For the past few months, Chris Cornyn -- founder and president of food and drink marketing agency DINE Marketing -- has sat in on the kitchens of Supermarket Superstar, Lifetime’s reality cooking competition that brings packaged foods to store’s shelves. With clients like Starbucks, Yoplait and Betty Crocker, Cornyn brought his expertise to entrepreneurs hoping to turn their recipes into national products.
After serving as mentor on the show’s first season, Cornyn noticed that while the food entrepreneurs were revved up about cooking, they were missing a key ingredient: business skills.
“In general, food entrepreneurs don’t learn the business side at the beginning. They get so enamored with what’s in the product, how it tastes and what their grandmother thinks of it, that the basic building blocks of building a food business are ignored,” says Cornyn. “Without that knowledge, your product will never get beyond your own garage.”
Cornyn gives a tasting of his top business tips to entrepreneurs in the food industry or otherwise:
Cook up a “reason for being.” Ask yourself how your product will fly off of stores’ shelves.
“It comes down to having something that is yours and yours only, what we call your ‘reason for being,’" says Cornyn. A lot of food entrepreneurs come at it and think they have something new, but once they get on shelf, they realize what they thought was new, isn’t.”
Order wisely. Not every good product idea will or should be pursued. Whether it's bad timing or a lack of capital, sometimes the resources just aren't there.
“At corporations, good ideas die because they just can’t get the momentum or the support; at small companies, good ideas may die just because there isn’t enough money to produce all the good ideas,” says Cornyn.
Rather than hoping to develop the item, taking a broader view may be a better endeavor for you. In other words, think big, but don't be disappointed if every product you come up with doesn't hit it out of the park. “Coming up with the next Oreo is one in a million, but coming up with a whole product line, you’re going to have a much better chance of success.”
Test with the right taste buds. Entrepreneurs’ earliest misstep is “believing just because your family and friends love your product, the world is going to love your product,” says Cornyn. While their early support is encouraging, don’t rely on your mother’s opinion to represent your target audience.
Instead, Cornyn recommends engaging in consumer testing and ensuring there is a need for your product in the market.
Serve your potential customers directly. When testing any new product -- from software to a beauty item or tech gadget -- collect consumer insights.
Cornyn suggests taking your product to where potential customers will be, like a local market, and observing their behavior, listening to feedback and tweaking the product to satisfy their needs.
Pick the right packaging strategy. With only seconds to grab a consumer’s attention, pick packaging that reflects your brand’s ethos -- whether that’s personal story, functionality or attitude.
"Look at Method cleaners. There isn’t anything remarkable about what their detergent does over someone else’s, but the recycled packaging and clean design, that’s what the ethos of that brand is,” says Cornyn.
Add in smartphones and social media. “When we’re in a store, we don’t have our TV set or radio with us, but we have our smartphone and we can access information,” says Cornyn. As an entrepreneur, make sure you are on board with technology and keeping up with trends.
For your marketing efforts, include mobile avenues. Ensure your website is mobile-friendly and your social media strategy is strong on all devices.
Don’t count yourself out. Though equipped with a smaller budget, don’t get discouraged if all your competitors are corporations.
“What’s interesting is that whether you’re an entrepreneur or a multinational food company, nine out of ten new products fail,” says Cornyn. He explains success sometimes simply comes down to being in the "right place, right time with the right idea.”
Want to taste more of Cornyn's tips. Check out his "From Concept-to-Consumption in 20 Steps" below: