Online Farmers Markets Cater to New Shopping Habits

Farmers markets are en vogue. Eating fruits and vegetables is considered cool. Everyone wants to buy local and support “farm to ______” initiatives. For the first time in decades, the obesity rate in America has stabilized.

Simultaneously, online shopping is trending up-up-up. Mobile apps place products in a shopping cart and then on your doorstep in just a few taps of the touchscreen. Millennials are changing the grocery shopping landscape by seeking out niche and healthy products at brick-and-mortar stores and online.

These two trends intersect at the rising popularity of ordering produce online – but is this shopping experience practical?

A survey conducted by online grocery service Door to Door Organics found that more than half of consumers who buy fresh food online are disappointed with the quality they receive. The freshness is lacking.

The CEO of Door to Door Organics notes shopping for produce is usually “a very sensory-oriented experience – consumers like to touch, feel, smell and even taste their selections.” Clicking on stock images of fruits and vegetables doesn’t exactly match up.

Nevertheless, online produce retailers seem to be everywhere. One of note is Overstock.com, which has taken the traditional CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) idea and made it accessible online. Unlike traditional CSA models, no long-term commitment is required. Instead, customers search by ZIP code for produce available nearby, and then order one box at a time to be delivered to their home or office within a few days.

Overstock.com is one of many new opportunities for consumers to purchase "farm fresh" produce online.

Overstock.com is one of many new opportunities for consumers to purchase “farm fresh” produce online.

Fruits and vegetables can often be the most expensive commodities of a grocery store haul, and the higher price points can get even higher when shopping at a farmers market – the traditional or online varieties. Will consumers pull back when they receive sub-par produce after shilling out their hard earned money? The desire to support small, independent farming operations may hit its limit for some shoppers.

The cost to ship produce in a timely manner is high, which could be a barrier for sellers and buyers. Ultimately, it’s up to the farmers to determine if the online shopping model fits into his or her commitment to deliver a fresh product reliably. Farmers have spent decades fine-tuning their traditional operations. It will likely take them a while to adjust to online sales.

I’m confident consumer demand and farming operations will find an appropriate middle ground. Eventually, streamlining will occur to provide shoppers with better consistency in the size, appearance, flavor and overall quality of the fruits and vegetables they purchase online. And even during the tumultuous adjustment to this new marketplace, there will be consumers who wholeheartedly support local farming initiatives online and in person. Farmers market stalls will continue to be packed with customers vying for locally grown goods, and the virtual shopping cart will see produce gradually join electronics, books, music and household goods.

Have you ordered produce online? Do you plan to in the future? Share your experience with us on Facebook or Twitter.