· By Oonagh Simms
How to launch a food Start Up
Do it for love
I genuinely believe that you should only think about launching a food brand if that product is your passion. Something you are evangelical about- it really saddens me to see cynical marketing or piggy backing on ‘trends’. If your reason for creating a new gin is because gin is now fashionable or developing a nut bar because you fancy yourself as a nut-ritional entrepreneur ( that was awful, soz) then you’ll soon be found out. Create a product from desire, curiosity and never stop wanting to innovate, create and push yourself.
When you start a food business it’s very easy to waste a lot of time and energy looking at what everyone else is doing around you. Comparison can paralyse you from achieving even the smallest of goals. I’m flipping in love with Lucy Sheriden ‘The Comparison Coach’ for sharing this mantra. It’s so easy to sift through instagram/ behance/ twitter in the name of ‘research’ or market awareness and then realise it’s taken you half day to post a tweet. You could spend 6 months with your carefully honed recipe sat on your desk and not emailed any buyers because your packaging is not as good as someone else’s. Of course, it’s easier said than done- when I started my company 5 year ago I’m not sure I would have achieved so much so quickly if Instagram had been available. I would have been far more concerned with how my market stall looked than chatting with customers, playing with flavours and knocking on doors. It takes discipline but if you have taken the plunge to start your own food business then tune out the social streams until you’re happy with your product and it’s all from you.
The food and drink sector is enormous and, in actuality, controlled and influenced by very few companies. We all know the problems associated with food justice, from poor agricultural wages to questionable industrial policies, environmental impact to price fixing. So if you’re going to start a food company don’t add to the problems. That doesn’t just mean the sourcing of your ingredients but in everyday steps too. If you are employing people to work with you on creating your dream company- don’t expect them to intern for 6 months without a salary. If you’re employing graduates to sample your product in organic grocery chains- make sure you’re rewarding them with a wage they can live off. If you’re selling your product as being made from fruit- don’t pack it full of ‘natural fruit flavourings’ in an attempt to garner ‘health’ or ‘wellness’ plaudits. Use what you say you use.
Be self aware, source ethically, pay better and be good.
Very few of us can credit ourselves with being the ‘first’ to come up with something. Our ideas, craft and recipes are learned, developed and adapted. But don’t start a food business unless you’re adding something. Unless you genuinely feel that what you want to consume is not being made elsewhere and you’re itching to push it further. The phrase ‘disrupting the market’ is given a lot of credence- often, I think, unnecessarily. There are some amazing producers worldwide who have learnt and practice a craft, creating beautiful chocolates or delicious breads. They didn’t invent ganache or sour dour but what they are creating has integrity, it’s original and, above all, it adds something. I am really proud of my passionfruit + ginger marshmallows and having created them and people buying them makes me beyond happy.
Watch the money
It is so easy for this to go wrong. Not just because you run yourself into debt but because this is when you need to start compromising. So, build slowly, try and self-fund at the beginning- look for pop up or guest slots at markets and test test test! If one flavour doesn’t sell, go back next week with a different flavour. Look to sharing kitchen space with other companies (out of hours bakeries, church hall kitchens, army barracks- Kitchup are great for this) If you want to exhibit at trade shows or larger events, consider sharing the stall with a complementary company or taking a smaller space from an established stand. Try to negotiate a percentage of sales rather than an upfront pitch fee at festivals. When it comes to packaging be very aware that it will go through a zillion iterations before it is shelf ready. You will only realise when you’ve got an order of 12,000 that need to be packed up in 2 days that you added one too many processes or that each box or bottle takes 15 mins to label straight- nothing will go right the first time so make sure you hold some money back for emergencies.