I spent several years, at the beginning of my business selling cakes and baked goods at fairs and markets. It’s a great way to get your name known locally, but there are a few tips and tricks that’ll help to successfully sell cakes at markets.
Making and selling cakes at markets can be both fun and very rewarding. It can also be tragically disappointing, cold and disheartening. I’m not going to sugar coat it and say it’s all unicorns and rainbows and the key to sales success, because believe me, I’ve had my fair share of days when it’s been wet and windy and I’ve come home with more stock than I’ve gone with. But there has also been times when I’ve come home with not a crumb left and a money box full of cash….and that’s been great.
After spending several of the early years selling my cakes at Fairs, Markets and Country Shows, here’s a few things I picked up that might help.
Check the Market out
If you can, pop along and see how things are. This isn’t always possible if it’s a yearly event, but if it’s a regular monthly or weekly thing, go along and see for yourself the lay of the land.
Back in the day I used to attend a regular farmers market in Hampshire. The organisation had a few locations, and I chose one close by to go to every month. It was good! I sold a good amount of stock, and with regular attendance soon learnt what sold, and what didn’t. I thought I’d try one of the other locations and went to check it out. But when I spoke to the other stallholders I soon found out it wasn’t for me due to the other stall holders attending etc.
If it’s a yearly event, ask for rough figures on footfall etc. Find out how busy it’s likely to get. Ask if there has been a cake or baked goods stall before and ask how the organisers thought they did. Ask probing questions. Many organisers will of course say ‘yeah, they did well’, but that’s not enough. Ask them the kind of things they sold, why they’re not coming back this year etc.
Also, check out how many other cake stalls there are going to be. I once turned up to a craft fair to find out of 20 stalls, 5 were selling cakes. It was hard work, and instantly put us in all competition with one another. It taught me to always check if I be the only cake stall, or maybe 1 of 2.
In all honesty I think deciding on your stock levels is one of the hardest things when preparing for a market. The problem with cakes is they’re perishable, and unlike jewellery or craft sellers, you can’t just pack it all into plastic boxes for the next market.
I’m not saying this is the only way, but this is how I work out what to sell.
Firstly, I look at the costs I need to cover – the cost of the stall, the cost of my time at the stall etc. The minimum I bake, is, if all sold, will cover those costs.
I then look at the type of event it is. Is it a seasonal fair, like a Christmas Market or Mother’s Day Event where people are more likely to treat themselves? Or is it a regular market, where people can come every week so sales may be lower? Is it being well advertised? Are there going to be a lot of other stall holder there? Because don’t forget stall holders are also potential customers.
Also, limit the choice. Depending on the size of the stall, I rarely take more than 5 things per 2 metres of stall. This works for 2 reasons, firstly I can produce them in bulk which is the cheapest way to bake. Secondly, its easier for customers to make quick decisions on what to buy.
What if your cakes don't sell?
Don’t be alarmed if you don’t sell immediately. Selling Cakes at a market can be a lesson in holding your ground. My experience has taught me that people often won’t buy cakes until after lunch. I have been to Country Fairs that open at 10am and haven’t made my first sale till gone midday, and then I’ve gone on to sell out. It’s disconcerting to not sell straight away, and it may be tempting to drop your prices. But wait until people have had a lunch break and you’ll soon start to see your cakes selling.
Saying all that, I have had times when an event has been poorly advertised, or the weather has been awful, or in fact the weather has been so hot and sunny no one wants a cake. I also did a food festival the weekend before the first covid lockdown and attendance was tragic. Which meant I was been left with large amounts of stock. In these cases, make sure you have somewhere to offload them. Whether you sell them on Facebook for immediate collection or sell through a food waste app like 'Too Good To Go', be prepared and make sure you’re not just throwing them and your profits away.
Presentation of your Cakes
Making your table or stall look nice is key, however, spending a large amount on equipment and props is going to wipe out any profit that you make so use the things you already have. Once you have established this may be something you want to do more regularly, you can start to invest. But for the first few fairs, whilst you’re still deciding if this sales model is for you, don’t break the bank.
In this post Covid world we are more aware of covering food up, so buy inexpensive plastic covers or cloches for your cakes. Don’t buy expensive glass ones that could get broken when unpacking and setting up your stand.
Have all the information that is needed for people to wander past and make a quick decision. After all, these sales are low value and spur of the moment purchases. Have clear labels on all your bakes so people know what they are and how much they’re going to cost.
Also, make sure behind your stall is neat and tidy. If you can, get a table cloth that reaches the floor and hide all your boxes and tut underneath. It really does help to make a good impression.
Make sure you are personally neat and tidy. Even if it’s an outdoor market, make sure you have a pinny or apron with your logo on show. If you need to wear gloves, try fingerless ones. Keep your hair neat and tidy. Not only is it general food hygiene, it’ll make a better impression to your customer.
Pricing your Cakes
Make sure you have prices clearly on show. You may think people will ask, because that’s what you would do, but not everyone is like you. Some people are too shy, or just can’t be bothered.
Price your cakes so they cover your costs and pay your wage. Don't forget not only have you been in the kitchen for a day making all these cakes, you're also stood on the stall for a few hours as well.
I often do a multiple discount as it really helps sales. Something like £2 each or 3 for £5. Mostly people will buy in single slices or multiples of 3! It’s rare to make a sale for 2 slices at £4, when for an extra £1 you get another slice – sales psychology!
Sometimes towards the end of the day, in the last hour of so, I may reduce the price or up the multiple discount and add an extra slice fore the money. But you need to hold out before you do this. Don't do it too soon.
The Paperwork and Hygiene Stuff
It goes without saying that, like any food production for selling, you should register with your local council, and have done all the relevant food hygiene training.
However, there are a few extra tips I’ll give you.
Always use tongs. You’re going to be touching money, you don’t want to be touching the food as well.
Have hand sanitiser on your stall and use it regularly.
Some markets ask for their own health inspections. I once attended the weekly market at Merton Abbey Mills in South London. As a regular attendee I had a FSA rating from the Merton Council Market Inspector as well as another for my kitchen in another borough entirely. Don’t be surprised if a market association asks to see all your paperwork, including your Public Liability Insurance.
Packaging and Labelling
I’m not going to go heavily into the labelling here, as there is much better information on the Food Standards Agency Website. However, I will say make sure you are informing your customers in the correct way about allergens. Selling cakes at a market has the same legal requirements as any other sales.
Since Natasha’s law was introduced in the UK all pre-packaged food must have ALL the ingredients it contains listed on the label. However, if your goods are not pre-packaged you must have a clear sign on your stall informing which allergens are used, and that customers must speak to you directly if they have allergies.
Simply put, if you put all your cake slices, brownies, cookies etc in a plastic bag before you get to the market you have to list all the ingredients on the label. If you put the baked goods into a bag in front of the customer, you have to have a sign up.
Don’t spent loads on packaging. Remember the packaging is coming off your costs. I use simple white, food safe paper bags from a wholesaler. Each bag cost less than a penny, so my costs are kept to a minimum and my profit to a maximum. I also have a supply of paper serviettes with me, as it’s not unusual for a customer to walk off eating their cake.
Always have your name, website and social links displayed on your stall. There is no point in making a fantastic display of delicious cakes, and no-one knows who you are or where to find you in the future.
Selling cakes at markets is a fantastic way of getting your cakes, at a low cost, into the hands and mouths of paying customers. Customers that may happily spend more on larger cakes. I used to always see fairs and markets as promotional opportunities as well as sales, and will always take a dummy cake to display as well as flyers or business cards.
You really never know, someone wandering past may buy a few cakes, or may not want a cake right there and then, but be impressed with what you have on offer and want to buy a birthday cake in the future. Have the information they need with you.
Also, use the market as an opportunity for social media content. Share where you’re going to be. Tell people what you’ll be selling. Take photos of the cakes on your stall….use every ounce of it to promote yourself elsewhere.
I successfully sold at Fairs and Markets for years. I got a point where I invested in a gazebo and even used our Vintage Camper Van as a stall. It can be very hard work. You have good sales days and you have awful sales days. It can be early starts and long hours, but ultimately if this is a business model you choose to pursue, you can make a good wage from it.
I would recommend reading my Essential Guide to Starting a Cake Business, as all the key elements still apply when your selling from a stall.
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