Saturday, August 31, 2013

7 Ways to Grow Your Food Business

Action plans by Guest Blogger: Michael Adams

Editor’s note: Michael Adams is the Co-Founder of Gredio, web-based food manufacturing software for specialty food companies built to help you effortlessly run your business (and forget about Excel spreadsheets). He also runs Green Mountain Mustard, found in over 100 retailers across New England.

You’ve got your product. Sales are going well at the farmer’s market - maybe you’ve been able to create room on the shelf for your products at local retailers. A lot of food producers don’t make it as far as you have. But, you have a unique problem on your hands.

How do you grow your food business beyond just a couple of stores?

Most importantly, how do you make your food business your full-time gig and get rid of that pesky side-job. This is where, just like many small businesses, you have to get creative.

Here are 7 ways to grow your food business as well as the steps to be successful in each growth opportunity.

1. Retail/Wholesale
This is the most popular way to grow your food business. Getting your product into thousands of retailers is every producer’s dream. But, going from 10 to 100 to 1,000 retailers is tough enough. Here’s a five step action plan to grow your retail presence:

1. Ask customers where they want your product
2. Contact the store to find out who the buyer is
3. Send over samples, price sheet, and a business card
4. Follow up one week later to see about meeting the buyer
5. Promote your new retail location to your customers.

It’s a simple action plan, but that’s really how it’s done. If customers tell you where to go, they’ll at least be buying your product. Why buy where your customers aren’t? Let’s move on to the second way to grow your food business.

2. Ecommerce
Selling your product online is becoming an easy way for food producers to reach customers across the nation. Being able to buy hot sauce from Vermont, granola from Washington, and oranges from Florida not only creates a web of commerce, but helps others discover products without leaving their couch. That means if you’re a rural Virginia honey producer, your market is really the nation - not just your small-town customers. How can you take advantage of the web to grow your business? Here’s five steps to take:

1. Compare ecommerce options. (there are more than just these 10)
2. Select and build your store (you can get a designer to help you)
3. Think about what promotions and shipping you’ll offer your customers.
4. Create an experience with your product (they only have one chance to open your box)
5. Promote your store online and to your customers (especially tourists)

3. Fairs and Festivals
There’s almost nothing better than being able to interact with your customers. You get to know how much they love your product. You get to hear what recipes they’ve used your product in...and more! Here’s how to get your product into more fairs and festivals:

1.  Use festival directories FestivalNet and Craft Show Yellow Pages to find events.
2. Ask other food producers about shows (they’ll know which ones are good)
3. Try as many shows as possible (some will be good, some bad)
4. Build a beautiful display (this is no farmer’s market. You’re next to artists and craftspeople)
5. Emphasize free shipping (give tourists an incentive to buy).

4. Food Service
“Do you sell in bigger containers?” If you get that question all the time, I’d explore food service packaging - in quarts, gallons, condiment packets, etc. It’s a great way to sell a lot of product quickly. Plus, you get on the menu at some top restaurants in your area. Here’s the quick list of how to get started in food service:

1. Figure out your needs to package in larger containers
2. Determine your product cost and appropriate margins
3. Find a foodservice distributor or start knocking on doors (we find after lunch is the best time)
4. Make suggestions on how to use your product in certain dishes (do you research beforehand)
5. Follow up with restaurants directly (distributors don’t always have time to sell your product)

5. Catalog
Thought direct mail was a dying breed? It’s actually quite popular. From postcards to mail-order catalogs, more businesses are looking to use catalog sales to grow their food businesses. Here’s 5 tips to make your holiday catalog sales season a success:

1. Identify catalogs you would like to be in
2. Plan 4-6 months ahead (catalogs take a long time to plan)
3. Send samples (plus, make sure you’re including why you’re unique.)
4. Promote that you’re in the catalog - help the mail-order company drive their own sales!
5. Follow up after the catalog run to see how you can be a part of the next catalog (assuming it went well!)

6. Private Label
As one of my favorites on the list, private labeling offers other companies the opportunity to put their own label on your product. For example, when you walk into a store and it seems there’s an endless amount of food products - that’s private labeling. The store has taken other company's recipes and labeled them as their own. Here’s 5 tips to make private labeling work for you:

1. Let them create their own label art (you have better things to do)
2. Have minimum orders (10 cases of product is a good recommendation)
3. Put it on your website (don’t let it be a secret)
4. Target weddings and corporate events (they LOVE to private label everything)
5. Let it happen (many private label companies simply fall into place)

7. Daily Deal Sites
Daily deal sites are all over the place.There’s tons of them. From Groupon to Living Social, LocalvoreToday to Jumponit (a few local ones in Vermont), they offer companies a chance to build their fan base. But, there are some things you have to watch out for. Here are a couple tips:

1. Make the deal worth it (offering free shipping isn’t going to cut it)
2. Make it profitable (make sure you’re making money)
3. Run the deal on multiple deal sites - you can attract a larger crowd
4. Try your deal at different times of the year (holidays are almost always best!)
5. Learn and improve for next time (it never goes right the first time - learn and try again)

What strategies have used to grow your food business? Let’s start a discussion below in the comments and grow our food businesses together.


  1. Thanks for sharing these tips! I think that in order to have a successful food business, you will need to reach out to as big of an audience as you can. For my food business, we have been using a truck fleet that has enabled us to deliver our products to other businesses so that we can reach as big of an audience as we want.

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