You’ve always felt at home in the kitchen, and now that you’ve mastered the art of granola (it’s all about stirring every 15 minutes), perhaps it’s time to take it to the next level–or at least to your local farmers’ market.
While the vendors you see might look like they’re selling at a grown-up bake sale, the specialty-food trade is less third-grade fund raiser and more Top Chef meets Shark Tank. So if you’re not buds with Mr. Wonderful, you might want to pick up a copy of Good Food,
This textbook-like guide, full of helpful charts and checklists, is anything but boring (in fact, it made us quite hungry). The author, Susie Wyshak, interviewed more than 75 food-industry experts on what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.
In a perfect world, all food would be Fair Trade certified and organic. But when you have a budget to answer to, consider making just 65 percent of your ingredients organic. That way you’ll produce a wholesome cupcake that doesn’t cost $20.
Do the Research
Chances are you don’t have a degree in gourmet gelato production, but what you do have is the Internet. Take time to analyze how businesses you admire “did it” by studying their mission statements, press releases and social media activity (all usually available through the About Us section on a company’s website). Once you’ve done your homework, don’t be afraid to email the founders and ask for advice. Be genuine, specific and succinct with your request. It won’t hurt to offer something in return, like intel that could help with their business.
Leave Your Logo to the Pros
Even if you fancy yourself a Photoshop whiz, consider hiring a professional designer and branding expert who can create a logo for you in a way that represents what your product really stands for. A DIY-looking label can easily keep your target audience from trying your goodies. Try Fiverr, a Craigslist-like service for creative and marketing gurus.
Network, Network, Network
Trade shows, like the Summer Fancy Food Show, are places where you can meet suppliers face-to-face so you can form strong relationships from the start. Plus, you’ll learn about tons of new ingredients–hello, Hatch chile peppers–and scope out the competition.
Buy in Bulk
No, we don’t just mean at Costco. Contacting suppliers directly can yield an extra discount, especially if you can coordinate orders with another local artisan. Some farmers now sell amounts as small as five pounds if you cut out the middleman by going straight to the ranch yourself. You should never pay retail, even when experimenting.
Do the Math
If your dream is to put your strawberry jam on retail shelves, you better have at least $75,000 in the bank to cover legal fees, large-scale equipment and a trade-show booth. Brand design alone can run a cool $10,000. A small-batch production from your home can cost you quite a lot of money because, in addition to buying all the ingredients and packaging, you’ll need to refurb your space to meet health-code regulations (some states require a second kitchen entirely).
Spread the Word
Put it on a T-shirt. No, really. Market as much as possible. This means staying active on social media, giving out samples and maybe even ordering a box of bumper stickers.
Technology is Your Friend
You can go crazy–not to mention waste a ton of time–updating every social media account for your brand. Navigate the social realm smarter with Hootsuite, a social media manager that lets you deal with all accounts on one dashboard. Bonus: Its analytics page shows your social ROI with easy-to-read data graphs. You might also want to clock a few hours with a food photographer and a prop stylist to have pictures pretty enough to leave the food bloggers salivating.