One Important Tip on Starting a Food Business

Posted on January 30, 2014 by

As a food entrepreneur, you often have to handle many tasks at the same time and be skilled in several areas. That's challenging enough already, so don't complicate things, especially early on.

Simplify and Focus

We recently shared an article via our social media pages about simplifying your product line, and have put that into practice at our jerky company, SlantShack, as well. We initially had several meat types and over time brought it down to just one, which led to simpler decision making for our users and clearer marketing and branding for our company.

Simplifying your product line is just one piece of starting a successful food business - really any business. You want to focus on one thing at a time, and do that thing really well. Having more products makes that more challenging on many levels - it complicates (and likely makes more expensive) production, ingredient sourcing, branding and marketing, distribution - basically all the things that you have to be good at as a business.

A short email exchange

So, along those lines, I wanted to share a quick email exchange I had with one of our customers on the verge of starting his own business. It highlights the challenges of getting started as a food business, and hopefully highlights the value of focus. And while listening to me is far from a guarantee of success, part of the message definitely got through and seemed to help at least one person.

Customer email:

I am working on weeding out the doubts (doing more research) of such a venture enough to make the plunge. Some concerns:

  • Food safety
  • Suppliers (local and organic) - does this mean I don't make hot sauce year round?
  • Startup costs
  • Scatterbrain syndrome - I want to make hot sauce, truffles, pickles, kimchi, home made condiments, extracts, etc.
  • Kitchen routine and the differences between a few jars of hot sauce and many gallons.
  • Where/how to sell - farmers markets, local restaurants, co-ops?

- Lovely Customer

Our Response:

  • Food safety: I'd check your state's cottage food laws as far as whether you're allowed to produce out of your home or not. A shared-use commercial kitchen is a safe bet and you should be able to find one near you. With hot sauce you need to make sure it is shelf-stable (pH has to be below 4.5 or so) if you're going to be doing retail, but for farmers markets that's probably not an issue.
  • Suppliers: For hot sauce that will definitely be a problem finding local peppers year round. You'll have to find a reliable source year round.
  • Startup costs: There will be startup costs, but hopefully nothing major. You'll probably need liability insurance and form an LLC or something similar. No major expenditures.
  • Scatterbrain syndrome: Focus, focus, focus. Pick one thing. Build a brand locally. Then MAYBE consider other products, but it's probably still much more effective to focus.
  • Recipe scaling: You have to test this out and see if the process changes for larger batches. It probably won't be drastically different, but you should experiment.
  • Where to sell: Farmers markets are a great place to start. Test your market, make sure people like it. Then local stores, maybe restaurants/bars.

- ReciPal

Customer email:

I am going to read #4 at least 20 times a day. All good advice. Focusing, focusing, focusing!

Parting Words

Hopefully that helps you and reinforces the importance of focus. It reaches beyond just your product line, but your approach to every task, every day, and every week. Decide what's important and focus on accomplishing that goal. Don't get distracted and most importantly don't create distract yourself!

Have your own tips? Leave them in the comments!

About Lev Berlin

Lev Berlin ReciPal SlantShack Author Bio

Lev Berlin is the founder & CEO of ReciPal. Having previously been a founder of SlantShack Jerky, he needed nutrition labels and simple tools to start and run the business. He's read the FDA food labeling code countless times in the process of creating ReciPal and helping small food businesses with their labels. He's reviewed and created thousands of food labels, and been a mentor and guest speaker at food incubators, food business courses, and regulatory conferences, like Brooklyn Foodworks and ICE.

After graduating from Princeton with an engineering degree, Lev was a management consultant, then founder or early employee at half a dozen startups. He loves nothing more than helping other small businesses get off the ground and achieve their goals.

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