Family recipes struggle to go from kitchen to store
By Jim Kendall
This column originally appeared in the February 23, 2015 Daily Herald
Jon Wylie knows what it takes to get Grandma’s Pasta Sauce – or Aunt Bertha’s cookies, Uncle Harry’s chili or whatever legendary recipe your family treasures – onto store shelves: Determination and money.
“Look inside yourself,” says Wylie. “See if you have the determination and the money to start. Not many make it.”
Wylie knows. He is marketing maven in the Wheaton office of Turn-a-Bout Ltd. More importantly, he has a lifetime of experience in the retail food industry – and a single-spaced, two-page list of “Issues to be Addressed” in launching a new consumer product.
Max Good and his Black Swan BBQ sauces are a success story, partly because Good is a salesman who will “pick up the phone and cold call people.” One of those calls, he said when we talked for a 2006 column, went to Whole Foods, a much-sought nirvana for many food entrepreneurs.
“My sales background got me through to folks who told me what to do.”
Whole Foods and its customers are hard to impress. “Whole Foods customers hated our original recipe,” Good says. “High fructose corn syrup.”
Consequently, Black Swan developed what Good calls a “clean gourmet line” specifically for Whole Foods. In a website message clearly aimed at Whole Foods customers, www.blackswancompany stresses, “No corn syrup. No thickeners, preservatives, chemicals or anything artificial.”
Good, Black Swan sales and marketing vice president and creator of the original sauce, says the company continues to sell its traditional recipe BBQ sauces, which range from mild to kiss-of-fire. Exports, he says, account for about half of Black Swan sales.
Along the way, Good has learned some things:
* The time and expense put into label development “was very worthwhile. Buyers tell us the label looks elegant,” a branding element Wylie and other marketers know is important.
* Low cost isn’t necessarily the best approach. An early discussion of ingredients and price with Dorina So-Good Inc., a Union, IL, private label food processor, convinced Good to stick with premium ingredients and price accordingly.
Good says Black Swan became profitable “after a couple of years,” though he also says the profit level is “not as much as I’d like to see.” A relationship with AmazingRibs.com, where Good is director of equipment reviews & keeper of the flame, helps.
For others, Wylie’s list of issues (greatly condensed here) that hopeful kitchen entrepreneurs should address can help:
* Who’s the target consumer? What’s the differentiation that makes your product more desirable than others? Who are the competitors? How much of a threat might they be?
* Who will design the label? How will it look on store shelves? Legally, what must you disclose on the label? What is the cost of labeling and packaging?
* Approach more than one supplier (co-packer in industry terminology). Check references. Check customers and former customers. Do the math. Does the cost structure work?