How to Bring Your Product to Market
Want to turn your culinary art into cash? Take these steps first.
By Rona Gindin
It happened again last Saturday. You were at a farmers’ market, sampled foods from several purveyors and sighed, exasperated, “I can do better than that! I should sell my __________.”
Nice idea, but loads of luck.
We take that back. Plenty of Orlando-
area home cooks and artisans have turned their specialties into their business and are doing spectacularly well. Others have failed or have done an unexciting amount of sales.
What’s the difference? We asked three experts: LuAnn Duncan, who works with the Orange County Extension of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences as a family and consumer services agent; John Rife, owner of East End Market; and Jessica Tantalo, chef in residence at East End, who, with Rife, teaches a six-hour foodpreneur course. Tantalo is herself a successful foodpreneur, having cofounded Emmabean, which provides healthy lunches to local schools.
WRITE IT DOWN
“Get your ideas on paper,” says Tantalo. “You might know how to make a great marina sauce, but spell out how you will take action on bringing it to market.” Topics to consider: What will your product look like? Who is your target customer? How will you find that customer? How will you brand it? “Becoming a foodpreneur involves equal parts business, entrepreneurship and marketing,” she notes.
GET A REALITY CHECK
People won’t buy a food just because you make it. Do a Google trends search to see if your specialty is headed toward passé.
PICK UP THE PHONE
Once you’re sure about what you want to make, get an official list of rules. Call the Florida Division of Food Safety at (850) 245-5520. “Say you’re interested in bringing an item to market and ask them what steps you’ll need to go through,” Duncan says. “They’ll help you determine if your product will be a cottage food, which requires one set of steps, or not, in which case you’ll need to get your recipe approved, secure licensing, have food safety training and complete certain paperwork.” Be sure to ask if your product comes under the state’s Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services or the Division of Business & Professional Regulation (DVPR), Tantalo adds.
Fresh from Florida has an online PDF that spells out all the details about the state’s cottage food operations, Duncan notes. Likewise, it lists several relevant information sheets on its Food Establishment Inspections page.
GET FOOD-SAFETY CERTIFIED
Most food handlers need to be certified by SaveStaff or another food-safety licensing concern. Cottage food businessfolk don’t need the course but should complete it anyway, Duncan emphasizes, so they’re less likely to make customers sick.
Whether you’re starting up a cottage food business or a bigger operation, go to the county tax office and ask what you need to do to keep everything legal. For example, Duncan says, Florida cottage food businesses are allowed to generate only $15,000 a year.
ASSESS YOUR INSURANCE SITUATION
Safety first, right? “I highly recommend that everyone have insurance,” Duncan says. “Cottage food purveyors might be able to get an add-on to their homeowners insurance. Others will probably need small- business insurance.”
THEN ADD IT ALL TOGETHER
“Be consciously incompetent,” says Rife. “Know what you don’t know and pave a path to find the answers. Add together the costs of the commissary, supplies, equipment, ingredients, business cards, insurance, licenses, permits, sales tax, a website, marketing, logos and labels. It all costs money.”
SHOP FOR KITCHENS
All foodpreneurs except cottage folks will need to rent space in a licensed commercial kitchen. That can be a shared kitchen like the one at East End Market, which rents by the hour, but can also be in a large church or even in a restaurant that will let out their burners and ovens during off hours, Duncan suggests.
Where will you sell your product? Farmers’ markets seem like a natural, but they’re not the only option for those who aren’t cottage-food specific. “Some of our local markets are getting filled and it’s hard to get a brand-new product in,” Duncan observes. “Pursue that option, but don’t count on it as being your primary.” She suggests finding local retailers who have a local-foods section, such as Whole Foods and Clemons Produce.
“Will you buy from a food distributor, source locally or buy from a combination of the two?” Tantalo asks. “Both have benefits.”
THINK BEYOND THE MARKET
If you’re cooking, Central Florida is filled with places to sell your artisan product, Tantalo notes. Among them: “food trucks, food festivals, art festivals, pop-ups or just a mobile kitchen that sets up at certain events.”
CONSIDER THE SOURCE
Question how special your item really is. “How is your pasta sauce different than all the others on the market?” Rife poses. “What human element or story makes your product stand out? Do you have special ingredients? Even without them your product will cost more than those made with a larger economy of scale. What will entice potential customers to spend more?”
Having the right label is crucial. Cottage food laws go so far as to dictate the necessary font size, Duncan notes. Find out what information needs to be on your label and any other requirements. Then print your own or have them printed by a pro, which may not cost more.
INVEST IN EQUIPMENT
“People have shown up in our commissary kitchen with pans from the house that don’t perform the same on professional burners,” Tantalo observes. “Figure out what equipment you need and buy it. Think ahead. Should you be purchasing three 6-quarter KitchenAid mixers or scaling your recipe for a 30-quart mixer?”
KEEP YOUR DAY JOB
“Unless you have the budget to pay for a full-fledged marketing campaign, start slowly,” Duncan urges. “I’ve heard it takes five to seven years for a small food business to succeed, so have money ready to spend and keep your other job for a while,” she suggests.
You might make the county’s most delicious jam, chutney or granola. If you display it with only “a Tupperware container and a tablecloth,” you might as well stay home, says Tantalo. “Go to markets to see how things are presented,” Duncan suggests. “Choose a name that gives customers an emotional connection. Homemade Salsa isn’t quite as exciting as Grandma Somebody’s Use-an-Adjective-Here Salsa. Decorate your display area and dress in the same color scheme.”
SOLICIT CANDID FEEDBACK
Your mom will love whatever you serve. Urge savvy friends and acquaintances to tell you what they really think about your product, labeling and merchandising.
Don’t jump in blindly. Take these steps in advance and you’ll greatly increase the chances of having your special food on neighborhood shelves.
Want to Learn More?
Sign up for the Food Biz Start-Up Workshop from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. May 6 in East End Market’s APEX event space, part of the market’s Foodpreneur Series. Workshop topics will include the rules behind food regulations, liability, insurance, permitting and food prep; getting your concept on paper; choosing a business structure; looking at local trends; developing your brand; marketing, public relations and social media; food photography, and more.
Ready for your close-up? Workshop participants and other food start-ups can apply to participate in the FEEDback Fair from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. May 20. Selected participants will be invited to set up shop in East End’s courtyard to sample and sell their products and solicit feedback from customers. 3201 Corrine Drive, Orlando; eastendmkt.com/foodpreneur