Friday, October 7, 2011

Can Portland Support a $50/hr Rental Kitchen?

Yes, I’m back, well at least for now. Time will tell. As you can see, something incited me to put fingers to keyboard. I almost titled this post “The dudette does not abide”, but in the interest of not attracting just Jeff Bridges fans, I thought better of it.

When I was still living in NYC and doing cost analysis for whether it was feasible to get my business off the ground there (which, it wasn’t), commissary (or rentable commercial kitchen) time was running about $25 an hour. Yes, costs have gone up everywhere so I imagine the same space, if it was available would be closer to $50/hr. However, everything is relative to location and what the market will bear.

So let’s do some math, I’m assuming you’re just starting out or have been in business for a short time. Let’s take the $50/hr as a base hourly rent you’re paying for kitchen rental space. Now let’s assume you’ve budgeted rent as 20% of your forecasted income (Note: everyone has their own formula of how much rent/sales ratio should be, I’ve seen it as low as 8% and high as 32%). This means you need to produce $250 an hour of product, outside of additional labor, food costs, and packaging.

Perhaps you’re a cake baker, and selling your cakes wholesale at $25. Can you bake, cool and frost/finish 10 cakes an hour to stay with your budgeted percentage? Say you’re scheduled for a four hour kitchen rental - $200. That’s $1000 of product (or 40 cakes).

The pricing could work a little better if you were a caterer and only needed 4 hours to put together a $1500 event, where your margins tend to be higher than wholesale.

Is there a market demand in the Portland area for this level of pricing? Time will tell, and if so, prepare to have your favorite $2 coffeehouse cookie set you back $4. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Nothing Was Fishy…The Case(s) Of The Would-Be Food Business Owners

Why yes, a garlic scape does make a decorative hat band!

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been privy to a couple of diametrically different conversations about starting and running a food business, both unsolicited. I’m always willing to proffer an opinion or point people in a direction when I’m able to. (Note to those seeking advice - while I’m happy to help, please email prior to picking up the phone and calling especially on weekends, some of us aren’t up at the crack of dawn on Saturday mornings (or Sunday for that matter)).

The recap below shows that everyone approaches solutions and what motivates them differently (esp. in different stages of business). Do you think one of these has a better chance?

Business One: Owner is just in the getting off the ground stage, with a business idea that  is a take off from something they’re currently doing for an employer. They’re in the research and planning stage, where the owner has investigated the market viability (which looks positive) and is looking at costs for getting the project off the ground. This person (the owner) wanted a little guidance as to where to begin figuring out what they’d need for infrastructure and permits for getting to the next stage (which includes perhaps building our their own production space). I was left with the impression that this person was motivated enough to do whatever it took to get their idea to fruition (and had the support of their loved ones to do it). I think they were also burnt out from their current gig.

Business Two: Owner has been in business for about three years with a ready to eat product, and has had some big ups and downs with their product in the marketplace (including a café which opened and shuttered quickly). Owner is at a loss as to how to keep going and seemed somewhat unwilling to accept that they are the one that needs to keep their company moving forward. At this point, putting the company up for sale would probably not be feasible (they’re renting a facility, and the market value of the customers might not garner much). I’m not sure what they had in terms of a support network of friends and family. I told this person that they might want to look for a partner who was more sales oriented to foster some growth. There is no easy answer to keeping a business going without the willingness to put in the effort.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers (mostly opinions), and part of being willing to talk to people seeking advice is to gain my own perspective on issues and ideas. The post I wrote about renting commercial kitchen space is still the top visited post here. Wonder if that’ll change when I post about our newest fruit tart flavor…. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Gang of Three… Quibble, Quandary, Quest

I'm not usually a good scrabble player, however using big point words seemed a fitting way to wrap up some experiences of the past few weeks. 

Quibble: The Boundaries of Local
Recently, I’ve been traveling outside of our “region” (ok state) in hopes to grow our sales and distribution of tarts. In Oregon/Portland and somewhat in Washington/Seattle, (depending on who you talk to), our products are considered local. But if you fly 1000 (or more) miles, somewhere mid-air, we cross the boundaries of “local” and are seen as “sustainable” (and “clean”) products*. Neither are specific or constraining, it’s simply a different mindset when pitching our tarts to buyers. Overall, the response to our tarts has been positive and everyone is supportive of using local resources to produce them.

Quandary: The Economy and Continuing Closing of Businesses
In the past four weeks, two of my small business friends in town have closed up shop (literally). Both were retail food businesses (in two different sectors). One just had enough (a future longer post about this is pending) of the long hours and no income. The other had been trying to wait out their lease and hang on with no luck. Yes, these things happen and most of the times work out for the best in the end, but they still can be unnerving for other small business owners like myself as no business is immune. However, I think there is always something to be learned from these situations, and they both walked away with insight and experience that could be useful in their next thing.

Quest: The Fruit Tart Flavor Which Reigns Supreme
It’s been about 8 weeks since we’ve launched our line of fruit tarts. As we started out with three flavors, strawberry, cherry and ginger peach, they’ve all been selling strongly (based on how many cases have been ordered). The cherry one has been slightly more popular, but not by much, maybe 5% in the past weeks. I’m enjoying the fact they’re all neck and neck so to speak, I think we’ve hit a good range launching with something for everyone.

* As an interesting note, Whole Foods Markets defines local as anything within a 7 hour truck/driving range. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Piece of the Pie… Introducing Our New Line of Fruit Tarts

I wrote a few blog posts ago about the process of product development (at least from our side in the food industry). The past few months, we’ve been keeping our fingers busy (and sticky!) working on refining and launching our new line of fruit filled tarts.

I can definitely say we’re pretty excited about the outcome. We work hard on keeping our products top quality as we scale and grow.

Our fruit tarts have been a long time coming. Not so much in the product development (that’s what January and February were for), but considering how to figure out where best to address the market demand.

Ever since our first farmer’s market we’ve had customers come up to us and ask if we were doing fruit tarts. My very first presentation to New Seasons Markets, the buyer asked if we were doing any fruit versions. I knew the market was there (but back on both occasions, the timing was wrong).

In the past 18 months (against a flat economy, to say the least), we’ve been growing and morphing into the next stages of where I want to company to be, and after this past holiday season (where we did some small fruit tart tests), I felt the timing was right to get on getting fruity in 2011.

We’re keeping to the classics, as our target audience hits all ages. I want our fruit tarts to be something kids would enjoy as well as adults. Portable for picnics and lunches or dress up with a scoop of ice cream (and um, eating for breakfast as we discovered).

In this past week, we put our fruit tarts out to market (starting exclusively with New Seasons around Portland).
Our flavors out of the gate: Cherry, Strawberry and Ginger Peach.

Have you tried one? Let us know what you think! I’ll let you know how they’re doing after a bit, and if there’s a clear favorite of the group emerging.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

How Do You Like Dem Tomatahs? Comments On This Week's News

I couldn’t let this story pass by without commenting on it, and anyone in the farming or food industry will understand why. This past week $250,000 (yes a quarter of a million dollars) worth of tomato crop were stolen from a farmer in Florida. You can find the (free) article here via ABC.

While I am relieved we’re not having food riots in our country, a great tomato heist like this shows us how much of a commodity our food has become. Our food prices are directly tied to fuel (eg the cost of gas), growing conditions, and calamities going on in the world (whomever has had a flood, freeze, drought or earthquake is purchasing food from us).

Additionally, it brings to mind a few questions (and some comments):

Where are you going to fence said tomatoes? (they were originally destined for Wendy’s)
“Psstt… hey mister… these nice tomatoes just fell off the back of the truck”. I suspect if the thieves went through such trouble to set-up a fake company, they already had a buyer in store so to speak.

What does this do to our efforts to have more traceability in our food? Doesn’t matter where they were destined, would you eat one knowing it was stolen not knowing how it was handled (though by now you know where it was grown)?

Which brings me to think if it had been beef or pork, there would’ve been a nationwide man-hunt out to stop it from getting into our food system

This very well might not be the last time we hear a story like this. Next time you’re at one of your local farmers markets (ours are just starting up) remember what a commodity your local farmers truly are to your own dinner table.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lessons From Having Too Much Make-Up On In Daylight… or Why It’s Important to Understand Your Customers

Like many industries, the cosmetics industry holds a twice yearly products showcases where they invite consumers to take a seat and try out some make-up and skincare products. The local location of Nordstrom was hosting one over the weekend.

Our tarts are considered higher-end existing in the “gourmet” and “artisanal” food sections of stores and deli cases (and in many cases “grab & go”). How does this tie in to a few hours at the cosmetics counter you ask? I thought it would be interesting to compare how other industries market and present higher end products to the consumer (which sometimes, is me) and see if I could gain anything from the experience.

I decided my skin and my patience could handle two product samplings from two very different skin care and cosmetic companies, with two very different results.

Cosmetic company one: In the world of higher end skin care, a mid-tier line which touts their botantical ingredients and environmental stewardship.

Upon sitting down, the product associate asks me one question about my skin (oily? Normal? Dry?) then proceeds to wipe off the small amount of make-up I had applied that morning and lather my face with products, stopping only to give me the briefest overview about what she was using and why it would be good for me. I will admit, at one point my skin was silky soft, but I could not tell you how many products it took to get there, or did I have an inkling if I would be interested in any of the products she chose. After an abbreviated make-up session (most of their color pallets were a little too natural for my liking), and a product card outlining several times daily skin care products and regimes, it was time to move on.

Cosmetic company two: (after a side trip to the ladies room to wipe down a bit of the first company) A definitely high end marketed line, lots of glossy magazine advertising touting a certain lifestyle and products to match.

Upon sitting down the product associate asks me what products I currently use, what I’m concerned about and how much time would I like to spend looking at their products (it’s free and I’m sitting, what’s the rush?). She showed me a few tiers of skin care products, making recommendations but allowing me to choose if I wanted to have it applied. End result pre-make-up was also silky smooth skin and I knew how we had gotten there. I allowed her to have some fun with make-up, since I so rarely really deck myself out these days, and I thought the eye-treatment she did was fabulous. Had I had the budget to acquire some of the products, this associate would have gotten a few sales.

The experience reinforced the importance of listening to your customer, offering them solutions and while giving them options to choose from. And while your product may not be the right solution for them now, leaving them with a good taste and feeling about your products leaves the door open for possible sales in the future.

This has me wondering, what sort of situations have turned you off from purchasing a product (in any industry)? 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Recipe to Celebrate a Piece of the Pi…. Caramelized Onion & Apple Feta Pie

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the annual Portland Farmer Chef Connection Conference (try saying that 5 times fast!). It’s a yearly gathering of farmers, producers, restaurateurs and students discussing timely topics and networking. One of the big draws of the event is the community lunch. All attendees are encouraged to bring something to share for the table, and figured this was an opportunity to make something different.

I’m generally a big planner (as many of you know), but it took me until about Saturday eve to figure out what to bring (and you know what I was doing Sunday as the conference was Monday). Clearly my inspiration paid off, since it seemed to be a well received and I’ve gotten a few requests for the recipe.

As I had made/brought 5 pies, I scaled the recipe back to make one pie or a flat 17 x 9 tart (which can be sliced up into bite size appetizers).

One 9” pie crust or piece of puff pastry 17" x 9"
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup best quality feta, small diced or crumbled
1 –2  apples, peeled and cut into 1/2” chunks (if small, use two, you want about a cup)
1 onion, sliced
1 Tbl olive oil (for sautéing, substitute what works for you)
pinch of thyme, rosemary, black pepper
salt to taste

Oven at 375

In a small pan over med high heat sauté onions until brown, reduce heat to med-low and add apples, allowing to cook until softened. Add seasoning (taste and adjust to suit if needed), allow to heat and incorporate. (Note – if using tart apples, you may need to add in a pinch of sugar. Allow to melt through the mixture over the heat)

Take off heat, set aside.

If using puff pastry, prick sheet with a fork at intervals, to reduce the crust fluffing up too much during baking. Use a coated cookie sheet or a silipat on a baking sheet for best results.

Spread the 1/2 cup of sour cream on the base of the pie crust or puff pastry. Sprinkle about half the feta on top. Gently layer the apple & onion mixture over the sour cream and feta. Sprinkle the remaining feta over the top. Bake at 375 for about 30 mins until brown and bubbly. Allow to cool slightly and set. Serve warm & enjoy.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Let’s All Grow This Year… Support for OR HB 2336

I’ve been reading a lot of back and forth about OR HB 2336, the state bill that would allow farmers (growers) to do a small amount of processing to ingredients they grow for sale direct to the consumer (you, at farmers markets).

Since we’re all starting to think about the markets, CSAs and what could be sprouting in our own backyard, it’s a good time to throw in some support.

One of the biggest supporters of this bill is Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farms. You can read about his position, and why it makes sense from a farmer’s perspective over at our friends at Culinate

As some one who’s business is food processing (or, I’m not a farmer, I just work with them to procure ingredients for our own products), I think it’s a smart idea to give farmers some leeway in what they can sell.

  1. Not every crop is either 100% saleable or sells out (I’m not talking about strawberries which seem to disappear in minutes after the market bell rings). Produce (or ingredients) do not grow uniformly. Not in your garden, not on acres of land. Also, what a lot shoppers don’t realize is, there’s no guarantee what a farmer brings to market is going to sell out (or at all). Giving farmers an opportunity to extend their crop by utilizing rejects, and/or unsold produce is a win for the shopper in buying something truly artisanal while allowing the farmer to recap (or extend) their profits.
  1. Shoppers don’t always know what to do with ingredients. No, I am not calling you a bad or unadventurous home cook. However, I’ve spent a few market seasons next to Anthony & Ayers Creek (as well as Springwater Farms and Creative Growers) and when ever there’s an item that’s unusual - borage,  sun chokes, or an heirloom currants, more often than not I hear the question “How would you cook or prepare it?” Which many times leads to an ingredient being passed over (with the second comment being “I don’t know if my family will like it”). If these farms were able to produce small amounts of a finished product (borage chips? currant spread? Sun choke pesto?), besides landing a sale, it would provide the opportunity to expand a shopper’s horizon into a new ingredient.
  1. Innovation. Perhaps there’s another great product out there. In a time where shoppers are (thankfully) becoming more aware of what’s in their food (and companies like mine strive to continue to create clean products by purchasing from farms like these), there could be larger market out there for something one of the farmers produces.
While this is my view (I don’t get to vote on the bill), I am in support of items like this that enable our local agri-economy to grow and thrive. I’m already a fan of Ayers Creek Polenta and if Springwater Farms were able to produce a wild-mushroom demi-glace… I can only imagine the dinner possibilities!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Been Caught Stealing... The Past Few Weeks Digested in List

I’m stealing, erm, borrowing the format of this post from another blog post I read recently (maybe even today). It’s well published enough the interwebs will show it to you if you hunt around.

Instead of rolling with a quiet January (and into Feb) while you all were on diets and budgets, we’ve been embracing it by doing some new product development. I’m not ready to talk about what it is yet because 1) I want them to be in production for a few weeks first and 2) I’m working on perhaps having the local press actually give it some, um, press.

However, here’s a list of how my weeks have gone:

  1. Sample commercially produced versions of like products. Hmmm…
  2. Source some sample ingredients. Tour of Trader Joes, Fred Meyer, New Seasons. Try not to buy other ingredients not related to project (like Candy Cane Jo Joe’s)
  3. Create sample recipes
  4. Taste with staff. Hmmm… Refine.
  5. Create next batch of sample recipes
  6. Taste. Taste with staff. Too much acid pucker… Refine.
  7. Create next batch of samples recipes.
  8. Taste. Taste with staff. Wooo… we like those.
  9. Source more sample ingredients. Tour of Trader Joes, Fred Meyer, New Seasons. Try not to buy other ingredients not related to project (like Pirate’s Booty which is on sale)
  10. Recreate batches of recipes to be production candidates. How much of what did I put in that again?
  11. Write down better recipes, notes, tips and tricks. Scale to larger batch sizes.
  12. Make batches of production candidates again. 
  13. Taste. Yup. Got it.
  14. Email clients, talk about pitch and set-up dates and times to present samples.
  15. Create production candidate samples to give out at said dates and times.
  16. Think about where to store new ingredients. Rearrange one of the freezers. Harvest out ghosts of projects past.
  17. Look at paperwork that goes with product launch. Think about marketing materials.
  18. Ignore paperwork, eat extra samples.
  19. Remember I owe accountant some forms for how-grateful-am-I-2010-is-ovah filings.
  20. Eat more samples.

Enjoy the pic of the building across the street from us. I shot it with an iPod camera which is marginally better than my current cellphone. Still working on it… but perhaps more another bite?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Lost in the Supermarket… Where are all the Food Entrepreneurs?

I read a lot of blogs (when time permits), mostly business, some cooking or food related, a few just for an escapist view into other people’s lives. In the past few weeks everyone has been posting trends, goals and things to accomplish in 2011. What’s struck me about much of my reading is, none of them I saw were posted by people who own food companies (ours are still forthcoming, though I admit they’ve morphed a bit in the past few weeks).

A quick search on Delicious, Google and Mashable (alright, maybe a longer search, there was a lot to look through), shows thousands of food blogs. Recipes, grocery store, farmers markets and product review sites abound.

I think the process of how my company transforms and grows creates quite a bit of fodder for content (and some days pilots for sitcoms) and while I don’t always have time to put fingers to keyboard I wish there had been blogs like mine out there when I was getting started. I’d be interested in reading some of what are others who are creating food products are going through today.

Every industry has their unique challenges related to their business - regulations, getting to market, sourcing suppliers and building a client base come to mind. We can’t all be out there doing this alone.

So, if owning, launching or running a food company is everyone’s new “go to” business… why aren’t more food companies blogging themselves?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

And I’m Always on the Run… Five Favorite (Fast) Foods of 2010 (in PDX)

As one can imagine, I spend part of my days (weeks) driving to client deliveries, meetings and just running around in general. In reality, I am my own ultimate client searching for great tasting food to grab on the run. When I’m not munching on our own tarts, here are a few of my favorite fast treats from the past year.

Pain Au Chocolat, Florio Bakery. Carrie Birrer & staff do a great job turning out flakey goodness in pastry form from their small bakery in North Portland and their pain au chocolate (chocolate croissant) is certainly worth stopping by and saying hello for.  

Vegetable Bahn Mi, Best Baguette. Bahn Mi really nails the fast, cheap & good trifecta of food. It’s even more appealing that they have a drive through, allowing for even faster food while on the run. The mixture of tofu and vegetables (usually carrots and taro or radish) is well seasoned with enough dressing to offset the bulkiness of the bread. If you see someone driving down 82nd with a long white sandwich bag protruding from their mouth, it’s probably me.

Caramel with Salted Dark Chocolate Ice Cream, Ruby Jewel Scoop Shop. I’m hot, I’m cranky or I’m tired (and cranky or maybe just cranky) and like a little kid, ice cream will hit the spot and while maybe not make everything better, a sure heck of a lot sweeter. I’m a big fan of Lisa, Becky & Co. and when they decided to open physical ice cream shop I hoped we’d see other great ice cream creations from them. I was not disappointed. The caramel with salted dark chocolate ice cream is like an adult sundae in a scoop, creamy, salty chocolately… just don’t let me buy a pint! 

Roasted Mushroom Sandwich, Meat Cheese Bread. For a sandwich shop that specializes in their namesake, the menu item which is generally my only menu option, has turned into a favorite. (Though it’s a bit messy, I don’t recommend trying to eat this one while driving).  See my previous post about why I enjoy this sandwich (then go get yourself one!).

Where would Portland be without coffee? Something needs to cut through our damp gray winters and a cup of Mudd Works Mudd House will have you bright, upright and ready to conquer your day. I tend to grab a cup when I’m at Mr French’s Coffee Kitchen (a friend and a fave coffee house client of ours). 

Judging from above, I’m fairly well-fueled for our week (and working on our 2011 goals). The downside is, the tart mobile could really use a good vacuuming!