The Staff of Entrepreneur Media Inc. explain how you can launch a profitable specialty food business, with information on the hottest trends, insight from practicing specialty food business owners, and how you can differentiate your business. In this edited excerpt, the authors offer three other business ideas for specialty food producers not interested in a retail or homebased business.
Perhaps you have an idea for a specialty food that you feel could sell well but the thought of producing food and getting it to the consumer through the retail market or mail order doesn’t quite suit you. There are several other ways you could get into the specialty food business.
Strictly special order
You could make your specialty food -- say it’s chocolates or lollipops or cake pops or goat cheese formed in the shape of a goat -- and simply sell it via special orders. Corporate gifts to put in gift baskets, maybe those famous baskets of high-end items that the stars get in their hotels at the Academy Awards ceremony, wedding receptions, other big parties -- the list of possibilities is endless.
In this kind of business, you'd have to have samples to offer, but your product is always presold. You would still need a production facility. You could lease a commercial kitchen, but then you would still have to put it all together somewhere -- plate it, wrap it, box it, however you plan to present it to your client.
The other thing about this approach is that you'll either need to spend as much time on sales as on making your food item or you'll need to hire someone or take on a partner to do the sales part for you.
Food trucks continue to be hot in certain parts of the country. They tend to do well either on Main Street where there are a lot of people or in rural areas where lunch options are few and far between.
A food truck is a great place to sell certain specialty food concoctions -- things like veggie hot dogs with your special homemade sauerkraut or gourmet pretzels with a variety of dipping sauces or fruit dipped in different chocolate and sauces, crepes, meatballs, cupcakes -- the possibilities are nearly limitless. There are many advantages and unique features to food trucks. Here are a few, according to “Food Trucks 101: How to Start a Mobile Food Business” by Entrepreneur Press and Rich Mintzer:
- You can choose a variety of locations from street corners to train and bus stations to resorts and conference centers, corporate parking lots, even beachside.
- Seventy-eight percent of food trucks have four or fewer employees.
- The mobile unit can be moved if you find the area you set up in isn’t as busy as you thought it might be.
- Food trucks themselves have become capable of housing very sophisticated equipment.
There are two different kinds of food trucks:
1. The MFPV, or “mobile food preparation vehicle,” where food is prepared as the customer waits
2. The ICV, or “industrial catering vehicle,” which sells only prepackaged food—sort of a vending machine with lots more choices
Of course, the ICV tends to be cheaper than the MFPV -- which could run upwards of $100,000 -- because the unit where food is prepared needs more equipment. The food cart is the cheapest of all, likely costing under $3,000 for a used one.
Don’t get duped into thinking the food truck business is easy! It may be “easier” than opening a storefront or a distribution center, but it has its own quirks. Some things to keep in mind are:
Staffing the food truck itself is likely to only be a small portion of your day. Prep, office work like ordering supplies, and picking up supplies typically takes a couple hours of the day before and/or after the truck itself is in operation on-site.
Cleanup is key. Your food truck needs to be as neat and clean as any other food operation. Getting to and from your destination can take time. Of course, ideal is if you can keep your truck on-site even if it means packing it up and moving it a few hundred yards. But you may then fall under some different regulations since you are technically not a mobile truck unit if you don’t move.
Marketing doesn’t go away just because you're mobile. Unless, and even if, you're set up in a busy downtown area, people need to know about you. Social media can be great promotion for this kind of food business.
Being a personal chef for people on a specialty diet can be a very rewarding way to get into specialty food. Cancer patients, especially those on chemotherapy, can really benefit from a personal chef who knows how to make food that's especially appealing when chemotherapy drugs make food unappealing but when it is important to maintain nutrition for strength and the best health possible.
Other types of specialty cooking for health reasons include:
- Low-sodium and other high-blood pressure-related nutrition
- Diabetes and low-sugar diets
- Heart disease and low-fat, low-cholesterol cooking
- Celiac disease and gluten-free cooking
Besides being a personal chef for those with chronic diseases, you can also get into specialty cooking as a personal chef for working couples with children who feel like they don’t have time to cook healthfully for their family. Or for those who are in positions to host frequent parties, events, and social functions who want someone they can count on to take over their kitchen and wow their guests with food within whatever budget they set for you.