To Weigh or Not to Weigh
I recently took a call from a vegetable producer who operates a roadside stand. He was selling very large tomatoes and was having trouble pricing them. His standard sales method was to fill a quart container with tomatoes and price them by the container. But he found these large tomatoes didn’t work well in his model. I suggested selling them by the piece or better yet, by the pound. He was reluctant to use a scale because it took time to weigh the veggies and then calculate the price. Also, he didn’t want to have to make exact change.
The retail sale of fruits, vegetables, and other items is regulated by the Maryland COMAR. Vendors may erroneously believe that they are exempt from these regulations because they sell relatively little compared to a supermarket or because they only sell for a few months of the year. Most businesses are to some degree affected by weights and measures laws. This will vary on the type of business. In general, if you will be using any type of weighing and measuring device (scale, gas pump, and meter) you will be directly affected. If you will be packaging commodities you will need to know packaging, labeling, and net quantity requirements. The regulation was established to ensure that buyers receive sufficient and accurate information with which to compare quantity and price. Even if you sell by count, “three ears of corn for $1,” for example, compliance with the Weights and Measures is necessary. As a vendor, complying with the regulations protects you from perceptions of shortchanging customers or misrepresenting your product.
Selling by Weight Where Practical
You may have seen fruits and vegetables made available using several different types of containers or measures. These container sizes may not convert directly to common household units used in freezing or canning produce. However, legal weights and measures are required at all times when selling to consumers at farmers’ markets, roadside stands, or other commercial outlets. Produce may be sold by weight, count, or measure. For example:
Direct sale by weight: Apples: 50¢ per pound
By weight in prepackaged form: 2-pound package for $2 per package
By count: Apples: 6 for $1; Watermelon: $3 each
By measure: Strawberries: $2 per dry quart
While selling at a farmers’ market, it’s often more expedient to price items so that when people pay, making change is quick and easy to deal with the rapid flow of customers. But if you’re not using a scale in your roadside stand or farm market, you may be leaving money on the table. For example:
You sell a quart container of tomatoes for $4.00. But if you sell those same tomatoes for $1.49/pound and the container weighs 3.00lb, that’s $4.47, or rounded to $4.50, for the same volume of product. Scales are particularly important when selling meat and poultry products by the cut or package. If you market your free-range broilers by the package for $15 each, five chickens will add $75 to your cash box. But, most meat cuts and chickens vary in weight per package. Those same five chickens might weigh 4.33, 4.10, 4.48, 4.98, and 4.61 pounds respectively for a total of 22.50 pounds. Priced at $3.75 per pound, the net sale would be $84.38.
Purchasing and Maintaining Legal Trade Produce Scales:
Maryland Weights and Measures guidelines for small scales and their operation:
- Scales must be made for legal trade and for commercial use.
- A legal for trade scale will be marked with:
- A serial number
- A model number
- Class III designation on the ID plate
- NTEP certificate of conformance
- It is the responsibility of the owner to have the scale inspected and maintain accuracy.
- Inspectors can shut down a vendor for using unapproved scales.
- An alternative to using scales is to sell by volume. Using a traceable measure—peck, quart, labeled boxes, or berry baskets. Another method of sale is by the count. A few items such as parsley may be sold by the bunch.
How to Register Your Weighing Device
Maryland Department of Agriculture Commercial Weighing Measuring Device Registration
The Department of Agriculture registers commercial weighing and measuring devices used throughout Maryland to ensure that consumers receive the correct amounts of products they purchase. All scales and meters used during sales transactions where products are bought or sold must be registered each year. Types of businesses that may need to have devices registered include gasoline stations, grocery stores, meat markets, candy stores, package shipping stores, quarries, hardware stores, petroleum distributors, and other businesses that buy or sell commodities by weight, measure, or the count.
An applicant submits the application form provided by the Department of Agriculture and pays the appropriate fee. Upon receipt of the application and fee, a certificate of registration is mailed to the applicant. Applications are available online at the Maryland Department of Agriculture Weights and Measures.
An average of 10 days
Ranges from $15 to $300 depending on the type and number of devices. For example, the fee to register scales for weighing items up to 100 pounds is $20 per scale, up to a maximum of $325 per location. Registrations are renewed annually by May 31.
DEPARTMENT CONTACT NAME
Kenneth Ramsburg, Chief
Weights and Measures Section
50 Harry S. Truman Parkway
Annapolis, MD 21401
Mastering Marketing is produced by Ginger S. Myers and is published periodically containing important seasonal marketing information.