What’s food without a nice glass of BC Pinot to pair with it? The sale and sampling of beer, wine, and spirits at BC Farmers’ Markets brings the market experience one step closer to maturity.
In 2014, the Whistler Farmers’ Market became the first to have a liquor producer approved for the sale and sampling of liquor at a market. The first producer was Pemberton Distillery, producers of Shramm Vodka amongst other spirits.
In 2015, the Whistler Farmers’ Market had 15 initial applications from liquor producers to vend at the market. There are currently three or four producers sampling and selling their products at both the Sunday and Wednesday markets. It is not unusual for a winery to sell out at a Whistler market.
This is a win for markets, producers, and customers. Regional producers gain access and exposure to customers who are tuned into their product. Customers are able to meet and talk to producers about how their product is made. And Farmers’ Markets come closer to meeting their mandate of providing a complete regional shopping experience.
Moving Away from Teetotaling
How can markets and producers take advantage of this opportunity? That requires understanding how we got here.
Before 1986, if you wanted a drink on a Sunday, outside of your home, you either went to a restaurant, few of which were open on “the day of rest”, or you had to go to a private “sports club.” Arguably, this was a large part of the business plan for many of the racquet clubs that flourished in my hometown of Nanaimo. We definitely smashed more Caesars than volleys as members of the Quarterway Racquet Club.
Then came Expo 86 and the beginning of the evolution of liquor laws in British Columbia. It all began as an experiment to ensure that the international tourists who visited Expo 86 did not have to endure the trauma of not being able to get a drink on a Sunday. Fortunately for the hospitality industry, the experiment became the norm and Sunday liquor sales opened up a whole new business opportunity.
Fast forward to 2013. As a result of the long-awaited provincial liquor review, and possibly an Okanagan MLA making his seat available for a seat-less Premier Clark, consultations began with industry and the BC Association of Farmers’ Markets with the aim of enabling the sampling and sale of BC-produced beer, wine and spirits at Farmers’ Markets.
While the move to bring the Farmers’ Market experience in line with that of markets around the world was met with great enthusiasm by the majority of markets and municipalities, it was amazing how many of these organizations still feared this move would somehow result in rampant liquor consumption and public inebriation at Farmers’ Markets. At one consultation meeting a local market manager expressed the fear that the proposed legislation might result in “non traditional” customers attending the market to purchase a bottle of wine and then heading over to the neighboring park to drink it out of a brown paper bag.
One year after the legislation came into effect many markets are still struggling to obtain zoning from their municipal governments that would allow them to host liquor vendors. Much of this is because most municipalities were unaware of the legislation themselves. They were, and some still are, scrambling to enact the necessary zoning and business regulation bylaws.
Whistler Seizes the Moment
How did Whistler become the first to have vendors approved under the new legislation? We were fortunate to be part of the initial consultations with the province and as a result had some insight and input into what was coming. As a former municipal councilor I understood the need to keep the municipality informed as to what was coming down the pipe. By working with municipal staff we were able to ensure that the required business regulation and zoning bylaws were in place when the legislation came into effect, just in time for the Canada Day long weekend market. Pemberton Distillery was already a member of our market, selling their line of non-alcoholic elixirs and syrups. We made certain that we kept each other informed. So when the legislation came in, I called them and they had their application filed within the hour. They were the first, and they continue to be regular vendors at the Whistler Farmers’ Market.
Over the past year I have walked many producers through the process of obtaining their permit to sell at Farmers’ Markets, in addition to consulting with Farmers’ Markets on specific liquor vendor policies and municipal relations. From these experiences, and observing liquor vendors at the market, I offer the following:
For a Farmers’ Market, this is one of the greatest opportunities to gain not only excellent revenue from a new vendor category, but also to draw in new customers, as well as retain existing ones with a new product offering.
For the producers, whether you are making beer, wine, spirits, or even Honey Meade (that was a new one this year) it is critical that you go beyond “sending a rep” to sample and sell at a Farmers’ Market. As a rule, we are “make, bake, or grow”, so sending “staff” to cover the market is not acceptable.
Farmers’ Market customers are very specific in what they are looking for. They are educated consumers and can be demanding of producers. The reason they come to a Farmers’ Market is to connect with their farmer, their artist, and their crafter. They want to know and trust the product they are taking the time to purchase. Respect their investment in time away from a big box retailer by investing in the best representation of your product and you will be successful.
Chris Quinlan is a former Business Operator and Municipal Councillor who found his a way to satisfy his passions managing the Whistler Farmers’ Market. Innovating and pushing the boundaries of conventional market management, Chris has grown the Whistler market into one of the largest animist successful in British Columbia. He has worked as a project facilitator and coordinator for the BC Association of Farmers’ Markets, Strengthening Farmers’ Markets’ program and recently launched Marketwurks.com, an online Vendors Application and Management program for Farmers’ and Artisan markets.