Objective: To explore the effect of seasonality on fruit and vegetable availability and prices across three outlet types (farmers' markets, roadside stands and conventional supermarkets).
Design: Cross-sectional survey of geographically clustered supermarkets, farmers' markets and roadside stands. Enumerators recorded the availability and lowest price for eleven fruits and eighteen vegetables in each season of 2011.
Setting: Price data were collected at retail outlets located in central and eastern North Carolina.
Subjects: The sample consisted of thirty-three supermarkets, thirty-four farmers' markets and twenty-three roadside stands.
Results: Outside the local harvest season, the availability of many fruits and vegetables was substantially lower at farmers' markets and roadside stands compared with supermarkets. Given sufficient availability, some items were significantly cheaper (P<0·05) at direct retail outlets in the peak season (e.g. cantaloupe cost 36·0 % less at roadside stands than supermarkets), while others were significantly more expensive (e.g. carrots cost 137·9 % more at farmers' markets than supermarkets). Although small samples limited statistical power in many non-peak comparisons, these results also showed some differences by item: two-thirds of fruits were cheaper at one or both direct outlets in the spring and autumn, whereas five of eighteen vegetables cost more at direct retail year-round.
Conclusions: Commonly consumed fruits and vegetables were more widely available at supermarkets in central and eastern North Carolina than at direct retail outlets, in each season. Contingent on item availability, price competitiveness of the direct retail outlets varied by fruit and vegetable. For many items, the outlets compete on price in more than one season.
Keywords: Farmers’ markets; Fruits and vegetables; Prices; Season.