Got friends who love your pickles, preserves and everything you’ve ever made? When it comes to taking your food passion and starting a new food processing business, sometimes the hardest part is knowing where to look for help in getting started.
The Farmers’ Market is ideal for start-up food producers and it’s wonderful to be able to contribute to local communities by making a new local product available to consumers. Can you picture yourself standing in your own stall surrounded by other creative, beautiful, and delicious products at your local farmers’ market? Is this in your future? Here’s how to start achieving your dream.
Step 1: Make a List of Everything You Want to Sell
If you have ideas for multiple products, don’t start making everything at once — you’ll burn out and run into production challenges. In the start-up phase, planning is critical. Plan:
- to minimize waste
- to limit unsold inventory
- how you can scale more easily
In short, dream big now but consider future scalability.
Here’s an example: if you’re making ketchup, you’ve likely invested in glass jars. But you don’t want inventory just sitting on the shelf — you have to sell what you have, and that includes extra jars.
Could those jars be filled with a similarly processed product — ideally, one that takes even less time to make than your core product, or which uses the leftovers of your core product, thus limiting waste, and which you can quickly fill and sell at the same market? In your planning phase you’re looking for quick wins with what you already know, and what you already have access to. And that could be jars, spices, processes, tools or other fruits and vegetables. If you can do this, these quick wins will help you scale more easily.
Step 2: Plan to Have Packaging People Will Love
By now, you may have done research on what kind of packaging may be useful for marketing your product. Even if you haven’t, here are some ideas:
- If you have a sense of humour, and if humour works for marketing your product, use it to your advantage in your packaging. Pick up a Tall Boy IPA can to see this strategy in action.
- Don’t have your main image repeat your name; it’s ideal if your branding image gives additional information about your product.
- Don’t be afraid to sidle up to trends, such as the ones health gurus are sharing, if that’s your thing.
Maybe you can start the next popular food trend. After all, Kombucha was relatively unknown in mainstream North American markets two decades ago. But don't go with the first name that comes into your head, or with the first design. People love a well-curated and developed product when it comes to recipes, so be brand-consistent by making sure you follow the same thoughtful process with your packaging. ‘Winging it’ will not give you a high-quality result.
Step 3: Master Your Recipe
Those renting spaces at the OAFVC have access to a trained chef to give feedback on recipes. Even if you are a George Brown culinary arts graduate, third party advice is critical to your success, and that means getting feedback from professionals.
Further, make sure you can produce a consistent product every time. That means consistent access to the same facility, to the same packaging materials and to the same quality of ingredients.
If you’re not ready yet to commit to consistency, there is beauty in the “each one is unique” approach as you start out, and Farmers’ Markets are safe places to experiment. But remember, you want to make money and create a following — your customers are going to want a consistent experience. So if you can’t master taste profile consistency now, talk to experts who can help you get there. (By the way, you get access to that tutoring for free when you rent space at the OAFVC — so consistent-quality products are within your grasp.)
Step 4: Food Safety is Your Peace of Mind
Even at Farmers' Markets, your food must comply with provincial laws — this link to OMAFRA is a great place to start your research.
But it’s not just about having a food- and shelf-safe product, it’s also about being safe with your equipment,understanding shelf life, and perhaps PH and water content for packaging erosion over time.
When you’re wondering how to take your knowledge beyond turning raw materials into a beautifully packaged food processing product, get access to all the expertise you need, often free of charge at the OAFVC. And talk to the OAFVC team to find out what your next step should be. (While the OAFVC is located in Northumberland County, its commercial kitchen and fruits and vegetable processing facility is available for users across Ontario.)
Step 5: The Only Business Plan You’ll Ever Need for Farmers’ Markets
Most people who start out at Farmers’ Markets try to stay at free facilities for as long as possible — borrowing Church basements, or a friend’s larger kitchen.
But here’s a bit of inspiration when you’re ready to take it to the next step. People just like you are making jams, jellies, salsas, relishes, preserves, baked goods, non-dairy ice cream, pizzas, soups, sauces, butter tarts — and a whole farmers’ market’s worth of other things at the Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre. These clients are benefiting from renting a commercial kitchen and free expert advice and many are getting their products listed in stores.
In the meantime,this checklist can help you understand the steps to growing your Farmers’ Market business.
“Requirements for Farmers’ Markets”. OMAFRA. http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/food/inspection/mkt-opt3.htm