With greater frequency, I’m asked about starting a food business. Makes sense because, honestly, has there ever been a better time to love food? Top Chef, rock-star celebrity chefs, innumerable glossy food-porn magazines and Instagram pics just add to our industry’s perceived sexiness. Consumers are more educated and more willing to try new foods. Living in San Francisco, we’re fortunate to have access to so many talented food producers. The number of choices and flavors seem limitless.
As a result, perhaps you’re inspired to take the leap and start your own food business. Maybe you have that well-guarded family recipe passed down from Grandma that you want the world to know about. Perhaps you’ve discovered that “umami” that just totally blew your taste buds away – and are set upon creating and sharing your own. Dare I say that you’re confident that you can make something better than what’s already out there, pickles included?
Before you take the plunge, you should ask yourself, what is your goal? Do you want to just make food a hobby and sell your product through a few local corner stores? Or do you want to try to become the next Chobani Yogurt success story – a brand that went from $0 to $1 billion in sales in 7 years? Depending upon your goal, the commitment, hard work, sacrifice and financial resources will vary exponentially. And even then, there’s no guarantee of success.
Obviously, you’ve gotta have a product. Whatever your product is, don’t try to follow food trends. Why? Food trends come and go – and even when they hit, who knows how long the trend will stick around. Today’s kombucha may become yesterday’s goji berry. Besides, what happens if it takes a few years for your product to gain popularity? Which brings us to the second part of determining your product: LOVE THE FOOD YOU’RE MAKING. It goes without saying that you have to be dedicated to your food. Your business will fail if you don’t LOVE your food because you’re going to find yourself making that food. All. The. Time. To the point that you’ll dread having to make it. Think about it – could you eat your favorite food every single day for years – because that’s what you’re going to be faced with – and that’s just the times when your food comes out correctly. (Think about having to taste your food when the recipes are wrong. Ugh.)
Now more than ever, have a great personal story. Making your product relatable to the consumer is almost as important as the food itself. If you’re going to make bbq sauce – a highly commoditized product – amidst the dozens of bbq sauces available on store shelves – most of which are pretty much the same – what makes YOUR bbq sauce so amazing? Why should consumers choose your bbq sauce over the 30 other incumbents on the shelf? Maybe the recipe is handed down from your grandmother who lived in the midwest, who served it to homesteaders making their way across the country during the Depression. (I’m making this example up.) Maybe there’s a social cause that you care deeply about – and you intend to donate a portion of the proceeds to that cause. Whatever your story, consumers want to feel connected to their food, even if in some small intangible way – and a good story may be just enough to get consumers to give your product a chance over another.
Are you ready to take the plunge? If so, get ready for a helluva rollercoaster of a ride – one that’s full of wild ups and downs – but one that you may discover to be the most rewarding of your life.
NOTE: the author is not a professional writer, but a mildly successful maker of naturally fermented foods, so please don’t yell at him with spelling, story structure or punctuation errors because he’s going into a second day of production without sleep. And even if he wasn’t in production, he sucks at 2 of those 3 to begin with.