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?”
We hear new pitches like this every week. We’re not big shot investors, we’re gritty entrepreneurs hustling to build our snack and condiment company, Bandar Foods. Every few weeks, we sit down down with food-loving dreamers and taste delicious homemade cookies, exotic marinades and organic nut milks so they can pick our brain on how to get started. We’re always thrilled to help because we reached out to emerging food entrepreneurs when were just beginning and we still regularly reach out to more established entrepreneurs and mentors for advice.
The startup food business necessitates cooperation because it is tough to learn the ropes. For selling something as simple as food, the specialty food world is abnormally complex, and we’re grateful to all the mentors who have helped us along the way.
Which is why we’re excited to team up with Food+Tech Connect to share our basic instruction manual for hopeful founders. Over the next several weeks, we’re going to dive into the ten most important steps for building a strong food brand that’s ready to conquer your corner market, Whole Foods and beyond. We’ll cover everything from measuring demand and branding to understanding industry players and mastering the boring (but extremely important) stuff like accounting and insurance.
Get a teaser of each of the ten steps below, and make sure to check back every week for a deep dive into each one.
1. Everyone loves Grandma’s sauce… or so they say
I bet Grandma makes the best spaghetti sauce you’ve ever tasted, tangy and not too spicy. So why not start selling it? Well, have you ever paid Grandma to make it for you? Or have your friends offered you cash for a jar? There’s a huge difference between liking a product and it being truly good enough that strangers will spend their hard-earned bucks on it. Taking time to understand this difference from the start will be key before you embark on this journey.
2. Grandma’s a machine, but even she can’t make a thousand jars a day
Right now Grandma probably makes one small batch (with love) at a time. Clearly that’s fine for family dinners and maybe giving a few jars to friends, but start to think about scale. Either you will have to standardize the recipe and make larger batches in a commercial kitchen or you must be willing to hire a contract manufacturer to produce Grandma’s sauce for you. Also, will the sauce need to be refrigerated? These are a few important considerations to make at this stage to ensure you can consistently bring a high-quality product to market.
3. No doubt Grandma is cool, but is she brandable? Brand is everything!
Before you snag up the @GrandmasFamousSauce Instagram account and start sketching your logo take some time to understand what you’re planning to convey with your brand. Are you going upscale and exclusive or cheaper and accessible? What is your brand going to signify to your target customers? How does it compare to other sauce competitors? Can you get copyright or other legal protection to avoid getting ripped off in the future? Your brand is your most important asset. So you need to take time to think through some of these questions.
4. From Amazon to Zingermans: Where are you going to sell?
There are countless groceries, convenience stores, farmers markets, department stores, big box retailers, cafes, restaurants, gift shops, airport kiosks, drug stores, specialty baskets, liquor shops, delis, cafeterias, and roadside stands where Grandma’s sauce can potentially be sold. Oh, and there’s an Internet out there too. So much opportunity, but maybe Grandma doesn’t belong everywhere at once. Build a plan for where Grandma will go first and why.
5. So many middlemen. Understanding the players in the food chain
If you’re new to the industry, you might not know the difference between a broker and a distributor. There are a lot of players in the industry who are integral to growing a strong food business. It’s extremely important to know who everyone is and how they’re important to your success.
6. Crunch the numbers and take a deep breath
There are really only two numbers that need to be calculated:
- How much money you can expect to make with this company
- How much money you will need to achieve your vision
Let’s think through what inputs go into both of these calculations, and what implications that has. Big numbers or small numbers here can be either exhilarating or intimidating. Deep breaths, we’re close to getting started.
7. Boring! Administrative, accounting, insurance, legal, Zzzzz
While Grandma’s sweating it out in the kitchen, you have to first get through the tedious stuff before you can hit the road and start selling. Incorporating your business, setting up basic accounting systems, buying insurance, securing basic legal protections, etc. For some people, these are the most unglamorous aspects of entrepreneurship, but it comes with the job. You’ve got to learn how to do this if you want to keep Grandma chopping the tomatoes.
8. Sell! Rick Ross meets Glengarry Glen Ross
“Everyday I’m hustlin…” Grandma’s blasting the boom box from the kitchen, so get fired up to sell sauce! You can likely walk into your corner store and meet the manager and get in today (go now!). For other larger stores, find out who the buyer is and if you need a meeting, or if there’s a review schedule. Build a smart sales presentation and be willing to offer some discounted product or a strong promotional program to get on the shelf. Just always be selling…
9. You’re In! Now the real work starts…
Congratulations, you made into your local chain store! Though you know this is a big accomplishment, you suddenly feel even more stressed. The biggest twist of the food world is that for as challenging as it is to get your product on a store shelf, the larger challenge is getting customers to buy your product off the shelf. The good news is you have some tools at your disposal including running promos, demos, or other events to build your in-store sales. But hurry, if you don’t do well you may very well get kicked off the shelf.
10. Ragu doesn’t stand a chance. Grandma’s growing the brand
Probably the most fun part of running a small food company is nurturing and supporting an exciting new brand. Your company can be an extension of your own personality, and you should do everything you can to spread that message. Using social media, sponsoring events, and generating word-of-mouth interest are all great ways to get the word out on Grandma’s sauce. Be creative, have fun and do it with love!
Our goal with this series is to create a guide that helps you, and Grandma, get your dream company started. So make sure to check back each week for a deeper dive into each of these steps. Have questions or feedback? Let us know in the comments below.
Don’t miss the other posts in our Secret Sauce series!