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Should people selling at markets at least know what they're selling?

There's a new farmer's market near my apartment and I went to check it out today. There was a guy there selling spices and fancy teas all sitting loose in big bowls. It looked delicious and smelled even better and I couldn't wait to check them out more closely... he had a few spice blends I'd never heard of so I asked him what was in them. His exact answer - 'I haven't got a clue'. Ummmm... great way to inspire consumer confidence! If you're going to sell something exotic to your average consumer, shouldn't you at least be able to tell your them what's in it, and maybe even how to use it? (btw I didn't buy any... we have to be very careful what spice blends we use and the guy wasn't going to be able to tell me if it had peppers in it, or whether it was salt-free.) All in all, very disappointing...

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  1. That's very odd. I usually have the opposite experience at farmer's markets: the vendors are so enthusiastic about their product they go on & on explaining what it is, how it's produced, etc.

    1. Absolutely. Our farmers' market its producers-only, so I would surely hope they know what they are selling. It sounds like your market either allows middle man sales, or this was an employee that wasn't properly trained on their products.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Kontxesi

        It seemed more than a little odd... everyone else was eager to tell me what their ingredients were, to offer tasting samples etc. and this guy didn't even seem to want to be there. Maybe he was just having a bad day... (when I told him I loved za'tar and I was pleased he had it, and asked about the 'other' Turkish spice mix that I've never heard of and can't recall the name of right now, he asked if I'd ever been to Turkey. Ummm... nope. You can like food without being a world traveller.)

        1. re: Kajikit

          sounds like he was filling in for someone. at least he tried to engage you in some kind of conversation. but yes, it's odd.

      2. I just had this experience the last time I went cheese shopping. As much my inexperience as theirs (which I didn't count on being at issue). I didn't realize until I returned with my purchases and started to discuss them on the CH Cheese board that I learned I was misinformed. All the cheese tasted wonderful and I didn't mind the price I budgeted for, I just didn't learn anything. But, now I'm left feeling a bit less able to rely on cheese sellers at this particular shop.

        1. btw, the 'unknown' spice was Turkish Baharat... from looking it up online I can see that it's most likely safe for us to use and it sounds yummy.

          1. maybe the seller was being a little (or a lot) too zealous in keeping his secret spice blends secret? might be worth going back one more time and asking again, at least in terms of "does this contain [spice you need to avoid]?"

            1. It might be possible that the guy was hired help.

              5 Replies
              1. re: raytamsgv

                No excuse. They've wasted the money on his salary by not training him in the products sold.

                1. re: sunshine842

                  Agreed. I was once the "hired help" for some beekeepers, but I could still explain what creamed honey was, the taste difference between wildflower and summer thistle, and the (supposed) benefits of bee pollen.

                  1. re: Kontxesi

                    And they were really lucky to have you!

                    1. re: escondido123

                      They didn't think so. :p I didn't make it two months. My sales weren't high enough, apparently. They were comparing our market to a much busier one, blah blah blah.... I even bought a truck so I could transport their tables!

                      I wonder if they are still selling here. I never make it into town on Saturdays.

                2. re: raytamsgv

                  Or it could have been someone who came in to help out because someone was sick or couldn't make it. I would not write-off a vendor because of one bad experience but would go by the place again and see if someone else is there who does know the stock.

                3. Not at the Farmers' Market but I had this experience at Whole Foods which perhaps might be more likely but still surprising - I asked the deli worker for prosciutto to which she responded "what's prosciutto?" I should have stopped there because she proceeded to cut it and piled it all in paper just like regular deli turkey. I'd expect someone at the Farmers' Market bringing special items of their own to know what they're selling.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: fldhkybnva

                    Similar experience - not only did a large grocery near me not have prosciutto, but the employees at both the butcher counter and the deli did not know what it was.

                    1. re: NonnieMuss

                      Yea I was appalled when I got home. I returned it the next day and the customer service employee was quite irate that the deli worker had no idea what it was so at least someone realized it was unacceptable. Her exact words were "absolutely not, they are not allowed on that line unless they know the products as well as how to cut them appropriately, I will speak tot he manager as soon as we're done."

                  2. Perhaps bring it up with the Market Master or the like?
                    That is NOT any way that a farmers market producer should act.

                    1 Reply
                    1. If he had said, "sorry, I'm filling in for so and so, but here's his card" ... Or "let me make a quick call... I'm new here" it would have been fine.

                      It sounds like he just dismissed you out of hand - which shows that he has never worked with the public, or in any type of customer service job (successfully at least!). Now and then I run across someone like that, and I wonder who the hell didn't even teach them common courtesy.

                      1. Yes, I think they should know what they're selling. Even if the guy was a new hire, couldn't he have apologetically referred to a written guide stating what was in the blend? Poor planning!

                        It happened to me recently. I was at a small, local producers-only market and saw sunchokes at the register. I asked the two women (who worked the stand) standing there what they did with the 'chokes. Neither had any experience using them and said it was a new item this year. Weird.

                        1. Sounds like an experience from a farmers market, that actually isnt a farmers market.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Harters

                            Well, it did only open two weeks ago... the local council is trying to go 'foodie'. They got a gourmet brewery to open in a disused warehouse earlier this year and now they want to make a 'culinary arts district'. Of course they don't know what they're doing, but I don't really care - I'm just glad to have ANY way to buy fresh food in walking distance, because the veggie shop closed down years ago. They're talking about trying to start a 'European style' indoor market in the other half of the warehouse but who knows if it'll ever happen.

                          2. The spices in open bowls on top of pedestals sounds like the set up at Spices and Tease here in NYC. They have a place on the UWS, replaced the FAR superior Penzey's at the Grand Central Station Market, and are a constant at the holiday craft and gift fairs at Union Square and Columbus Circle. The spices look colorful and interesting and smell great when out in the open, which is why they display them that way. But really it's a terrible way to store them - they should be in some kind of sealed container.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: ratgirlagogo

                              European spice vendors sell them open bowls all the time...must not be *that* big a deal....I agree with you in theory, but it doesn't seem to be the case.

                              1. re: sunshine842

                                Spices and Tease is a French based company, which must be why they do it. If the turnover is fast enough, I agree that it's likely no problem at all. But I see no turnover happening at all at S&T - especially at the Grand Central Market, which never has any customers no matter what day of the week or what time of day you go. Personally aside from everything else I am so annoyed that they replaced Penzey's, which has a much superior selection and price, and no longer even has a retail outlet in NYC.

                            2. I can see how that could happen. Explanation:
                              I recently started picking up some shifts at a butcher nearby. They need holiday workers, I can use the $. While I'm a decent cook, I am by no means an expert on all the cuts of meat or bits of offal.

                              First day, I was handed a uniform and told to get to work. I have never been given an orientation, never been told how we take or place orders, or what products we stock or keep in the cool room. Customers assume that I know how every item in the shop is sourced, what the ingredients are in all the house-prepared items (we make probably 20 types of sausages...all i really know is which ones contain gluten or dairy), and can give them cooking and recipe suggestions. I ask a ton of questions of the other workers, use the butchers as resources, and sometimes just smile and say I'm new. I have also done research on my own, but with only a casual position picking up shifts to help through the holidays, my training isn't a priority for them. I was shown once, briefly how to use the slicer...and now I pretend I'm good at that AND at hand-slicing ham.
                              People also assume that I'm a butcher. Ha!--but we all work behind the counters, all use sharp knives, and all wear similar uniforms. Sometimes I really have to say to customers that I haven't got a clue!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Ama658

                                While I concede that it's a little over-the-top to memorize the full ingredient list of all 20 sausages, it's definitely a bad call on their part to not give you the tools you need to do your job.

                                That would include giving you a list (laminated and kept on the counter for everyone to use, or something you could stick in an apron pocket) of the ingredients, the name of the person to ask for cooking instructions, and (OMG) enough training to ensure that hand-sliced doesn't become sliced-hand. Shame on them for not thinking this is important.

                              2. They absolutely should know what they're selling. Case in point, one of the local but less well-established farmers markets in my town had a vendor giving away "chestnuts" for roasting. Problem was they were horse chestnuts and were potentially toxic! Well meaning idiots.