Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew: 5 Things to Consider Before You Launch Your Food Business


Photo Courtesy of Creative Market

How many times have you heard the refrain? “These brownies are amazing. You should sell them!” Replace brownies with salad dressing, jam, kimchi or granola and every talented cook has heard this more than a few times. Because you know, running a food business is exactly like creaming butter and sugar and adding that secret ingredient that makes your food so crave-worthy. Or not.

There are a lot of things to consider before you take your recipe to market, from how to source ingredients efficiently to the best place to buy liability insurance. Yes, that’s a thing when you’re selling food to the public. Establishing a social media platform and buying the right takeout containers are all in the job description when you’re a business owner as well as a baker.

Whether you’re applying to sell at your local farmers’ market or ramping right up and making your pitch to the buyer at Whole Foods, here are five things to consider before you light that fire.

1. Who Wants a Piece of You?

Before you decide exactly what to sell, how to price it and where to market it, imagine your dream customer and how your product will capture their imagination. There are plenty of jams on the market, but do you add mint to your marmalade to give it a tropical twist? Have you discovered how to make brownies that fit into a paleo lifestyle? (If so, call me, stat!) There’s nothing wrong with tackling a crowded market. Americans love choices, as evidenced by the long aisles of breakfast cereals in every supermarket. But your product will need a way to grab buyers’ attention, whether it’s an unusual flavor combination or clever branding.

Know your target shopper and differentiate your product and you’ll stand out even in a crowded field.

2. Is Your Recipe Carved in Stone?

Want to avoid all the work involved in operating a food business? Show up to a tasting panel and tell the farmers’ market managers that today’s batch isn’t your best. Or start selling at a popular market and then try to explain to a returning customer why the size of today’s loaf is completely different from last week’s. Why is fast food so darn popular, even if it’s not the best tasting or healthiest thing to eat? It’s consistent. Consumers like knowing what to expect, and that’s a promise you have to make to your buyers in any food business. What’s in the food has to match what’s on the label and what your customers have come to expect.

Determine the precise quantities of every ingredient and prepare it the same way each time. Save the creativity for developing new products to add to your line.

3. Do You Bend or Do You Break?

Ask any food maker or restaurant owner what the most predictable thing about the business is and they’ll tell you it’s the unpredictability. Suppliers go out of business and suddenly that herb that gave your most popular recipe its zing is almost impossible to get. Do you throw in the towel, or search out a farmer who’s willing to plant a few rows just for you? The local health department decides to reinterpret the regulations and now you can only manufacture your popular spinach dip if you use a dairy-certified facility. Do you cry in your cappuccino or find other makers using dairy products and band together to rent a kitchen?

Equipment malfunctions, power fails and rules change but successful foodpreneurs keep on making their products no matter what obstacle is thrown their way. Be conscious of your capacity for coping with challenges.

4. Do You Have the Bread to Make the Jam?

There are a number of small businesses that can start with very little cash investment, but food businesses are definitely not at the top of that list. Products the public will put in their mouths are one of the most heavily regulated things. Federal, state and local regulations generally translate to permits, fees and higher overhead. Perfectly delicious products will only sell if the packaging is equally as appealing. Making a perishable product? Spoilage and waste can have a serious affect on the bottom line. Whether you use savings, credit cards or crowdfunding, you’re going to need cash upfront and some more in the bank to be sure your new food business succeeds.

Be realistic about costs and have the funds in place to start, with a healthy reserve set aside for unexpected expenses.

5. Are You Ready to Stir Up Sales?

First, pick an outlet. If you’re outgoing and don’t mind hauling inventory and tables, the nation’s 8,600 weekly farmers’ markets offer the best profit margin, since makers keep the whole retail price. With a built-in flow of shoppers, market businesses ramp up faster than most, and individual markets’ limited hours mean it’s easy to launch your business as a side hustle. Face to face with your end user you’ll need to make eye contact, flash a big smile, tell your story and offer a tempting taste to close the deal.

If you’re an introvert more interested in manufacturing than marketing, wholesale may be a better route. In addition to supermarkets, lifestyle boutiques are finding artisanal grocery products a profitable use of shelf space. You’ll still need to sell to secure your spot in the store, though. Emphasize product quality and packaging that will attract shoppers, and get ready to negotiate on price. These buyers will be crunching numbers before they bite, so make sure your formula allows both you and them to make a profit.

Know your real cost, price your product right and practice your pitch, then show them what you’ve got and ask for the order.

The specialty food industry is thriving. Walk the aisles at the Specialty Food Show or your neighborhood market to see where your idea fits and hone your skills at the annual InTents Conference and with books like Good Food Great Business by Suzy Wyshak. Combine these ingredients and you’ll have the recipe for success.


A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.

Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.