Sunday, August 22, 2010

Give the gift of an artisan food career

A really good idea hit a couple of weeks back.

I’ve been trying to write it down accurately here, but getting my arms around all the possibilities has been a bigger job than I expected.

So I’m going to give up on fully describing it and get the idea out for consideration.

The Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen is a world class food processing facility in an unbelievably beautiful location. It is also a teaching facility where people can learn about artisan food processing.

You could give your loved one the gift of an artisan food career. This would be ‘experiential gifting’ at a very high level of coolness for the right persons lucky enough to get one of these packages.

The goal is twofold.

The first goal is to nurture people into their own professional, profitable, enjoyable food enterprise. The gift of a career in artisan foods. The gift of an opportunity to become a food entrepreneur.

The second goal, when appropriate, would be to have the Innovation Kitchen serve as the preparation site for those new food lines.

Artisan food entrepreneurs could live anywhere in the world and run their production, packaging, storage, and distribution through the Innovation Kitchen. Being virtual at its yummy best.

It’s the first time we’re trying this so we’ll be screening for people with patience.

The outline is that a person with a beloved family recipe(s) would be given the gift of an opportunity to start a small business to make and market that recipe commercially.

The Innovation Kitchen can do the information sharing and early training through distance learning tools. We can help with business planning and development as well as recipe development and testing. We can also supply purchasing support. When ready, people can come to the Innovation Kitchen for hands on training, using commercial equipment to prepare their recipes for commercial sale.

My goal is to run a test program this year. We will limit the number of these ‘artisan food career’ packages to 100.

I think it’s a great idea. I’d love to give it to myself, and that’s just how we’re going to design this project. We’re setting it up so this opportunity is made available in ways that fit into people’s lives. And we’re setting it up to empower people to experiment with artisan food entrepreneurship.

I write a lot about the value of slow startups. This opportunity at the Innovation Kitchen is an almost perfect example of a slow startup in action.

Just like slow foods, you can take your time creating a new enterprise with great local ingredients. You nurture it through early gestations. If you give yourself time to grow your enterprise, you get to live out that idea about the journey being the most important part of life not the destination.

This year give the gift of an artisan food career.

The Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Innovation Kitchen report. Aug. 8, 2010

The Grand Opening of the Innovation Kitchen is behind us and the future is unfolding quickly.

The Innovation Kitchen is already processing local crops directly for the local farmers who grew them. First batch was delicious dilly beans! We also have a wonderful recipe for fresh tomato salsa that we will soon begin processing for local farms.

Strong interest is emerging from existing food companies who not only want the Innovation Kitchen to process for them, but importantly, many of these are asking us to work with our local farms to purchase the produce these food companies need. These request are for thousands of pounds of specific, locally grown crops, some in quantities over 10,000 pounds.

We're keeping track of what the Innovation Kitchen is buying locally as well. The list is building quickly. We started with a purchase of 2,300 pounds of rhubarb from a local grower. They have purchased hundreds of pounds of locally grown beans. Another 3,000 pounds of broccoli will be coming through in a few weeks from a great local grower (yum!). And this is just starting.

A large batch of local broccoli is also coming in this week to inaugurate the new 42 rack commercial dehydrator. This will allow the Innovation Kitchen to ramp up local purchases even further.

This week we have a specialty foods distributor coming up to meet with local growers with the goal of creating private-label brands based on farm-identified ingredients that can be prepared at the Innovation Kitchen and sold through their sales network in a nearby metropolitan area.

The Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen rapidly turned the corner from talking about the possibilities to walking the walk.

We are enabling existing food businesses to grow by helping minimize their capital costs as well as operating costs. Our family farms are already producing branded products to help them utilize more of their crops and grow their enterprises year round. The Kitchen is also empowering all kinds of new food entrepreneurs with amazingly innovative ideas.

The Innovation Kitchen is already making significant commercial contributions to the Iowa County area and beyond.

And we've been open for less than a month.

What a joy to watch this unfold.

Recommendation to new food entrepreneurs

Many people are coming to the idea of food entrepreneurship for the first time. Owning and running an artisan food business is a compelling idea.

The Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen has many different entry points where people can enter the system and experiment with ways to grow an existing food business or start a new one.

I have a strong recommendation for new food entrepreneurs. KISS (Keep it simple, Sam).

Creating a recipe that is a simple dry-mix is the easiest, least risky, and least costly way for new food entrepreneurs to utilize a commercial kitchen. You can always get fancier and perhaps more profitable as you learn, but you've got to survive to get there and dry-mix recipes offer a relatively low-risk way to start your enterprise.

As anyone who has been around my presentations about 'best ways to use the Kitchen' will know that I am a big fan of the dehydration step for entrepreneurs new to food processing.

It is the simplest, and among the least expensive ways to preserve food, including nutritional values.

New food entrepreneurs should strongly consider utilizing the Innovation Kitchen through this dehydrator.

If you can dehydrate a signature ingredient - perhaps an heirloom vegetable or fruit - you've made it safe to store as a 'shelf stable' product. That means it can be displayed on a store shelf with no additional support such as refrigeration for perishable items.

Once you've got your signature ingredient safely stabilized you can create a mix using you signature veggie or fruit or herbs in many unique dry-mix recipes. A dry-mix recipe would be a shelf stable package of dry soup mix, or a baked dessert mix, or a waffle mix and so on.

The label can then be printed with your logo and recipe name in a way that highlights 'Featuring (Your Name) Berries!'

I think this path is especially suited for family farms who would like to market their farm under its own brand, featuring its special ingredients.

Dry-mix production can be set up to do short production runs so the investment in first test-batches can be minimized. It is also significantly easier to get your product accepted at stores if it is a shelf stable dry-mix product.

This idea of dehydration of a key ingredient, then used in a dry-mix recipe is exactly what I would do first.

For new food entrepreneurs, this dehydration/dry-mix step gives you maximum value for the least cost.

Dry-mix recipes are almost endless, serving the needs of every meal and every moment in between. There is also the entire world of dry-mix marinades and rubs and seasonings, and on and on. I think there is also a great potential for creating many new dry-mix recipes for all kinds of new uses we haven't even thought of yet.

If you are a new food entrepreneur thinking about the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen, dehydration and dry-mix recipes are paths I'd recommend.

Of course, any products in the existing dry-mix line of delicious Papa Pat's Farmhouse Recipes can be private labeled and resold throughout the U.S. If you are a distributor or would like to learn how your organization can utilize this program please get in touch.

Speaking of labels, we are setting up a private-label program right now for organizations that would like to distribute a delicious dry-mix package of Creamy Potato Soup as a business or holiday gift. The label can be printed with your custom message. This recipe is from Papa Pat's Farmhouse Recipes and is one of their very best sellers. The label will also indicate that your gift helps support the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen, The Hodan Center and our Iowa County EDC.

Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen