If the title has caught your eye, chances are you already have a product or at least have an idea for one in mind.
As a small food business, you have to be so much more than just a food producer. Making a product is relatively easy once you have a clear direction of where you’re heading. Food hygiene is one obstacle. Shortly followed by my favourite, food packaging & labelling. Moving swiftly on to where to sell your goods. I’m sure there are lots of people that have found these issues a breeze, but I was not one of them. Along my food producing path, I have stumbled my way through. Making various mistakes along the way but somehow getting there.
I haven’t gone into great detail on any of the subjects below (and believe me I could), but hopefully the following will give you an idea of some of the things to consider if you're planning on setting out on your own artisan food journey.
If you haven’t decided on your product yet, choosing the right product could be key. My best advice is to go to a lot of food shows and look at the competition. Then ask yourself what you think you can do better.
It’s a must for a good reason. Ask your local council for guidance. In my experience they are usually very helpful.
If you have a product that needs a sell by date, get it tested. Ask the council for advice or a food technologist who can advise. Don’t wait for your first complaint!
Basically, you need a package that can house your product for its full shelf life, is food grade and looks good enough for the consumer to encourage them to buy it. The better your product looks, the more you will sell. Sad but true. People buy with their eyes first.
Check to see what everybody else is using. Ask yourself what else it could go in to make it look good & always cost it before going ahead. I often see products made for less than the packaging cost and that’s the bit that goes in the bin!
Selling your products
There are many ways to sell your products. Direct to consumer (direct mail via websites), shops, market stalls, wholesalers and distributors. They all have their pros and cons and it’s up to you to decide. Personally, I have used all of the above and not always just to make sales.
Having your own website sounds great, right. People place an order and you post it, right? In reality this is not so easy. You have to make or find someone to make a website for you. It must look good, perform well, look after itself and never need any maintenance. Good luck with that one. The best advice on this subject from me is don’t do it on the cheap and make sure you are in full control so that you can make simple changes.
Direct to shops
Direct to shops will be the least amount of work for you but also the least amount of profit. Wholesalers and distributors yield even less profit but you move more volume. This means more work for you. Many producers can’t afford to go down this path. A fellow trader once said to me ‘’Be careful you don’t become a busy fool’’. Those wise words still pass my ears at times. There are reasons why we're not all in the supermarkets. We don’t mass produce so we need to make more than pennies from each sale to stay in business. "But I need to work hard to establish my brand", I hear you say. This is true. My wife and I worked almost every weekend on shows for well over a year. Not including all week producing products, marketing and talking to wholesalers. The truth is we still do. You need the right balance though. That’s your target.
Food Shows & Local Markets
These are my favourites forms of selling but they're not without their pitfalls. I will paint the scene for you.
It’s 3 o’clock in the morning. You were up until one in the morning packing your pots and jars. You have to cook samples and load the van before you drive 3 hours to your food show. It’s raining and it’s cold and you're asking yourself "Why am I doing this?" Your pitch is in the worst place possible and the van is parked miles away. The show starts and you have to smile at customers. Many of whom defiantly do not smile back. But of course this is a bad show and although you will have some like this, they are not all the same, thank goodness.
Shows and markets are still my favourites. You meet new people and see old customers. You see new producers that give you inspiration and old producers you can joke with. There is a life in the day that pushes you on to the next show. For me that’s the magic that makes me happy. Plus, apart from the pitch fee, you make all the money from the sale!
If you ask me which is the best method of selling, then I would say I use all of the above and more. A fellow trader once said to me ‘’In the first year you will go to the opening of an envelope’’. And we did. I still sell direct to shops and wholesalers but probably not as much as I did. I do have this website that has some truly amazing producers in their own right. I still go to shows up and down the UK and enjoy almost every minute of them. I hope you will too.