Bandar Foods

10 Steps to Getting into Whole Foods: #1 Ensuring Your Product Is Sellable

Secret Sauce: 10 Tips for Getting your Product into Whole Foods is a guest series by the founders of Bandar Foods that appears in Food+Tech Connect. Follow along as Dan and Lalit share their tips and tricks for starting and growing a specialty food company.

“My Grandma makes the bestest pasta sauce and we want to get rich selling it. Can you help us?”

Last week we introduced a new editorial series Secret Sauce: 10 Tips for Getting Your Product into Whole Foods, which will outline the basic steps for starting and growing a specialty food product company. And today, we’re sharing a deeper dive into the first step – understanding if Grandma’s special sauce recipe is good enough to bring to market. Everyone seems to love it, but how do you know if its truly “sellable?” Here are our tips for getting honest product feedback.

1. Everyone loves Grandma’s sauce… or so they say

We bet Grandma’s pasta sauce is tasty; everyone wipes their plate clean during spaghetti night. But when you first discussed the idea with Grandma about selling her sauce she laughed and thought you were just being nice. Maybe she’s right. You actually love the homey feeling of going to Grandma’s house and your enjoyment is sentimental. This is fine, but in order to sell your sauce on a grocery shelf, you should aim for a more objective understanding about what makes the sauce superior to competitors.

Huge food companies spend thousands of dollars focus testing new products before they hit shelves. We’ll assume you don’t have that type of cash readily available. So here are a couple of easy, cheap ways to test:

  • Blind taste test:  Get a jar of Grandma’s sauce as well as a few other store-bought brands. Taste them blindly (so you don’t know which is which while you’re tasting) and write down your thoughts on each. We recommend not just voting for your favorite, but actually writing down what you like and don’t but each one.
  • Get Grandma to punk your family: Ask Grandma if, for one night, she can fake your family with a jar of cheaper shelf-bought stuff.  What does the rest of the family think – do they notice the difference?   Big companies have been doing this for years with their “hidden camera with real people, not actors” commercials.  Be prepared for a potentially hostile reaction from your family when they find out the truth though.
  • Get REAL product feedback from your friends: We’ve written about this idea before, but give some to your friends to test. However, instead of telling them its your Grandma’s, say its something you bought at the store. We used to take random bottles from the store, empty them out, and put our prototype versions instead when testing with friends. If you say the sauce is yours, your friends are more likely to simply be nice and not provide truly honest (and possibly negative) feedback. It’s easier to criticize something without a personal connection; so say it’s something you bought randomly and you’ll probably get a more truthful answer.
  • Sell to your friends: Clearly, the best way to determine if a sauce is “sellable” is to actually try selling it.  Are your friends willing to spend $5 for a jar? $10? $20?!  Your goal shouldn’t be to fleece your friends, but realize that if your friends are willing pay an equivalent amount (or greater) for Grandma’s sauce instead of a store-bought version, that’s a really good sign.

Okay, so you know that people are willing to pay money for the sauce (that’s awesome), but also think through if this is something that can sell in stores? For this part of the question, there are a few questions you should ask yourself:

  • Does the product lose all potency if its packed into a sealable jar? Some products only taste good when its fresh from the pot; and unfortunately, fresh products are much more challenging to sell in grocery stores. Not a terrible challenge as you could could find ways to tweak the recipe, but just keep in mind
  • Does the product necessitate any rare ingredient that’s irreplaceable? For example, does it contain a spice that only can be found halfway across the world and costs a fortune to ship? We’ll get into costing in a few weeks, but just keep in mind that this might make your sauce prohibitively expensive and production a huge headache.
  • Can you think of an obvious aisle in a grocery where your product belongs? Clearly pasta sauce is an example of a common grocery item, but we’ve heard of much weirder ideas before. Being innovative and creating an entirely new eating experience could be a hugely profitable venture, but might also be very challenging to secure your first placements in stores.

Okay, so you’ve received objective feedback and think the sauce can sell. Great, go for it! Make some jars and start selling to your coworkers and friends.  Maybe you can even start selling in your local farmer’s market. That’s a great hobby, but if you want to make a business from this, then you’ll have to find a way to scale production. We’ll talk about that in next week’s post.

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