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Food Entrepreneurs – You Can Do It!

May 25, 2012

If you think you have a winning product that all of your friends love, can’t get enough of and bring you their empty containers asking for refills, . . .  You too can get your product from your home kitchen to a store shelf.

ImageI started making a hot sauce in 2003.  Friends would bring me their empty containers asking when I was making more to refill their stock.  I made a sauce that I loved and couldn’t otherwise find in local stores.  In 2010, a friend said that he was opening a store and wanted it on the shelf when he opened.  Essentially, I was told to get a move on it, make it happen, and step on it!

I did just that.

When you start a company, there are many factors to consider (i.e., focus of product, business plan, potential client base, test marketing, structuring the finances / planning how to fund the venture, production options, labels, insurance, etc.).  We will get to many of those components in future posts to this blog; however, we need to crawl before we walk and walk before we run.  Where do you start?

Start by educating yourself on the state requirements for your product.  Start by contacting Cornell.  Cornell is known for their strong restaurant program.  What people don’t know is that they have a “test kitchen” of sorts that is structured to help small businesses get their products up and running.  The entity at Cornell is called the “Northeast Center for Food Entrepreneurship at the New York State Food Venture Center” (“NECFE”).  They provide the basic information and are there to answer questions along the way.

When I first called NECFE, they answered as if they already knew me.  I guess they get these types of calls from people a lot.  They sent me a disc in the mail with a 500-page tomb.  It was a daunting read, until I realized that the document was a roadmap for many products.  It was a one-stop repository for many people like me, and not all of it applied to my product.  I quickly stripped out only the sections that applied to me and set about putting my outline together of things I had to know.Image

The most important thing to get together in my opinion is your “Scheduled Process”.  This is a fancy way of saying, “List your ingredients and how you compile them.”

What I pulled out from the materials were essentially that I needed to:

  • Put together a “Scheduled Process”;
  • Make a test batch (you can do this at home and do NOT need to rent commercial kitchen space for this test batch);
  • Put the test batch in two separate glass containers of at least 4 ounces each; and,
  • Mail it off to them safely (be sure to include 2 copies of the scheduled process and to wrap the two containers to prevent them from breaking).

After sending everything off, it’s a 2-3 week wait for the news of whether your product is safe for sale in the state.  In my case, I got a letter asking me to send in a check for a certain amount, which covered the test Cornell performed on the bottles.  And, my approved scheduled process came in the mail shortly after they received payment.

Note:  I used natural preservatives of vinegar and lemon in my product.  Cornell was sure to tell me where to keep my pH levels in order to retain this safety level, etc.  They literally guide your hands through the process of what you need to do.

In a nutshell, this Cornell test allows budding entrepreneurs to get a piece of paper that gives them the go ahead to get their product to a production facility and let it grow.  Several other components are needed to actually make that happen, but nothing can happen until you get the recipe reviewed for state regulation.  Cornell does this for less than $100.

One mistake we made that you should not is getting a nutrition label for your product yet.  You will not need that at this starting phase and will not need it before you talk to production facilities or for insurance.  Your recipe may change slightly when you scale it for certain production sizes, and that is one of the last things you’ll need to acquire.  We have a very inexpensive option we found out about too, so look for our upcoming blog on the New York Small Scale Food Processors’ Association.

We’ll have more posts like this that talk about the other steps associated with the process (or at least the process that we followed) to get a product up.  Stay tuned.  And, don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or topics you’d like to see.  We will do our best to research and share what we discover.

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    Q: who’s more organized or motivated than hiedi tickle? A: very few…

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  1. New York Small Scale Food Processors Association « ticklesauce
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