Friday, April 02, 2010

How to start an artisan foods business in the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen.

Option 1. Preparation Partners.

The world of artisan foods entrepreneurship is in its infancy. Innovation in foods and everything connected to it will increase omni-directionally, as Bucky Fuller said, for as far as I can see. This move toward local foods and regional food systems will make better, healthier foods available to increasing numbers of people at increasingly affordable prices.

I want to help make the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen a platform for food innovators and entrepreneurs to take advantage of this emerging artisan foods marketplace.

One way we will launch this effort is through a program we're calling our Preparation Partnerships. In this process the Innovation Kitchen will prepare, process, package, store and distribute your food innovation for commercial sale.

I'm going to put the draft of this Preparation Partners plan into this blog post and then later move some of it forward as we see what works.

Our Preparation Partners will be food innovators - chefs, existing small food businesses, new food innovators, farmers, anyone who loves food. We will offer a partnership with the Innovation Kitchen to launch and grow artisan food businesses in a state-inspected, commercial kitchen.

Let's map out how this would work on one simple case.

Let's say you want to start or expand an artisan food enterprise.

As an example, let's say you wanted to start an food business around a soup or stew that celebrated a specific local food. [Editor's note: this is a very good idea.]

As a Preparation Partner you could have your recipe prepared and tested at the Innovation Kitchen in an artisan-batch, commercially relevant scale. If this works for all involved, we can help register your recipe and your new business with the state. Then, as a Preparation Partner, you can have your recipe prepared, packaged, and distributed for commercial sale on a contract basis through the Innovation Kitchen.

Here's an overview… The Preparation Partners program will be a platform you can utilize to launch your artisan food business without having to invest in an entire food processing facility and support networks on your own.

This Preparation Partner option will be the initial focus of the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen. We see 3 key processes making up this program.

Process 1. Will it work? As your Preparation Partner, we want your food innovation to succeed. We will work with you to prepare your recipe in artisan-scale, commercially-relevant batches. This insures your recipe will meet your goals for taste, quality, packaging, etc. when it is prepared in larger volumes in a commercial kitchen. Think of it as a 'shakedown cruise' for your recipe.

Process 1 example: You have an amazing morel mushroom soup recipe. It works great in your home kitchen, and everybody loves it. You want to launch a small food business around this recipe. However, you need to learn a number of things about what happens when you scale your recipe up to small commercial batches. Will it meet your goals for quality? How much of the recipe ingredients will you supply? What ingredients will be purchased at what specifications and price? In short, what are the true costs of production for a small-scale commercial production run? This first process at the Innovation Kitchen is designed to answer those critical questions with you tasting and approving the results. This step also supplies critical documentation of real numbers and actual times required, not extrapolated results.

The idea is to make a small, smart investment in your emerging food enterprise to make sure the idea is scalable. Also important, this first Preparation Partner test run will give everyone involved a basis for pricing larger, commercial production runs if that is an option.

So, how is My Magnificent Morel Soup Mix doing? We rented time on the commercial dehydrator at the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen and got a batch of our morels just right for a dry mix. We purchased some ingredients from local farms. We bought a few ingredients and our packaging through the Innovation Kitchen's Purchasing partner program. The recipe scaled up to a small-scale commercial size. All costs were documented.

This matched the targets in our business plans, and we decided to move forward and prepare for commercial sale.

Process 2. Signing In. Most food products sold commercially must have their recipes and process approved prior to sale. (A good thing for all of us!) There are exceptions, but if you're going to run an artisan foods enterprise you need to think of yourself as a professional and run your enterprise accordingly. That includes going through legal registrations and all professionally relevant trainings and certifications.

The Innovation Kitchen has the support in place to help legally register food products and processes in Wisconsin. We will also have access to full information for selling your food products outside of Wisconsin. Additionally, the Innovation Kitchen 'Signing In' process makes available business help finding information about appropriately registering new business entities.

Process 2 example: With the help of the Innovation Kitchen, we submitted our Morel Mushroom soup recipe and processing steps. We included all three of the sizes we were intending to produce. We were approved within a few weeks. During that time we also incorporated a new enterprise around our business plans and registered with the appropriate state and federal agencies. We also did this with resources available through the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen.

Process 3. Launch services. Preparation Partners will have access to Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen marketing and sales networks, as well as storage and distribution networks.

Process 3 example: We test marketed our Magnificent Morel Mushroom Soup through the Innovation Kitchen marketing network and found the right mix of customers to start with. After processing our Magnificent Morel Mushroom Soup, the Innovation Kitchen stores our finished product. We send in orders for our soup, and the Innovation Kitchen ships them directly to our customers.

Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen Preparation Partners.

So, what's one of the easier and smarter ways to launch or grow an artisan food business? Outsource the testing, organization and food preparation to a state-inspected commercial kitchen that is set up to celebrate artisan foods.

All the difficult food regulation, management and execution steps will be done to code in a state-inspected commercial kitchen. You will have the opportunity to pre-test your recipe at a commercially relevant scale, document your costs, and market-test consumer demand.

Is this a guarantee of success? Of course not.

What the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen represents is a valuable opportunity for food lovers and food entrepreneurs to experiment with new food innovations and product lines in an affordable, valuable setting. A goal of the Innovation Kitchen is to help develop new and existing artisan food enterprises that celebrate healthy foods and our grow our rural communities.

Our Preparation Partners program is one of the ways we can make that happen. Got a recipe you'd like to try?

Stay tuned. I will report back as this emerges.

Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen link

Photo is of Hyde's Mill in beautiful Iowa County, Wisconsin.


Leslie said...

Hi Rick, I just updated your posting by linking to this blog. Great info. Btw, I drove by the Innovation Kitchen yesterday. It's looking great!

Anonymous said...

thanks for posting this.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rick. This is so helpful as I am looking to start a soup business. I'd love to have help from the innovation kitchen staff re: making my recipe work...and I really need some guidance. The laws/regulations are confusing to me. Do you have a resource that could point me in the right direction?