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Local Flavor Food with a regional flair can lure loyal locals as well as fans from afar.

By Nichole L. Torres

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

After a friend sent Donna Dockins a box of New Zealand dukkah, a traditional blend of crushed hazelnuts and spices used as a dip, her regional food business was born. This Portland, Oregon, resident loved the flavor, and realizing that hazelnuts were one of Oregon's most prolific exports, she decided to create Oregon Dukkah. "I loved the idea of using a local food crop," says Dockins.

To launch, she sought guidance from the state Department of Agriculture and Oregon State University, two entities that were jointly looking to promote and develop Oregon food products. Months of market research followed as Dockins learned the ins and outs of food product development, processing, packaging and distribution. Her big coup came at the end of 2004, when she sold her first batch of dukkah at a local farmer's market. "I sold 99 bags in four hours," says Dockins, 46. That initial burst of success motivated her to approach stores--and soon Whole Foods picked up her product, first locally, then regionally. This year, sales are projected to be in the six figures.

Understanding your point of differentiation in the regional food marketplace is your ticket in, explains Tammy Marquez-Oldham, a counselor for the SBDC and CEO of Marquez Project Management. To get your foodie brain flowing, investigate your local farmer's market to see what types of regional foods are popular. "Communities nationwide have farmer's markets, and [they're] a very good way for food entrepreneurs to test the market," she says. "They get the opportunity to talk to their consumers face to face."

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