3 ways the Boulder Farmers Market supports emerging brands

In its 38th season, the Boulder Farmers Market has long been a launchpad for natural and organic brands that are available around the country. Find out more.

Jenna Blumenfeld, Freelancer

June 4, 2024

5 Min Read
The Boulder Farmers Market has long been a launchpad for natural and organic brands that are available around the country.

At a Glance

  • Justin's, Noosa, Frescos Naturales and Pastificio Boulder are among the brands that started at the Boulder Farmers Market.
  • Boulder Farmers Market shoppers are highly educated about sustainability and sourcing, and willing to give honest feedback.

Accelerator programs funded by venture capital firms or large CPG corporations have gained significant popularity in the past decade. But despite their prevalence, it’s worth examining how farmers markets—arguably the O.G. natural industry incubators—have supported and continue to build young brands.

Now in its 38th year of operation, the Boulder Farmers Market in downtown Boulder, Colorado, has had a particularly successful track record of launching some of the most beloved and well-known food companies in the natural industry.

Justin’s, acquired by Hormel Foods in 2016 for $286 million, sold the first few jars of nut butter at the Boulder Farmers Market in 2004. The yogurt brand Noosa, purchased by Campbell’s in March, also got its start here.

Here’s how the Boulder Farmers Market helps new brands understand customer preferences, generate immediate cash flow and fortify local supply chains.

Ted Steen and Claudia Bouvier co-founded Pastificio Boulder, a craft pasta brand, in 2017.

Real-time consumer feedback

“For many small businesses, getting into their local farmers market provides an opportunity to introduce their product to a diverse audience right at the beginning of their journey,” says Mackenzie Sehlke, executive director of Boulder County Farmers Markets. “Ultimately, farmers markets take on the lofty task of building customer trust and loyalty between businesses and consumers.”

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Interacting directly with customers allows entrepreneurs to gather real-time data about their product’s market viability. Participating in farmers markets enables brands to perfect their product before entering wholesale, where adjusting formulations at scale can be more complex.

“The Boulder Farmers Market was our launchpad when we created Pastificio,” says Claudia Bouvier, co-founder of Pastificio, a company that blends ancient and heirloom wheat varieties to make craft pasta. “It became an essential tool for product development, community connections and marketing in our early stages.”

Because the average Boulder Farmers Market shopper is highly educated about sustainability and ingredient sourcing, Bouvier was able to gather the honest feedback she sought in her brand’s early days regarding taste, messaging about heirloom wheat, price, packaging, nutrition and more. Many of Pastificio’s first customers continue to be the company’s biggest advocates.

Juan Ignacio Stewart founded Frescos Naturales, a Latin American-inspired beverage company, at the urging of his son.

An economic engine for entrepreneurs

Many newly launched food and beverage brands are funded by entrepreneurs themselves. Whether founders raise money from friends and family or dig into their savings to buy ingredients, packaging and a timeslot in a shared kitchen, garnering cash flow is a major hurdle for small businesses to keep their small operations funded.

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Participating in the Boulder Farmers Market is key to how Juan Ignacio Stewart, owner of the Latin American–inspired beverage brand Frescos Naturales, has kept his company cash-positive during the growth phase of his business. In 2022, Stewart won Natural Products Expo East Pitch Slam’s Audience Choice award at the Philadelphia Convention Center.

“Farmers markets are incredible economic engines; they are the crucial lifeline for early startups to survive,” he says. Specifically, farmers markets support entrepreneurs in three ways:

  • Founders receive the full price for their products because there are no distribution costs or retail margins.

  • Purchases provide immediate cash. Stewart must often wait 30 to 60 days to receive payment when working with a distributor, which can place a financial strain.

  • Vendors move “a ton of product,” says Stewart, through sampling and selling directly to customers.

The fluid funds Stewart generates at the farmers market are instrumental to Frescos Naturales’ growth, he says.

“It provides capital for innovation, which you can test and get measurable results in a short timeline and in a controlled environment, something that is much more difficult, much more expensive and much more risky to do at retail,” says Stewart, who makes between $1,000 and $2,000 per weekend during the farmers market season.

Additionally, the validation he receives from customers at the Boulder Farmers Market keeps him motivated as a small business owner, he says. The joy he experiences when customers sample his product for the first time is much more satisfying than reviewing a distributor sales report.

Cultivating local supply chains

Participating in the Boulder Farmers Market is not only about selling products to customers. It’s also a vehicle for farmers and manufacturers to make trust-based, mutually beneficial connections with fellow vendors.

“We often see that the markets provide a strong network for our vendors to collaborate with one another,” Sehlke says. “It’s much easier for local pickling companies to source crisp cucumbers, or for bakers to source fresh apples for homemade pies, when your booth is next to a local farmer. These types of interactions allow farmers markets to boost the local economy in both purchasing dollars and connected supply chains.”

For instance, Pastificio’s Bouvier says that by exhibiting at the farmers market, she was able to find a reliable supply of hard-to-find heirloom wheat varieties for her pasta. Building close relationships with farmers in her county allowed her to grow her brand exponentially without the headache of ingredient sourcing challenges.

“We established fundamental sourcing connections back then,” she explains.

Knowing exactly where her wheat comes from permits Bouvier to enjoy deep insights into her brand’s ingredient integrity, ultimately creating a superior, more delicious product.

Visit the Boulder Farmers Market from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays from May 1 to Oct. 2 and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays from April 6 to Nov. 23. Find more information at bcfm.org.

Pastificio and Frescos Naturales are scheduled to exhibit at Newtopia Now, New Hope Network’s new trade show debuting Aug. 25-28 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, Colorado. For more information and to register, click here.

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About the Author(s)

Jenna Blumenfeld


Jenna Blumenfeld lives in Boulder, Colorado, where she reports on the natural products industry, sustainable agriculture, and all things plant based. 

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