For a food business to be successful, it must produce a great product over and over again. Consistency is what keeps a customer coming back again and again. That's also what attracts new customers. Each happy customer will tell their friends about the best new thing they discovered.
Lots of people are cooking or baking hobbyists. They love the accolades they get from preparing food for friends and family. Then one day, the desire or the necessity to earn money from their hobby grabs their attention, and they decide to go for it. If only it were that simple to start raking it in as a food entrepreneur.
When starting a food business there are several important factors to consider, especially legal and financial realities. However, most people start with the food product itself. The question of how to create a product that people enjoy and are willing to give you money for is a big one.
It has to look good so it can't be burned or undercooked and sinking. The packaging can only add to the look of the product - not detract from it. The packaging must also ensure that the product looks as good once it gets home as it does the minute it was purchased. Icing doesn't taste as good on the box as it does on the cake!
Looks are one thing, but taste is everything. Texture is also extremely important. Baked goods can't be too dry or too moist, jams can't be runny, and dressings and hot sauces can't be too thick.
How do you get it right?
Korine Adams, the chef and owner of Bida Baking Company and manager of the Mill River Cookery, indicated that she has a goal in mind for how she wants a recipe to look, taste, and feel. Korine explains, "I keep working on it until I meet those goals. I have a chef critic in my head that has high standards to meet."
"When testing a recipe," Korine said "I know it's right when I taste it, and immediately, my internal critic says, 'Oh Yeah!'. There are times when I taste and don't get that response. Sometimes it's a salt issue needing more or less." When it's a texture or a flavor issue it might be harder to figure out, but Korine enjoys testing different techniques to get the recipe right.
Korine is known at the Elgin Farmer's Market for her churros. About creating her churro recipe Korine says "the flavor was pretty easy to master after about a month. The technique I use is my secret sauce. It results in the churros being unique. It took me several years to perfect, and that's because I learned as I made them what the churros liked and didn't like. I tried every which way I could think of to eliminate methods that didn't work. There were a lot of mistakes, messes, and almost an explosion!"
Korine's experience proves that it might take numerous iterations to get the result you desired from the start. You may also find you need to change your technique based on the season. Invite friends and family whom you know will give you honest feedback to be taste testers. It's hard to put yourself out there, but when you feel ready, try a farmer's market. You may become the next big thing! Alternatively, if you don't get repeat customers, keep perfecting the recipe.
Korine's products always look as good as they taste. Her branding is consistent in her packaging. Bida Baking Company uses boxes and bags with a clear window to see the product. Boxed products are packed with tissue paper and are ready for gifting if you can stand not to eat them yourself. All product packages have a Bida sticker on the outside for brand awareness. Bida Baking Company gets a lot of repeat business at the Elgin Farmer's Market and usually sells out early. That's success!
The Wholesale Experience
As your food business grows, you might start thinking about increasing production. Maybe you'll consider wholesaling. Maggie Sadowsky, a food scientist and founder of 8 Track Foods, only produces for wholesale. 8 Track Foods is an organic brand that currently produces a line of canned beans.
Maggie explains that she focuses on much more than flavor when creating a new product. Initially, she focuses on functional elements such as ensuring food safety, product claims (organic, vegan, gluten-free, healthy, etc.) ingredient sourcing, processing requirements, and post-consumer preparation (microwave, oven, etc.). Once she creates the product it will be manufactured at a co-packing facility and she won't be there making each batch to tweak for flavor.
Once she creates the backbone she layers in the flavor. Often her food projects rely on focus groups for feedback to make sure the "product attributes deliver and I have the metrics I need to hit. When it's a small client," Maggie says, "I know if it's done when I look at their face after the first bite."
Maggie has a long list of products she created, but 8 Track Foods is the company she founded. Maggie will be creating more products for it in the future. 8 Track Foods canned beans are currently carried at Whole Foods throughout the Midwest. That's what we call success!