Selling fruits and vegetables is an enterprise as old as time, harkening back to the ancient marketplace in the town square where people gathered to exchange goods and stories. Today, a fruit business can take a variety of forms, from the traditional marketplace to an online platform. While the logistics have certainly evolved, all of these enterprises share a mission to provide fresh, high-quality fruit as well as a business model that relies on strong customer relationships.
Fruit Business Possibilities
- Farmers' market stand. Farmers' markets are usually held weekly at central locations. You may even be fortunate to live in a place that holds multiple weekly farmers' markets. Many markets implement guidelines that require you to grow your own fruit or vegetables if you wish to vend. If you do have a farm that produces fruit, this is a natural and obvious way for you to reach the right customers.
- Door-to-door vegetables business. While the fruit push cart of the 18th and early 19th century has become a bit of an anomaly, you can still reach customers door to door through an online business model. You'll need a great website and some infrastructure, but there are many possibilities for providing quality fruit through home delivery.
- Permanent fruit stand location. A fruit stand business can be anything from a shack on the side of a country road to a brick-and-mortar location with an outdoor fruit stand feel. Even in major cities, there are empty lots where you can sell fresh fruit if you develop a relationship with the property owner. Success with this type of fruit stand business depends heavily on consistency so customers know where and when they can find you on a regular basis.
Fruit Business Sourcing
If you grow your own fruit, you'll be perfectly positioned to start a fruit stand business. Not only will you not have to pay growers or distributors for the product you'll sell, but you'll also have a story to tell. As the local foods movement has gained traction, consumers have grown increasingly interested in supporting local farmers and sourcing their produce directly without middlemen.
However, most fruit stand operators don't have tracts of land or the personnel to grow their own offerings. If you're not a grower, you can either source your fruit directly from growers or you can work with distributors. Direct sourcing offers the advantage of high quality and freshness, but it's more work to order and receive deliveries from multiple farmers than to get all of your fruit at once. Working with local farmers requires building relationships and also developing contingency plans because crops often don't come in as anticipated.
Working with a fruit distributor is a convenient alternative. You can order many varieties of fruit from a single supplier who also works with many suppliers to fill in gaps when there's an issue with the supply chain. Although customers like being able to buy locally grown fruit, they also like having plenty of options year round, and distributors allow you to have strawberries in winter and bananas in the Pacific Northwest because they tend to source from farther afield. You may even be able to find a distributor who offers the best of both worlds: buying local produce and supplementing seasonally.
Fruit Stand Marketing
Your strategy for marketing your fruit stand will depend on the type of fruit stand you operate and the specific clientele you wish to serve. If you vend at a farmers' market, the market organization does most of your marketing for you as far as drawing customers to a central location. Your job is to create an appealing and bountiful display that tells your story, such as whether you farm on land that your family has owned for generations or whether you're a software engineer who switched to an agricultural career.
If you set up a fruit stand on the side of the road, your signage will play an important part in a potential customer's decision of whether or not to stop and buy your fruit. Your sign should be easy to read from a distance and appealing enough to entice drivers to stop. It should also be positioned to give drivers enough notice to be able to stop in time. Having a series of signs leading up to your location gives drivers time to decide to pull over, and having ample parking makes it easy for them to do so.
If you set up a fruit stand in an urban area, it should either have a built-in clientele from existing foot traffic or you should put some effort into communicating your marketing message. Whether you are selling local and organic options, imperfectly shaped seconds or affordable cases for canning, you need to make this clear to your customers and potential customers, and you need to spread the word in ways that will attract the right crowd. Social media allows you to connect with like-minded shoppers if you can figure out ways to cut through the noise.
Fruit Stand Refrigeration
Depending on the types of fruit you're purveying, refrigeration is important. The better you’re able to keep your fruit cold, the longer it will last. You have more time to sell your product if it has a longer shelf life. It will also keep longer when your customers take it home, increasing the odds of their becoming repeat clientele.
However, refrigeration is expensive, and it’s harder to create an enticing display with the restrictions of cooler shelving. If you’re operating a cart or a farmers' market stand, it certainly won’t make sense to keep all of your product refrigerated while you’re vending.
Regardless of whether you use refrigeration when you display your fruit, your business will be much more viable if you’re able to keep your fruit refrigerated overnight and when it isn’t on display. If you do mobile vending, you may be able to rent cooler space without having to set up your own warehouse or storage facility. Assess your cold-temperature and room-temperature storage needs and write them into your business plan.
Other Fruit Stand Infrastructure
If you find a fruit cart for sale, you may be able to start your fruit stand business with all of the equipment and infrastructure you need. If not, you’ll need to purchase and build units for display, storage and point-of-sale transactions.
For a roadside fruit stand, your shelving should be sufficient to hold your inventory, but it can also be reasonably rustic because an unfinished feel contributes to the overall feeling of an operation that’s dedicated to getting customers the freshest-possible produce at the lowest-possible price.
If you're building a fruit cart, you can either design a setup where you transport most of the fruit on the cart itself or you can bring most of the fruit separately and create your display once you reach your destination. The latter approach might be easier, but don't limit your display options for the sake of easy transport because a vibrant, bountiful and colorful display will do wonders for your sales. Because space on a fruit cart is so limited, your shelving setup should also make use of multiple levels, compensating for a small footprint with extra vertical space.
Devra Gartenstein founded her first food business in 1987. In 2013 she transformed her most recent venture, a farmers market concession and catering company, into a worker-owned cooperative. She does one-on-one mentoring and consulting focused on entrepreneurship and practical business skills.