make us part of their routine.”
At the Steeplegate Mall market, Concord Farmers Market President Wayne Hall said the ongoing Market Basket situation “definitely hasn’t hurt us,” as he sold vegetables to a steady stream of customers at the Lewis Farm stand.
“It’s given us farmers a little peak,” he said. “Customers still have choices at Shaw’s or Hannaford, and there’s very good produce there. . . . But for the farmers markets, once our customers come here, they’re customers for life.”
Spokespeople from both Shaw’s and Hannaford corporate offices said they would not comment on their competition, but Shaw’s public affairs manager Jeffery Gulko said his chain’s stores have “definitely seen an increase in customers” this week.
“I would say the real noticeable increase probably came Monday morning,” Gulko said. “We continue to regard this as a situation where it’s our job to have the products that our customers, whoever is coming through our doors, are looking for.”
He said, initially, stores saw higher sales in produce and meat products, but it has evened out “across the board” to include other items since then.
Tony Heath, owner of Quality Cash Market in Concord, said his store has had “good traffic” this week, which he attributed partially to former Market Basket shoppers looking for other retail options. Quality Cash sells grocery, bakery, meat and deli products, and he said meat sales especially increased.
Cooper said if nothing else, she hoped the empty shelves at Market Basket would provide a wake-up call to customers about vulnerabilities in the supermarket system.
“Consumers need to realize that there should be more resilience in the system, and we would all benefit by relying more on locally produced items,” she said. “Fresh food does not come from the grocery store; it comes from the farms. I’m hoping this whole thing is enough to at least change the buying habits of some consumers and have them learn more about the system, because it’s not always going to be a given that the shelves will be stocked. That doesn’t happen automatically.”
(Ann Marie Jakubowski can be reached at 369-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AMJakubowski.)