If you’ve got an amazing idea for a food product that you are planning to sell in stores, there’s a few things that you’re going to need. If you’ve made it this far, we’re guessing you’re pretty serious about it and you’re probably wondering what you’re supposed to do next. Well, we’ve got a few years in the business (almost 2 decades to be exact) and we’ve helped other retail hopefuls, like yourself, make their dreams a reality — thousands of them actually. So, we thought we would put together a reference, a cheat guide if you will, that covers all the basics that you need to know to go from kitchen counter to retail shelf with your food product. Sound good? Here we go.
Food Manufacturer Life Hack #1: You Don’t Need a Lab to Create a Nutrition Facts Label
Once you’ve gotten your recipe down, one of the first things that you are going to need is a nutrition facts label. If you haven’t gotten your recipe down yet, bookmark this page because you’re going to need it. To sell your food product, you need to know what nutrients, calories, allergens, servings, and servings per container are in your product. Why? First, because the Food and Drug Administration demands it. Secondly, your product won’t touch a retail shelf without it. Third, you should know your product inside and out for when consumers call and inquire about it. (Yes, they do call. And yes, they really want to know what’s in your product.) And if you aren’t the expert on your own food product, then who is?
That being said, to get your label started, a budding food manufacturer used to have to take a sample of their food product and send it into a food lab to get analyzed by a team of food scientists. It was (and still is) a lengthy, costly project (about $800 roughly). But that’s not all, the lab only provides the nutrition reporting. From there you would need to find a nutrition professional or program that specialized in creating nutrition facts labels to then format the nutrition report for you and provide the actual nutrition facts panel. This process could cost nearly as much as the lab analysis.
But that whole process isn’t even necessary. With the technology available now, nutrition facts panels are easy (and much cheaper) to come by. Matter of fact, you could make one in as little as an hour. FDA-approved nutrition label calculators combine the power of the USDA database with a nutrition calculator. So basically, it’s a big ingredient database that is full of lab-tested ingredients. Simply search and select the ingredients in your product recipe and the nutrition calculator in the nutrition label platform will calculate the recipe’s nutrient values. Once those have been calculated, the report will be placed in an FDA-approved nutrition facts label format. Download and print whenever you’re ready.
Platforms like these make it easy to make changes to your product recipe as well. Before, when food products were sent to labs, each time an ingredient changed it had to be re-sent to the lab for a brand new analysis. And at $800 per analysis, that can be really expensive. Creating your nutrition label with an FDA-approved nutrition label calculator allows you to easily swap out ingredients and update your analysis and your label at no charge. And in the early phases of becoming a food manufacturer, it’s important to save as much money as you can while still remaining FDA-compliant.
Manufacturer Life Hack #2: Retail Research
Just because you have an amazing food product, doesn’t mean that it meets the criteria for just any store. Now, more than ever, grocery stores are looking for products that speak to their customer’s preferences, values, dietary needs and budgets. Believe it or not, this is where your nutrition label comes in handy again, at least in regards to your ingredient statement. The ingredients that you choose to use in the creation of your food product are just as important as the label itself. Why? Because the ingredients you use will determine whether or not certain stores will agree to sell your product.
Before you begin setting up meetings with store buyers ( don’t fret, we’ll get to that in Part 2), you need to do your research. Stores like Whole Foods, for example, has what they call a “NO LIST” that contains over 230 ingredients that are banned from their shelves. This means that if your product contains any of these 230 ingredients, Whole Foods will give your product a thumbs down and move on to the next manufacturer! Don’t face that kind of rejection — absolutely know what’s in your product instead.
Manufacturer Life Hack #3: Learn & Trust Your Audience
One of the most important parts of bringing a brand new product to market is something called “product-market fit”. And it mean exactly what it sounds like it means: your product must suit your audience within your market. Well, if you’re creating food, it would seem as though everyone would fit within your audience category since we all eat now, don’t we? However, within each industry there are categories or specific markets that define an audience type you want to appeal to. A great example of this category breakdown would be the super-popular “plant-based” trend going on right now. The plant-based trend speaks to many markets within the food industry: vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian and even some food allergy groups.
Knowing your direct market helps you understand how to begin defining, communicating to and ultimately selling to your target audience. So if you are one that has a niche-specific product, getting noticed on a grocery store shelf is all about how you use the real estate (aka your packaging) to speak to the audience you want to buy your product. Those who have been in the business a while will likely have test groups of people within their target audience try their food product to determine if changes need to be made or if the current recipe is widely-accepted by your target audience. So if you are selling a Vegan product, before going before a buyer, select a few Vegans (or vegan-curious) people to try your product who you are sure that will give you an honest review. Then, listen and apply their feedback if you notice a pattern. Just these tips alone will help you to not only get your product to retail faster, but successfully too!