The Tasting Menu of “What’s Cooking?
More than 100 people showed up to talk and share ideas about local food and beverage entrepreneurship, and to hear from some really exciting guests.
There was a lot to take in between our speakers and several tables of lively panel discussions. Here are some of the things we learned.
- Local food = courting millennials
If you want to grab the next generation of consumers with your food business, think local, said Risa Sherman manager of philanthropy for Sam Adams, who works with the Boston brewer and whose philanthropic mission is focused on helping launch and scale-up small food and beverage-related businesses. The company’s program has given out $3.5 million in loans and coached more than 5,000 businesses through Speed Coaching events.
Millennials want an authentic food experience — something local, niche and something new — and are willing to pay for it. But that also means they’re going to check up on you.
“Millennials want to know where their food is coming from,” Sherman said, “and they can find out where it’s coming from with a click.”
That means letting your customers know how your food is made/grown, but also a bit about yourself. Sherman said people want to connect with their growers/merchants, and they want to hear stories about their food.
- Local food = job creation
One of the projects Sam Adams helped back involved turning an abandoned eyesore of a meat plant into Boston’s only non-profit food business incubator, a shared-used commercial kitchen. The $14 million CropCircle Kitchen incubator has 35,000 square feet of space that can be rented by the hour for small operators who need a legal kitchen for cooking and production of the food they sell. The incubator also provides services to 15 local food truck operators.
All of those trucks need people to care for them.
When those trucks come home for the night, a team of workers hired from the neighborhood comes in and cleans the trucks, beginning the food prep for the next day. Those jobs wouldn’t exist without the incubator. Later in the day, when Sherman took part in a break-out discussion, her group established there was a strong desire for the Lehigh Valley to have a commercial kitchen.
- Do something you’re passionate about.
That advice came from Ryn Caputo and Robyn Jasco, food entrepreneurs who have seen their businesses grow beyond the wildest expectations.
Caputo — of Caputo Brothers Creamery in York County — said she expected her artisinal cheese company to make $9,000 in 2011. By 2014, their revenues were 55 times that amount. Jasco’s Homesweet Home Grown hot sauce company started almost by accident, with her planting too many peppers. She turned those peppers into three varieties of hot sauce, and soon found them selling out at farmers markets. Her Kickstarter campaign had a goal of $850; it made $53,000, the most any hot sauce has ever pulled in on the fundraising site.
In both cases, these businesses grew in part because the people behind them had a passion for what they were doing. That doesn’t mean passion alone will get you there. Caputo said food entrepreneurs need to be willing to make “those hard right turns” if that’s where the business is heading, and to learn to outsources their weaknesses
“You really think you can do it all. And you. Can. Not,” she said.
- Have a Plan
Everyone seemed to stress this one.
“It’s critical you have a business plan before you need it,” said Chris Hudak of the Rising Tide Community Loan Fund. It’s important advice in any business, but even more so in the notoriously difficult food industry.
Trying to launch before you plan is a “recipe for disaster,” said Dan Bosket of CACD Allentown. “If you have a business idea, even if you’re not ready to start, come up with a plan.”
- We Need to Talk
The afternoon’s table discussions hit on a variety of topics, but one thing seemed to come out of quite a few of them: the need for more communication and information sharing on a variety of matters, including:
- The locations of commercial kitchen space in the region. (It’s not enough to just have a list; people need to know how to access it)
- A way to educate and inform consumers about small farms
- More communication between municipalities on food safety…(dare we dream of a streamlined, coordinated multi-municipal permitting system?)
- More information about finding food trucks.
If you want to be a part of this and other conversations about local food, there are a number of ways to make your voice heard:
- Like us on Facebook — https://www.facebook.com/RenewLV
- Follow us on Twitter at @RenewLV
- And read this blog to comment on updates, and to learn more about what we’re doing.
- Come to our next lunch/discussion event on 5.29.15. The topic will be Urban Agriculture.
- Reserve your spot at our next event here.