The idea of starting a food business can be a thrilling prospect, yet knowing how to take those first footsteps can be daunting. Often it begins with a much-loved family recipe, or a desire to create a new and innovative product.
Dominique Woolf, the founder of The Woolf’s Kitchen, had her lightbulb moment after being inspired by her Thai aunt’s cooking and recently launched a range of spicy sauces. Here she shares her top tips for becoming a foodpreneur.
Refine your product
Tasting great is not enough – the product needs to be exceptional, and more importantly, unique. What is its point of difference? What gap is being filled? Once the recipe has been fine-tuned, it needs to be tested in the big wide world.
Close friends and family will dutifully sing its praises, but more objective feedback is needed – friends of friends, colleagues, neighbours. If farmers’ markets are an option, then taking a stall – even for one day – is the ultimate way of finding out what paying customers really think.
It is important to consider how the product will be made once the business starts. Many begin in the home kitchen then progress to a small manufacturer – or skip the first stage altogether. There are numerous routes, so be sure to investigate thoroughly.
Immerse yourself in your market and the food start-up world. Get close and personal with the ‘3Cs’ – consumer, category, competition.
There is a wealth of information available, much of it free of charge. Google and Google trends are an obvious place to start, but also check out trade publications such as The Grocer and Speciality Food Magazine. For those living in London, The British Library gives free access to Mintel reports.
Online workshops covering all aspects of the food business are plentiful. Food founders’ festival, Bread and Jam, is a great resource, with a main online event in October and a vast library of previous webinars available (contact them for further details). Also worth investigating are The Food and Drink Forum, Enterprise Nation, Eventbrite and Virgin Start-up. The latter may not be holding any current events, but you can register for future updates.
The Food Hub on Facebook, managed by Bread and Jam, is a free community with thousands of food start-up members where you can search topics and ask questions – a brilliant way of getting advice and information from foodpreneurs a few steps ahead.
Recommended books include Recipe For Success by Karen Green, and The Winning Mix by Claire Brumby. And if all that isn’t enough, put your headphones on. The Blue Plaster Podcast by Young Foodies, The Plant-Based Business Podcast by Vevolution Media and The Taste of Success by Mitch’s Kitchen are just a few which will inspire your journey.
Create your brand
An amazing product is just one piece of the equation. A strong, distinctive brand that elevates you high above the crowd is paramount. Identifying the target audience, along with USPs and brand values are the building blocks in brand creation.
The design and packaging need to be visually striking and communicate your message clearly. The tone of voice is the personality of your brand and helps build a connection with the consumer, so consistency is key. Packed and Flying Off The Shelves by Tessa Stuart are easy to read guides which will help start the process.
A crucial part of setting up a food business, face-to-face networking has been replaced, for the time being anyway, by the networking of the online variety.
The Food Hub Facebook group, as mentioned previously, is invaluable, as is LinkedIn, which enables you to connect not only with other founders but also with buyers and people in the wider industry.
A passion for food will only get you so far. What many don’t realise is that having a food business is ultimately about sales and knocking on doors. As with any start-up, a thick skin, perseverance and single-mindedness are vital.
The most important piece of advice, however, is to start before you’re ready. Yes, research and branding are essential, but procrastination kills many businesses before they’ve even begun. Nail some of the fundamentals like the product itself, and launch softly. You can always iterate as you go.