We're Ready to Produce & Sell Our Foods. Now What?

The Answer Is to Answer the Right Questions Before Doing Anything

amazing artisan pasta vendor gets the food out there in a local market
••• Susie Wyshak

Have you ever taken all the right steps to accomplish a big entrepreneurial goal. Then when it came time to get out and launch you began to second guess yourself or wonder what you really should do?

Recently a food startup came to me with that very question. Here for the learning of this intrepid 

What advice do you have for someone that's where I am with their new venture:

  • We got the recipe down
  • We formed a company
  • We have a commercial kitchen membership
  • Our local licensing and insurance is in place.
  • We need one more inspection and then everything is totally legit.
  • We've taken some samples around and people are interested.

The Real Question

We're on a tight budget and I want to get this right, but I also don't want to go too fast and sacrifice quality. At this point I'm kind of freaking out about launching the product and getting customers. How should we go about this?

If Your Goal Is to Get Big and Sell in Retail Stores:

Deb Mazzaferro, Specialty Food Coach and Consultant, suggests that the best thing you can do once production is worked out is to focus on sales. Here's to get started:

  1. Develop a target list of the accounts you want to be in.
  2. When you present your product, also ask what distributor they use and how to promote your product in their store. This will help you to understand how to grow sales at that particular location and when your sales are significant enough, you’ll want to turn over the logistics of getting it there to a distributor.
  3. The distributor has a roster of other customers you can then tap into.

Without revenue, you don’t have a business — you have a hobby. 

Particularly when you're planning to make it big, you need to explore early on:

  • How you will fund the business and project your packaging and production costs
  • Know if you want to use a co-packer to produce your foods and beverages
  • Avoid the mistake of exhibiting at a big trade show until you are crystal clear on your goals and production capability.

If Your Goal Is to Be an Artisan FoodCrafter and Sell at Small Scale:

  1. Start with the most important question: Why are you doing this? What do you want your life to look like? You could spend a lot of money fiddling around only to discover you don't want to be up at 2am fixing a juicer or working on food safety plans.
  2. Think about your ingredients sources, availability, and the cost today and in the future — especially when working with a high-demand ingredient like nuts that could get more expensive over time.
  3. Interview food startups who have a food business similar to the one you're thinking about. What's it really like, once you get going?

    However you see your business, understanding your early customers and eventual customers by learning about food shopper demographics and behavior will be a big help. 

    What's Your Real Goal In Starting a Food Business?

    What I advised this startup was to approach some local cafes and stores to see if they were already selling any local, competitive products.

    Regardless, there are so many hot coffee companies and interesting food business models these days. Getting insight from local businesses and local retailers (even if you do not want to sell at their stores) can be invaluable.

    But wait — do nothing until you know why you are embarking on this arduous, expensive food business journey. (I'm not trying to dissuade you, really!)

    How to Maximize Your Chance of Success

    You may start your food business with one intention and vision of success. For example, selling food you make at home because people love it sounds really good until you get into a nationwide magazine and the $$$ offers roll in. Then what?

    Specialty food veterans have seen many small food companies fail over the years, often because they are busy seeking publicity without a real sales or production plan.

    Many of these small businesses close shop, a chunk of the 50% of small businesses that fail each year. Small businesses fail for many reasons. This is not a new phenomenon.

    My mission in life happens to be helping artisan food entrepreneurs increase their chances of success. You'd be surprised how many specialty food companies are willing to help — which is why they contributed their wisdom to my book Good Food, Great Business.

    Reading a book may seem like a time luxury you cannot afford. Do you spend time on Instagram on Facebook? Invest that time in schooling yourself.

    Knowledge Is Power 

    Once you know what you're producing and the answers to the above questions, take a break, reflect, learn and make a plan to achieve whatever you want your company to become.