Seven Tips for Creating a Food Startup - Advice From Successful Foodie Founders

Working with food startups on the surface level (branding and marketing) has given me an insight into some of the grit and hustle that goes into getting brand exposure - but I wondered about the other cogs in the machine.

As a small business owner myself, I fully understand that there is no one perfect recipe for success when it comes to creating a startup.

Working with food startups on the surface level (branding and marketing) has given me an insight into some of the grit and hustle that goes into getting brand exposure - but I wondered about the other cogs in the machine.

What challenges do these foodie founders face? What strengths are required to overcome them? I asked several successful food startups to share their insights and here's what I learned:

1. Master your product first

It seems like an obvious one, but if you aren't 100% happy with the product you're selling, how can you sell it to anyone else? It takes ongoing effort, but it's crucial to keep refining your product until you get it right.

Return to your customers and gather feedback before expecting to grow. Investing time and effort into these processes will pay off in the long run.

"I made the decision not to grow the business for a few months while we learnt as much as we could from our current cohort of customers."

"I do think some people get carried away with the fun stuff, and don't pay enough attention to the manufacturing and it can result in a substandard product."

"Creating Oppo took 25 months of research, three different factories, two specialized food research centres and four grants... it was incredibly difficult. But once I had the product I knew my vision was possible and I could build from there."

~ Charlie Thuillier, Oppo ice cream

2. Don't be afraid to ask for help

We may be at an advantage now with all the information we have online at our fingertips, but that doesn't mean we can always find the answers we need.

Whether it's reaching out to other businesses in your field that are further along than you, or outsourcing tasks you can't manage - asking for help is key for any business to succeed.

"You'd be surprised how willing people are to help; I reached out to some inspiring entrepreneurs via Linkedin and Facebook (whom I'd never spoken to before) and it was incredible how willing they were to share their knowledge."

~ Ros, Borough Broth Company

"We have had some amazing support from our local enterprise office and are often surprised that others don't approach them."

~ Sarah and Isolde, Cool Beans

"If I were to start over, I would probably have asked for more help! ... When you are a passionate entrepreneur and having to learn so many different things and become a 'jack of all trades', it is sometimes hard to reach out and ask people for help."

~ Ethan, Whey Ahead®

3. Get direct feedback from your target market

You may believe you have a great product, but if your target market aren't delighted with it you won't get far.

Going directly to where your potential customers will be and giving out samples is a great start to getting instant feedback.

"I handed out the first samples of The Protein Bakery to everyone who took my fitness classes. I just wanted honest feedback on what I was creating from people that were into eating healthier."

"In store tastings, shelf talkers and promotions all help to increasing sales and get the products into people's baskets."

~ Sarah and Isolde, Cool Beans

4. You can't be all things to all people

'Love it or hate it' - Marmite embraced the mantra two decades ago and are still going strong.

It isn't an easy one to accept, but even the greatest businesses are never going to please everyone. The food industry is particularly divisive - with extremes in every area of taste and choice.

"Trying to be all things to all people is pointless. I know I'll never be able to satisfy everyone's every desire."

~ Stephen, The Protein Bakery

"Too often people make the mistake of creating a product no one wants. They think people want it, perhaps simply because the creator does themselves! It's crucial to remember that the product is king."

~ Charlie Thuillier, Oppo ice cream

5. Know the problem you're aiming to solve

Your product may taste great, but if it isn't something that satisfies a need that part of the population face, then it may fall flat.

Keeping the customers needs in mind, how can you make a clear offering to solve their problem with your product? It's a great way to ensure you not only grab their attention once, but to turn them into repeat customers.

"Is it a problem for others too? Understand your product/service proposition, and understand who you want to target. From this stems everything else."

~ Charlie Thuillier, Oppo ice cream

"Ask yourself, why will someone want to buy my product and why will they want to buy it again?"

~ Suzie, Primal Pantry

6. Be part of a community

None of the startups I spoke to recommended investing in going to expensive seminars or workshops, but nearly all told me about the invaluable support they get from being part of a community of like-minded business owners.

Whether it's chatting over coffee with a fellow business owner, or meeting up with a mastermind every month; talking things through with friends who are going through similar situations is a great help - it can be lonely as a business owner!

"A session I do on marketing and customer service with my friend Michelle from Songkick is tonnes better than any seminar I'll do on the same topic. No one understands how to handle time pressure, stress and balance sheets better than my Founder friends."

~ Karen, The Happy Bread Company

"I was invited to join a small network called "The Female Creatives" we're a bunch of ladies all based in London who have all started our own businesses in something we're passionate about. We've all got vastly different companies, but we often find we hit upon similar issues."

~ Ros, Borough Broth Company

7. Don't take shortcuts

Clearly there's no 'quick start' guide to creating a successful food startup, and all the founders I spoke to were evidence of a lot of hard work paying off.

"We have left no stone unturned in ensuring we are fully compliant with regulation, food safety, ethical standards and at all times living and breathing our values. It is important to stay true to your brand and act with integrity and honesty at all times."

~ Ethan, Whey Ahead®

"Don't skimp on the design costs when it comes to your branding. Good branding should be viewed as an investment."

~ Suzie, Primal Pantry

"I feel like one of the reasons Buff Bake is so successful is because we MASTER one thing before we start our next project."

~ Ash, Buff Bake

Food for thought...

It was an eye opener to see what the various food startups attributed to their success - and just how much they had in common.

All of them began with their customer in mind, solved a problem for them and focussed on refining their solution (the food product.)

There doesn't appear to be any one 'secret sauce' (pun intended), but these tips are undoubtedly a starting point for any entrepreneurs looking to start a food business.

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