Food & Drink — I’ve got an idea, what do I do?

Last week I met up with a mate from university who has just come up with a brilliant idea and is looking to take his first steps into the Food & Drink industry. It is always amazing and inspiring to see the fire in the eyes of someone who is at that stage of creation with an idea. It took me right back to the beginning of my journey when I was running around like an olive-fuelled headless chicken, brain bursting with ridiculous marketing campaigns and confidence that within a month I was obviously going to get my huge order from all the supermarkets — easy peasey…

As you can imagine, that was not the case. But what I did learn is that those early days are so important and will help build the foundations for your business moving forward. So here are my top tips to survive and thrive during those very very early stages of setting up a Food & Drink business!

  1. Should I stay or should I go?

You are on the tube, sweating with the rest of the carriage cohort about to walk back into the office for the gozilianth time — I am a 9–5er get me out of here! “Should I leave my job and go full time on my idea?” is a question I often get asked and my simple answer to that is hang on in there. Staying in a job provides you a stable income, a group of people to talk to (because the start-up journey can be a lonely one!) and hey, you may be able to sweet talk the Printer General to pump out some of your flyers! It sucks getting out of work with sapped creativity levels and then having to get your entrepreneurial grind on late at night or on the weekend but it is what you have to do. Prove your concept (and some more) to make sure you are in a comfortable position to take the plunge.

2. From the kitchen to the Market Stall

I would say 90% of products are created around the kitchen table — this means no minimum runs, no high production costs and a whole lot of mopping. Once you have the first iterations of your product take it to the market stall. I started out on a wet and windy November morning at the Duck Pond Market in Richmond. For £30 a day, I sold a load of olives but equally importantly, quizzed people on flavours, branding, price, names etc. Market stalls are the perfect place to test your product and also to start building your community! You will also leave absolutely buzzing when people are loving your product!

3. Put taste first but make sure that branding is right behind

You’ve just been jazzed up by an award-winning agency and you look sexy — awesome. You have got a great chance of being picked up off the shelf with some Instagram posts to follow — double awesome. Then they tried your product and the consumer pulls a face like they have just sucked a lemon — anti-awesome. When it comes down to food and drink, it is about taste. If your product does not taste good, it is unlikely to get that repeat sale and that is the metric to focus on to help your business grow. HOWEVER, when you have nailed the product taste (and its technical i.e. shelf life-something I made a mistake with!, allergens etc.) wrap that baby up in some eye-catching packaging.

NOTE-This may not necessarily be the case for super health-focussed products where the health benefits are what draws the consumer. I have drunk some seriously dodgy tasting drinks to get that nutrient hit :D

4. Define, Test, Refine

You taste good, look good but have your addicted customers asking — “I am not going make it to the market the next few weekends, I won’t be able to survive the withdrawal! Where else can I buy the product?!” Time to have a think — what occasion does my product suit? Who is going to buy my product? Where do those consumers shop?

Lets use the olives for example:

At the market, someone said they went down perfectly with their beer. Where can you buy beer? The pub! Find your nearest local pub, give them a load of samples and set a price where you think they will sell whilst making a sufficient margin (we will get to numbers in the next post — very important!) and see if it sells.

Someone said they were the perfect complement to their sandwich at lunch? Where do people buy sandwiches for lunch? The local deli. Do the same.

Do this across all potential channels and see which one yields the best results. And don’t put the blinders on — put them anywhere you can imagine someone consuming/buying your product. These smaller independent sites are the places where you can make the easiest wins early on and also where you can start building your case for the bigger retailers in their respective channels.

5. Set Goals

So this was the one I seriously shunned. If you do not set goals, you cannot measure and you do not have anything to focus your work. Set goals for yourself — you will make x number of calls, visit x number of sites, sell x amount of product. Make goals for your product sales — I predict it will sell this many in a week at this site. Make goals for your social — I will do x number of posts this week, gain x number of followers, achieve x number of engagments. It can be hard to pick the right numbers for these targets at the beginning but they are not set in stone. If you do not achieve your goals, ask why and think if they need amending (or as my Dad said, get out of bed earlier!).

6. Get out of the house!

Ooo is that on TV? That looks delicious, I think I have the ingredients for that in fridge? The mind-numbing Facebook scroll! For me, I needed to get out of the house. It was too easy to lose focus and to be honest, you can end up feeling pretty lonely! Simply going to your local cafe or free-wifi spot will do wonders for your productivity, creativity AND positivity! This also puts yourself in an environment where you can be seen. Some of my biggest customer wins started by bumping into someone getting a coffee!

On top of that, whilst co-working spaces are amazing, they can be expensive and something to look into when you are turning over some good revenue. There are hundreds of free sites you can work out of. A particular shout out to the Southbank Centre where we work— free wifi, an inspiring location and the potential of free olives if you can find us!

7. Reach Out

The Food & Drink industry is the friendliest sector I have ever worked in which is amazing when in essence, we are all competing for the same shelf space! You will be amazed at how many people are going through who have gone through the same aches and pains and I am sure will be open to helping. Don’t be afraid of pinging off some emails and making some calls — you might as well get used to the ol email and call duo, it will be your life :D

8. Put your seatbelt on for a bumpy but incredible journey!

These are my tips for those of you that have your idea and need a little guidance with the first things to do at the very very early stages. The next post to follow— “Expanding out of the test phase and starting to ramp up sales” — working out your margins, increasing your ROS, manufacturing and a focus on all of our favourite friend, money!

Bon voyage legends and feel free to drop me a line if you need any help!

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