Craft the Recipe
Whether it’s killer blueberry muffins or a secret family hot sauce recipe, make sure you have something that sets you apart from the rest. Organic, artisanal, small-batch, or simply delicious — consumers are always looking for something new and different.
Even seemingly tiny niches like gluten-free foods can translate into huge numbers. Inspired by a class project, Aaron Greenwald, then a sophomore at Washington University, took his business plan for BOLD Organics from the classroom to the supermarket aisle. Partnering with a local chef, he launched a nationwide line of gluten- and dairy-free frozen pizzas. Statista estimates that U.S. sales for gluten-free foods will hit $23.9 billion by 2020.
Tapping a new market or fulfilling a consumer need can carry an up-and-coming business. Start with what you know, and then keep an eye on larger trends. If your niche is already filled, tweak your ideas to give consumers a taste of something new.
However, a new idea can go stale in a hurry. Remaining popular with consumers means keeping a business fresh and not overstaying your welcome. In New York City, hot dogs and pretzel vendors are old news, and consumers want variety, so the NYC Parks Department requested business proposals from aspiring mobile food vendors in an effort to increase the quality of food in city parks.
Mix the Ingredients
Creating a successful food business isn’t as easy as cook and serve. There are several factors to consider when a business is in the development stage, such as how accepting customers will be of your product and if it can withstand competitors. Taste testing is equally important. Your family and friends are the first-level focus group, but don’t forget about outsiders who aren’t afraid to tell you if your latest batch isn’t up to scratch.
If you plan on selling products that won’t be eaten immediately, testing shelf life and packaging should be carried out well before launch to be sure food stays fresh and undamaged during transit and storage.
Jonathan Miller, founder and CEO of Element Bars, an online provider of customizable energy bars, says, “Packaging has been our toughest challenge. People usually think that once the product is made, it is done. The reality is that I have spent at least 50 percent of my time on packaging and order fulfillment.”
Appeasing the market isn’t the only hurdle to a successful food business; government regulations also play an important role. Inspections, permits and food-handling guidelines vary depending on where you live and what you sell. Your best resources for details and requirements are other food-business owners and your county office.
Serve it up
Start-up costs depend on your business goals. According to entrepreneur.com, a home-based, full-service catering business, for example, can range from $10,000 to $50,000. The number of products you sell and whether or not you rent equipment could lower those costs significantly in the beginning.
Besides family and friends, the Internet is a great place for aspiring foodies to get their funds. Kickstarter.com helps entrepreneurs find capital online. Users submit their projects to the community and are connected with funders by offering customized gifts and incentives linked to the project instead of taking loans or giving up ownership.
It is possible, however, to go it alone. But turning a profit in the food business isn’t always a piece of cake. The success rate for any startup business is less than 50 percent. Despite high failure rates for restaurants and startups, with a good idea and hard work, you can find success doing what you are truly passionate about.