Top 5 Tips for a Home Run Food Business
In the 8 years that I have been blogging, I have worn many hats—I have taught cooking, manufactured food products for sale, designed food products for retail brands, drawn up menus and recipes for food manufacturers and restaurants, photographed and videographed food in various avataars, and I write about food as much as I can. I continue to enjoy each of these roles in great measure, and have been lucky to have a steady stream of clients and friends from the food industry that give me ample opportunities.
Food and “gourmet” food, especially, is catching the fancy of several people who do not have an education in food—and why not! Our very lives revolve around food, and there is something for everyone to do in this industry. Every so often, someone writes to me for help with setting up their food business—an old classmate who works in the telecom industry but has realized his true calling is food, a dentist wanting to set up a food manufacturing business, young F&B students wanting to do something innovative. I try and give them all the feedback I am capable of without quoting my consultancy fees (wink).
Jokes apart, I think it is important for a food business—however big or small your investment may be—to think about a few things before you rub your hands in glee and take the plunge. There have been so many cases of a great idea gone down the drain because of unclear thought; execution comes much later. So, based on my learning in these past few years, I thought I would put together a sort of checklist—tips, actually, for a home run or startup food business.
Top 5 Tips for a Home Run Food Business:
- What is your USP?: Yes, I know that Udupi restaurants, coffee chains, and paan walas are exceptions to the rule, but usually, it is tough to survive in the food (or any) industry unless you have that big idea. Is there anyone within a particular radius that does the same thing? What is different about your idea? If you want to set up a business specializing in homemade flavored butters, think about what makes your butters stand out—do you use homemade, hand-churned butter? Do you offer flavors that no one in the market has tapped—a Thecha Butter or a Pao Bhaji Masala Butter will stand apart in its own right as opposed to a Garlic butter that every other commercial brand also manufactures. Do you offer sweet butters? Butters that are dairy-free? Nut butters?
- Polish your craft: Now that you have an idea, make sure you know it well. If you intend to host regional food pop ups, spend a few months researching the cuisine—travel, talk to people, eat at people’s homes and cook with them. Do a dozen trial pop ups inviting friends and strangers and pay attention to feedback. If you want to start a chocolate business, go learn how to use pure chocolate, how to temper it, how to store it, how to pair it with other ingredients, how to adapt it to your geographical conditions, etc. Don’t depend on just one source of information. You may have developed a fondness for chocolate making in a neighborhood class, but doing an internship at a chocolatier’s will prepare you for business.
- Think like a consumer: It’s like they say about writers—they are always so proud of their writing that it is difficult to deal with them at the editing stage; similarly, it is one thing to take pride your idea and your craft, but you will not be able to reach out to the customer until you think like them. You may want to sell the real Black Forest cake in your home based business, but is your audience ready for it? How will you educate the customer without sounding condescending? A popular artisan bread chain I worked with did a great job of personally delivering small loaves of sourdough to an audience that hitherto only used commercial bread and explained usage and storage to them. Today, they have a very loyal and wide client base. It is also important to think about packaging—pretty but cumbersome packaging can be annoying to the customer.
- Establish a good brand image: One of the challenges that a home based or small food business faces is that of competing with the aggressive branding of larger food businesses. You cannot invest large amounts of money in branding activities, but participating in exhibitions, designing and intelligently placing an intelligent logo with good recall value, occasionally contributing to newspaper articles, and very importantly, investing in good packaging will go a long way in establishing a strong brand image. Needless to say, however, is the fact that excelling at your product or service tops this list.
- Engage with your audience: The reason our corner grocery stores did well 20 years ago was how the owner interacted with you when you did your weekly/monthly shopping. He knew your usuals, and a little small talk went a long way. Wouldn’t you rather go back to a kind old lady vendor who asks after your daughter rather than to a stiff upper lipped one who doesn’t even look you in the eye as you pay? Fast forward a few years, and social media is your marketplace. Talk to your customer on Twitter, post images and feedback on Facebook and Instagram, blog about your developments and achievements. Respond to comments and host pop ups to reach out and understand your customer better.
And most importantly, enjoy what you do. Every. Single. Day.