I never actually realized that there were so many ways to pronounce vegan until I set up a stall at the Tift Part Community Market in Albany, Georgia. There’s ‘veggan’, ‘ve-gahn’, and my personal favourite, ‘vejjan’. They tell you in all the entrepreneur books to choose the right market for your product - and I’m not sure rural-ish south Georgia was the right place to sell vegan jerky.
Next to me is Kat, who sells homemade jam. Next to her is Martha who sells plants and various crocheted things. Kerbie with a tie-dye shirt who sells beautiful homemade pottery is set up on the corner .The music for the day is Cal Altman Jr who pulled in at 730 am in a pickup with a confederate flag on his license plate and a head full of country covers.
I’ve been reading Do The KIND Thing by Daniel Lubetzky (he of Kind Bar fame) and he says that getting people to sample your product in front of you is the best way to get feedback. Every waggle of the eyebrow, grimace or smile is a clue. I’ve only been to the market twice so far but you can’t trust all the feedback you get - you have to classify the customer before you iterate your product based on their facial tics.
The farmer’s market equivalent of a drive by shooter. A glance at the little chalkboard sign that says ‘vegan snacks!’ and an angry narrowing of the eyes. The Glarer will not stop or look in your general direction as they shake their head when you offer them a sample.
The Polite Refuser
The Polite Refuser will sample the product but will claim their partner who has all the cash is off on a jaunt on the other end of the market and they’ll just circle back when they find them again, ok? This is the South and politeness is part of the social DNA. I know I will never see them again, and if I do, eye contact will not be made.
The Adventurous Sampler
The second best kind of person. They’ll swerve from their trajectory upon seeing the words “free samples!”. They try one of everything. There will be thoughtful chews and a sommelier-ish attempt to place the flavors. “It has the texture of chicken but what is that? Cumin? Have you been to the Peacock Indian Grill here - I love Indian Food!” (one of my products is flavored like a tikka masala). Sometimes there’s honest feedback - about the texture being weird or how it needs to have more of a chili kick to it. I don’t care if they hate it because they’re telling me why.
The Vegan makes a beeline straight for the stall and they buy product to support the culture (there’s not much that’s vegan around here). They’re my people and I won’t say a bad word about them.
The *absolute* best. They love trying samples and there’s something about being young where the filter between your face and your emotions just doesn’t work. They have no expectations around the word vegan. Every chew yields a different facial expression. “It’s like chicken but it’s not!”. A frown after chewing followed by “This is decent actually”. “I wish it was drier”. And perhaps the future marketing slogan - “hmmm they’re like chicken doritos”. My happiest moment was when a group of kids had their mom buy a packet and split it between them in front of me.
One of the rules of Tift market is that vendors have to stay until 2pm. There’s a lot of waiting in the heat and plenty of borrowing bug spray from Kat next to me. It’s boring sometimes, but when people buy something I create - or even if they say they like it - that’s worth it. It’s why I wanted to start a food business in the first place.
Bites (or what I’m reading this week):
The Way We Eat Now by Bee Wilson : I’m only about half way through this book, but it’s a wonderfully written explanation of our food system and why we eat the way we do.
How Protein Bars Got So Popular by Madeline Leung Coleman : It’s probably the most competitive section of the snack food aisle and this article explains how it got that way (in the USA anyway).
Are Your Tinned Tomatoes Picked By Slave Labor by Tobias Jones and Awo Awokoya : A good reminder that eating plant based doesn’t equate to ethical consumption. Required reading.