Last week a panel of experts answered your questions on starting up in the food industry. Here are the highlights
Monique Borst is a food business development expert
How can you check if your food business idea is viable?: In my experience, people often mistake their aptitude for cooking or passion for food as a shoo-in for business success. Rather than write a full business plan, one quick and easy way to determine whether your food business idea is potentially viable is to run through this checklist:
1. Do I have a market for it?
2. Do I know how to reach the people who might want this?
3. Do I have the resources, skills and time to do this?
4. Is this something people will pay for?
5. How sustainable is this business?
6. Is the business marketable?
Paul Bray is an associate director at Smith & Williamson
Be sensible when financing your food business: The key message has to be not to over-stretch yourself in the early periods. Start small and grow at a sensible pace, otherwise you will be running around chasing your tail – get a sound start underway and then progress in time, rather than rush.
Jean Edwards is the managing director at Deli Farm Charcuterie
Farmers’ markets are a good way to test your product when starting up: When I started just over seven years ago my only sales were through a regular weekly farmers’ market; it was a brilliant way of getting to market and meeting people, getting feedback and so on. By the end of our first summer I was too busy to attend the market on a regular basis, but would never look back on the contacts that I made from there.
What sort of environmental health regulations arise when starting a food business from home? A lot depends on what type of business you are thinking of starting and where you see your customer base. All food premises have to be passed by environmental health, so I would suggest you have a preliminary meeting with your local environmental health officer (EHO), explain exactly what you are intending to do and they will advise you. Remember your EHO is a source of free information – use them as a resource and not the enemy!
Miranda Ballard is the co-founder at Muddy Boots, a beef burger company
What to think about in terms of location: You’ll know where you should be by doing research into the market and your demographic. Go where your customers are so that you’re surrounded by them and you can start selling to them. Remember to be where you want to be too – no point living where you’re not happy. There’s no point taking all the risks and stresses of having your own business if you’re not happy with where you’re living. What’s best for the business is also what’s best for you – there’s more chance the company will survive if you’re happy.
You can still be a British brand with ingredients sourced elsewhere: We’re a British food brand, from a marketing and content perspective. Some of our ingredients (tomato puree, garlic, black pepper) are imported. We’ve seen all those prices go up in the past 18 months because of transport, labour and production. The idea that all food produced in Britain will stay in Britain doesn’t acknowledge the foods that can’t be grown or produced here – our taste buds will have to revert after these glory years!
Think carefully about how you use social media: In the past month, I’ve been really thinking about social media for small businesses. I think there’s a danger that the massive national or global platform that it brilliantly provides can actually sometimes be too wide a marketing spread for the small business. What I mean is, we all know that we’re meant to find our demographic and then target them, to the point of excluding everyone else. I worry that small businesses can get distracted with the cross-demographic appeal of social media. It’s important to remember you have to work hard to find and appeal to your own demographic – a like or a retweet from someone in your demographic is much, much more valuable than 100 from those outside it.
Roopa Rawal is the co-founder at Devnaa, a luxury Indian-inspired confectionery company
Know your brand: Be really passionate about your products and do everything you can to build a good reputation for your brand – interact with consumers as much as possible. Customer care is really important especially with food, as even though ingredients are all written down people will want to be assured of the taste, quality of ingredients, allergy information and so on. The best part is that if they like it they will definitely go out and tell everybody they know about it.
Quality of food is paramount at the moment: I think more so than with healthy eating, consumers are becoming more aware of the quality of what they eat and drink. As people have become more health conscious they’ve also realised that the quality of what they consume plays just as big a part in maintaining their health – even if they want a treat.
Philippa Taylor works at Grand Union PR, a food PR company
Think about how you portray yourself online: Make sure that you have a domain name which is unique to you for a hosted website which you can customise yourself, and that your website is set-up to either sell online, act as a brochure or both. Drive traffic to your site by regularly updating it with seasonal and limited edition products, newsletters, competitions, recipes and testimonials and so on. Link all your promotion together on the social media channels you use and push customers towards your website. Set up Google Analytics so that you can see what works and what doesn’t.
Offline, think about taking information and images from your website and using them in leaflets at markets, on pop-up banners at events, and as press releases for journalists.
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