How COVID-19 Changed Local Food Shopping Habits

CISA logo for resourcesSurvey Results and Messaging Toolkit

Throughout the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, local farms were managing market disruptions and implementing new systems to keep staff and shoppers safe amidst immense uncertainty. Many of them also saw a notable increase in demand from local shoppers. At CISA, we have worked to understand the primary motivations behind this increase, how shoppers’ habits changed as the pandemic continued into
2021, and how they may continue to change over time. This document sheds light on motivations behind evolving consumer shopping habits since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and share messaging strategies that farms and other local businesses can use to retain new
customers and increased demand from existing customers.

Marketing 101: An Introduction to Basic Marketing Practices

What do your roadside sign, flower beds, radio ads, and email newsletter have in common? They are all a part of your marketing effort. These elements should work together to draw people in and connect them to your business. Don’t be intimidated – a marketing plan can be simple, but it should be well thought out.

The development of an effective marketing plan is a challenging but necessary component of running a successful farm business. The resources below are based on CISA’s Marketing Workshops and are geared towards helping farmers develop and implement a marketing plan that will work for them, for their farm, and for their products. In them, we’ll walk through how to create a brand for your business, identify your target audience, and choose the marketing strategies that match your farm, products, and resources.

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Creating a Brand

In this section, we’ll walk through the basic practice of creating a brand by identifying your audience and the messages you want them to receive about your farm.

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Developing a Market Strategy

Once you’ve done the work of shaping your brand in your head, you need to begin projecting your brand through all of your outreach.

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DIY Market Research for Specialty Food Producers

While you can pay to access big industry data for specialty and niche food products, there’s plenty of steps you can take on your own to find customer trends and habits in a niche food category. This tip sheet is best for farms with agricultural and value added products in grocery and online retail outlets.

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Marketing Tool: Merchandising

Marketing your business and your products doesn’t end once you get customers to come to your farm or stand. When merchandise is displayed neatly, creatively, and attractively, sales increase and customers have positive associations that will bring them back.

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Marketing Tool: A Website for Your Farm

Any farm with any marketing goals at all should have a website. If you are promoting your business through any other medium but do not have a website for the people you attract to visit, you are missing a big opportunity to pull people in.

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Strategy: Print Materials

Most businesses will find a need for some sort of printed materials, such as business cards, brochures, flyers, or even print advertising. Familiarize yourself with some design basics that can help you lay out your own professional-looking materials, or evaluate designs created for you by a professional.

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Marketing Tool: Publicity and Community Relations

There are many ways to spread the word about your business using alternative, free methods of getting publicity. The possibilities for drawing people in are endless, but here are some ideas to get you started.

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Marketing Tool: Social Media

There are many ways in which businesses can successfully use web-based tools to promote their businesses. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and email newsletters allow you to actively reach out to and engage with customers.

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Marketing Tool: Press Releases

As newspapers reduce staff time in response to pressures on their business, it’s easier than ever to get a well-written press release published in your local paper. Newspaper coverage is free, doesn’t put you in direct competition with other businesses that advertise in the paper, and being featured in the newspaper carries with it an aura of legitimacy.

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Marketing Tool: Paid Advertising

A good ad, run often enough, will succeed in print, on the radio, and TV. It can be surprisingly easy to miss the mark with your advertising, though, so in this section we will cover tips for creating customer focused advertising and debunk some common myths about advertising.


This material is based upon work supported by USDA/NIFA under Award Number 2010-49200-06201.

In accordance with Federal law and US Department of Agriculture policy, this institution is prohibited from discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.)

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410, or call (800) 795-3272 (voice), or (202) 720-6382 (TDD).

Additional Resources

Advanced Web Marketing: Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
This guide was developed in 2015 to help farms and food businesses implement SEO tools to draw more customers to their websites.

Create a Marketing Plan
University of Minnesota
Create a free account that will help you develop a personal business and marketing plan for beginning your agricultural enterprise

CISA also has free one-on-one assistance available for Local hero member farms related to marketing. Click here for details.

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