Finding Ideas

Ugly Food of the NorthIt is not uncommon for individuals wanting to start a business to struggle finding a  business idea.

Many people do know what they want or are told that something they are already doing would be a good business. But not everyone falls into one of those categories.

Even for those who know what they would like to do, they know that making money would be hard, if not impossible, and so they end up searching as well.

Sometimes finding that idea happens by luck. Often, though, it happens by staying open to opportunities. 

I want to share an example of sometimes are right in front of us. And while this group is doing something for a social good, this same idea in other places has been turned into a viable business idea.

Ugly Food of the North sprang out of the discussions of a group of North Dakota thinkers. Like many ideas, the issue was right in front of a whole community. Yet few saw the opportunity and even fewer took action.

So are you looking for an idea?  Just let your mind wander. It might be right in front of you. Perhaps invite a group to wander with you.

Just one way to find your idea.

Local Foods Offers Taste, Freshness and Stronger Communities

Farmers' Market

Photo by USDA

Each year, people across the country anxiously await spring and summer and the local foods that become available. While there is the possibility for some form of local food practically year around, it’s this time of year when baskets are overflowing.

Local food has seen tremendous growth in recent years. In 2014, local foods sales were estimated to have topped $11.7 billion according to the USDA. In 2008, sales were less than half at an estimated at $5 billion.

People access their local foods in many different ways. Direct-farm sales is one. Others may enjoy it at restaurants where it is a current culinary trend. Schools have been including it more often in their offerings. More grocery stores have local food sections where you can shop. And still others are members of a CSA or community supported agriculture endeavor where you purchase a share that brings you a basket of local items on a regular basis, often weekly.

One of the largest supply sites are farmers markets. Today there are over 8200 farmers markets across the country. They range in size from those having just two or three producers meeting weekly to those that operate on a daily basis in multiple buildings or cover several blocks.

Local foods are a great way to connect with your local producer. Local foods is identified as supporting over 163,000 farm families. This is the connection where local foods not only provides for our needs but it builds families and the communities where those families live, go to school, and shop.

While local foods offers a direct connection to enjoying local foods, it also does things such as building community as people to town. Local markets become a gathering place where you may also find entertainment, food vendors and a festive atmosphere. It is not uncommon to hear grocery store owners comment that people come to their store after visiting the local market to purchase other items needed to complete a planned meal.

Local foods represent a win in so many ways. But probably the most important win is what your taste buds say when you are eating them. So get out and experience local foods. Your taste buds, your local producers, and your community all appreciate your support.

Food as a Business Idea

Food truck competition

Competition (CC) Bob B. Brown (bit.ly1o2905w), on Flickr

If asked, many business advisors would say starting a business around food is probably the most common request they get.

Why is it so popular? One reason is that friends and relatives often comment on how much they enjoy a certain item and encourage that person to start a business. It may come from a long-standing family recipe or something the person spent hours working on. Food reminds us of our heritage and our years growing up. It also can take us to new places. We can be easily engaged as a consumer in our food and beverage experiences, yet we can also look at it as something we can grab quickly that will keep us going until we can take a longer break. Today we hear about local food, slow food, and all sorts of suggestions on how to change our diets for more energy and better health.

Yet making it in the food business is difficult. In grocery stores along some 20,000 new items hit the shelves every year. That number does not take into account the new restaurants opening each year, the recent trend of food trucks, and more and more farmers markets and consumer trade shows where food booths are plentiful in numbers.

So can you make it as a food entrepreneur? Yes.  Will it be easy? No. One of the first things such small business owners need to realize is that making a batch of something at home is nothing like doing it on a commercial basis. For one thing, doing as a business means needing a commercial kitchen or having a co-packer produce it for you.

You can find resources to help you get started. The Cooperative Extension Service in many states has materials on starting a business. If you have been a regular attendee of our Power of Business First Friday chats, you will have heard from several food based businesses. (past chats are archived here.)  At North Dakota State University Extension Service, we have:  Food Entrepreneur: Your Resource Guide to the Food Industry. Oklahoma State University, through its Food and Agricultural Products Center, and Penn State offer regular trainings for startup companies.

Selling online is one approach that many food entrepreneurs consider. If that interests you, check out these two resources from University of Nebraska Extension and NDSU Extension:

You also can find bloggers and other online sources of information. One blogger I follow is Jennifer Lewis, Small Food Business. Two recent articles that I enjoyed looked at convenience store food sales and where people go to buy specialty foods.

The challenges are great. Remember though there are resources available.

It won’t be easy. On many days you will want to give up. Planning, passion and persistence plus knowing your market and getting your product in front of that targeted group of people are keys to making your food idea a business success.

Taking the Leap

Are you thinking of taking the leap and turning your hobby into a business? Then listen to Becky Mannon, Bears-n-Woods, discuss her journey in doing so. Listen to her passion and what helped her decide she was ready and it was time to make the move.

As the conversation notes, she worked on her idea for 15 years developing a unique, quality product. This also allowed her to build a customer base who were willing to spread the word, some of the best marketing you can get.

Becky discusses how developing a business plan made her think about the steps she would need to take. It also was a reference and a reminder of her eventual goal. An audience was identified and she could begin to consider things like pricing, production, etc. She now is looking forward to adding to her first initial product line with another complementary item.

Additional resources are available for the aspiring and existing small business owner at Power of Business. Get access to additional conversations with other business owners and more tips. And make sure to tune in on the first Friday of every month at 12:15 ET. Click here to register.

Are you thinking of “taking the leap?” Is it time?  Becky encourages people to consider it and comments, “there is nothing like it.”