Good Food, Great Business: 12 Good Reasons to Start a Food Business
Learn About the Food Industry
BURNING QUESTION: AM I READY FOR ENTREPRENEURSHIP?
Are you hunkered down at your job, clandestinely reading, champing to start your own thing? You’re not alone. The majority of food entrepreneurs seem to be career changers from nonfood industries, driven to start their own ventures and often with the nest eggs to fund them. So much of taking the plunge revolves around overcoming fear: fear of the unknown, of making the wrong decisions, of giving up security. While your fears can melt away with smart planning and decision-making, entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. Read on and track your reactions so you can answer this very important question for yourself.
ABOUT THE GOOD IN GOOD FOOD
What exactly does Good Food mean? A quick Google search on the phrase turns up events, organizations, consultants, products, grocery stores, and the ever-so-useful Good Food Jobs site. It’s a bona fide buzz phrase, but for a good reason. We’re a world on the brink of bad food threatening our collective future. Overly processed ingredients and pesticide-laden produce abound. By recent counts, 90% of our corn is genetically modified. The people out there making Good Food are fighting that tide, and changing the world for the better in the process.
When you think about what food might deserve the lofty title of Good Food, consider these three qualities the Good Food Awards identified after much deliberation:
• TASTY: the product is delicious, and it makes those who eat it happy.
• AUTHENTIC: the product contains high-quality ingredients, including local and seasonal goods, and nothing artificial (including no genetically modified organisms [GMOs] or synthetic pesticides); ideally, the company embraces cultural traditions.
• RESPONSIBLE: when making the product, the company considers the well-being of its workers, its consumers, and the planet. Trust, traceable ingredients, and transparency into how the company does business are paramount.
What makes Good Food different from so-called “specialty foods,” the prettily packaged foods you find in fancy gourmet shops? Specialty products have their own trade group, the Specialty Food Association, which puts on the twice-yearly Fancy Food Show, North America’s largest specialty food trade show. The association identifies specialty products as having:
• quality, innovation, and style in their category
• originality and authenticity
• a commitment to specific processing rules or traditions, superior ingredients, limited supply, or extraordinary packaging
While specialty foods may not fall under the Good Food definition, due to their ingredients or sourcing practices, many Good Food products are also specialty products, thanks to artful crafting and amazing package design.
On to the elephant in the room: Are food products “bad” if they use genetically modified (GMO) corn or conventionally grown produce? Not necessarily, says your candy-corn-eating author. Yet there’s no arguing that natural is more likely healthier for our bodies and planet. Small food producers across the country are banding together with this in mind, fighting for more transparency and positive change in our food supply. The hope is that, with greater demand, clean ingredients will become more readily available, and staples such as organic butter and non-GMO corn syrup will become more affordable.
12 GOOD REASONS TO START A FOOD BUSINESS
The rewards of your own business are fulfilling in themselves. The joy of feeding people only multiplies that fulfillment. Every business starts with a motivation. As you read about other food entrepreneurs’ motivation, ponder what your own might be:
1. Share a Family Recipe. Food deeply reflects culture, which may be why “an old family recipe” is behind so many businesses. Lauryn Chun decided to bottle kimchi, using the recipe from her mom’s Southern California restaurant, Jang Mo Gip (which means “mother-in-law’s house” in Korean). She got licensed, created her brand, and started selling at a small market in Manhattan. After mastering shipping—no small feat for fermented food in glass bottles—Lauryn set up a website and joined some online marketplaces, and soon Mother-in-Law’s Kimchi was gracing the pages of O, The Oprah Magazine on the cusp of the fermented- foods trend.
2. Spark the Local Economy. Bob and Lora La Mar needed a new vocation after a government ban of sportfishing went into effect, making their former business obsolete. They taught themselves to make sea salt and slowly grew a business turning Northern California seawater into finishing salts. Their big-picture goal for Mendocino Sea Salt & Seasoning was to help make California’s Mendocino County an agri-tourism destination and create much-needed jobs. (In late 2012, a family matter led the La Mars to, at least temporarily, cease operations and turn their attention elsewhere. Their path exemplifies the types of choices and changes you very well may face as an entrepreneur.)
3. Work at Home. “Cottage food” or “homesteading” laws allow the use of a home kitchen for small food businesses in many states. Lisa Cierello channeled her desire to be a work-at-home parent into Lisa’s Cookie Shop in Warwick, New York, transforming her detached garage into a commercial kitchen. Not only can Lisa stay at home to take care of her daughter, but she can also earn a decent living selling to local shops and online nationwide. Plus, her house smells like cookies all the time!
4. Connect with Community. Many entrepreneurs describe the overflowing joy they feel as customers enjoy their food. Selling food from mobile carts, at farmers markets, and directly to retailers all provide this inperson connection. At P.O.P. Candy in Santa Monica, California, Bill Waiste works full time cooking up candy, while his wife, Rachel Flores, helps out nights and weekends—in addition to working full time. Farmers market customers and collaborations with other producers (such as a granola maker) fulfill the couple emotionally and financially.
5. Innovate Packaging for Good Eating. In the past, travelers lived on preserved and dried foods such as salt cod, flat breads, and beef jerky. Now, canned, frozen, and aseptically packaged innovations such as juice boxes solve our modern-convenience desires. Small changes in the way a food is packaged can create major markets. Peeled Snacks re-imagined dried fruit—a 10,000-year-old category—into a healthful snack with bright, kid-friendly portable packs and singsongy names. Cyrilla Suwarsa and her sister work directly with small Indonesian cashew farmers to make and package their flavored Nuts Plus Nuts in metallic pouches swanky enough for upscale hotel minibars.
6. Create a Market for Small Farmers. From domestic produce and meats to fairly traded coffee and cacao beans, each food start-up that sources responsibly from small producers makes a positive difference. Both Gelateria Naia, maker of gelato on a stick, and St. George Spirits, famed for its fruit-based spirits, name the small family farms supplying their fruit. The artisans at Grace & I transform local fruits into gorgeous fruit-andnut loaves, a simple and giftable concept.
7. Preserve a Tradition. Even before the Slow Food movement brought local foods and recipes to the forefront, many food companies shaped themselves around regional food traditions. The rarer an item, the more it attracts interest from foodies and the press. A quest to revitalize a dying food tradition infuses even more meaning into your work. Red Boat Fish Sauce created a market in the United States for a high-grade, centuriesold Vietnamese ingredient. The story of Saratoga Sweets shows how revitalizing a holiday tradition can pay off. The company revitalized the Victorian “peppermint pig,” a hot-pink mint candy (no, not a natural food) you smash with a mallet. Little did this candy shop expect it would eventually churn out hundreds of thousands of crunchy pigs annually.
8. Cater to Restricted Diets. Kosher, gluten-free, and nut-free foods are all growing categories with an increasing demand from consumers. And they are now sold in mainstream stores. Divvies, located outside New York City, carved out its niche by catering to kids with allergies, making treats that are free of eggs, nuts, and dairy products. Similarly, Attune Foods’ business plan was to grow its probiotic bar business while broadening its brand into other digestive-health solutions, which led it to successfully acquire several established, healthful cereal brands.
9. Re-create a Popular Food in a “Better for You” Way. Free-range, “minimally processed” beef jerky capitalizes on the desire for familiar tastes without the bad-food factor. Did you know that Snickers is the best-selling candy in the United States? Perhaps that explains why Ocho Candy, Justin’s Nut Butter, and Brooklyn artisans Liddabit Sweets found similar success with their own twists on a peanut-caramel-nougat bar.
10. Make a Fulfilling Living. Pati Grady connected the dots between her desire to start a cookie company and the profit potential inspired by her hometown’s claim to fame: baseball. In October 2004, The Cooperstown Cookie Company launched its baseball-shaped shortbread cookies at the World Series Gala. Pati then licensed the use of Major League Baseball team names to sell customized cookie packs at stadiums.
11. Fill a Local Hunger. Beyond the foodie gulches, many places need better food options. Good People Popcorn emerged for the love and want of great, locally made popcorn. Two sisters and a cousin started this thriving Detroit business with a vision of making Good Food using sugar and butter produced in Michigan. They sell in local retail stores and at their charming shop.
12. Simply Because You’ve Always Wanted to Start a Food Business. You’ve saved up a bunch of cash. You could buy a car, go back to school, or travel the world for a year. Or you could use some of that nest egg to school yourself and develop a line of Good Food products (which, incidentally, will likely take you on travels and lead you to buy an oh-so-practical car for deliveries).
Text copyright © 2014 by Susie Wyshak. Excerpt reprinted with permission from publisher, Chronicle Books.