Value-Added Products in the Local Economy

March 25th, 2015

Fo bakers, pies are a great example of value-added products.

Value-added food products are foods that use ingredients that are enhanced or changed to increase their value. The term is usually applied to farmers who take raw produce and turn it into products which can be sold at a higher price. Typically this refers to produce which has been transformed into specialty foods such as jams, preserves, and jellies; salsas; sauces; vegetables; and of course baked goods such as fruit pies, crisps, cobblers, muffins, etc.

Small peach pies are excellent market sellers.

For bakers it means taking raw ingredients to create baked goods. Fruit pies seem to be the most appealing, but other produce can enhance your basic recipes to create a seasonal and healthful allure.

Clockwise from top left: Onion stuffed breads, plum frangipane tarts, corn muffins, peach strudel, blueberry muffins, apple pear coffeecake.

Using local ingredients increases your sales appeal. An article in Bake magazine explains, “Over the past 10 years, there has been a surge in consumer demand for locally produced foods, along with widening availability… More than half of consumers seek out locally produced foods… and almost half are willing to pay up to 10% more for such items. One in three would pay up to 25% more, and a third of consumers also claimed to consciously purchase local foods at least once a week.”

Home-Based Baking at its Best! If you are using local ingredients such as produce, dairy, or eggs, proudly market yourself to shoppers in your area.

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The New Entrepreneurial Spirit

March 18th, 2015

Food entrepreneurs are reaching out and a new movement is gaining strength: creating the socially conscious business.

As society changes and people become more aware of the world around them, some folks are spurred to action, either with their initial business concept or at some point along the way.

Business News Daily has an interesting article, Small Business Owners See Value of Social Responsibility. “Small and medium-size business owners have a number of reasons for starting a business, but new research has found that making a difference in the community is the top reason.”

The next big growth driver: social consciousness? “The next big growth driver for food companies may not be an ingredient or flavor, but rather a social cause” is another article found in Food Business News.

Socially conscious businesses now exist everywhere. These businesses can start with the intention of doing good, or just fall into it as a natural course of dealing with the public. In this video we learn about Rosa’s, a pizza shop started by Wall Street dropout Mason Wartman.

Wartman took a customer's suggestion and created an interesting concept.

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Customers can pre-purchase dollar slices for those in need.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! This concept may be called “paying it forward” or “giving back.” However it’s phrased, you have something interesting to think about.

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Food Safety and the New Food Entrepreneur

March 11th, 2015

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This photo was taken on a hot summer day at the farmers’ market. Food was not covered, flies and yellow jackets were feasting on the pizzas, and the vendor was eating while handling food.

The issue of food safety scares me. I’m always amazed that more people don’t get sick from eating prepared foods purchased outside the home, whether from a supermarket, restaurant, or farmers’ market. (I’ve written many times about violations at farmers’ markets).

I’ve been in the food industry for more than thirty years and I’ve seen first-hand how food is handled by people working in commercial kitchens. Throughout my book, The (Faux) Pastry Chef: How I Found My Baking Fix, I write about many of the repulsive things I’ve seen. From the introduction, page 3:

For foodies interested in a look behind the scenes
I’m sorry if this book spoils your appetite. When I purchase items in a bakery or eat in a restaurant, I often think back to what I observed in the kitchens where I worked. I have to not think about what might be happening when my food is being prepared.

New food entrepreneurs with no food/business background are some of the worst offenders. Folks who are new to the business world are often so excited about a dream come true, but so overwhelmed with responsibility, food safety often ends up at the bottom of their to-do list. Food Safety News has a salmonella story which does not surprise me. Expert: Boston Restaurants Closed for Salmonella Had ‘Pitiful’ Food Safety Program. If you are a food entrepreneur, please remember that food safety belongs at the top of your priority list. A healthy customer is a repeat customer.

For more about this subject: Food Safety News has updated information about food borne illness outbreaks and food recalls. More about food recalls from the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Home-Based Baking at its Best! My best advice to everyone who wants to contribute to good public health: Never sell any food you wouldn’t eat yourself.

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Is Co-Packing Right for You?

March 4th, 2015

Many people have a favorite family recipe they would like to sell on store shelves across the country. New food entrepreneurs unfamiliar with the food industry, imagine the cheapest and easiest way to accomplish this (while making a profit) is to find a food manufacturing business that can produce and sell their product.

They are thinking about using a “co-packer” – a business that has the ability to produce a recipe, getting it ready for the marketplace. If this is the route you want to go, we need to remove the idea of “cheap” and “easy.”

You will need to work with this business on converting your home kitchen recipe into a commercially produced product. This includes multiple testing for initial conversion, scale-up, packaging, labeling, shelf life, and storage. And unless you pick up and deliver products yourself, you’ll need to find salespeople and a distribution method. This process is not inexpensive. Be prepared to spend well over $100,000 for start-up; plus on-going expenses.

That’s a lot to think about! For more details about this process, read about finding a co-packer; and from the Institute of Food TechnologistsAn Insider’s Guide to Co-manufacturing.

For anyone interested in becoming a food entrepreneur, I always suggest that the simplest way to start is to do small scale production. It is the cheapest and easiest method. Check your cottage food laws to see if it’s possible to begin in your home kitchen. Or look into renting a commercial kitchen so that you can develop, market, and sell the product yourself.

Sampling is important. These entrepreneurs attend food shows to give out samples and create PR for their products.

How else would shoppers distinguish their products from the many competing products on a shelf?

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Aim big, start small!

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Holy Buckets of Brownies, Batman: Recipe Alert!

February 25th, 2015

Chocolate brownies are a classic treat and one of the top selling bakery sweets.

Brownies!

After my Valentine’s Day post a couple of weeks ago, a few people commented about finding the “perfect” brownie recipe. In my opinion, the “perfect” brownie recipe is one that’s easy, fast, and creates repeat sales.

Brownie guidance from Baking Fix: 1. One pot recipes are the easiest and fastest. 2. Additions to the batter (nuts, chocolate chips, etc) are nice but not necessary. 3. Frosting is okay, but a soft frosting may be a problem with packaging. 4. The kinds of brownies you offer depends upon your customers and their particular preferences.

Brownie bites!

Chocolate Brownie Overdose This recipe makes an over-the-top chocolate experience for true chocolate addicts.

Yield: (2) pans, 9x13x2
15 ounces unsweetened chocolate
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
3 cups (6 sticks) butter
2-pound bag brown sugar
3 cups granulated sugar
12 large eggs
¼ cup vanilla extract
4 ½ cups all-purpose flour (1 lb. 4 oz.)
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
approximately 2 pounds of your favorite chocolate bars

1. Preheat oven to 350º F and line (2) 9×13 pans with parchment or foil.
2. Melt chocolates and butter in a large stockpot.
3. Cool for ten minutes, then mix in both sugars. Beat in eggs and vanilla; stir in flour, baking powder, and salt.
4. Scoop about ¼ of the batter into the bottom of each lined pan, and spread to cover. Then cover the batter with your choice of candy bars. Carefully scoop the remaining batter over the chocolate and again spread to cover, smoothing the tops of each pan.
5. Bake for 45 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325º and bake 15 minutes. If the brownies still seem soft and wet when a toothpick is inserted near the center, turn heat down to 300º and bake for another 15 minutes. This should be enough time to thoroughly bake the brownies.
6. Cool and cut into large pieces. These are impressive wrapped individually and stacked on a platter.

Top brownie has caramel, middle brownie has a chocolate bar, and bottom brownies have wafer candy/cookies.

My book Home Baking for Profit has a chapter with fourteen brownie recipes along with variations, and several tips for baking and handling.

Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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Almond Pastries

February 18th, 2015

Almond Pastries! Golden and flaky!

Almond Pastries are simple, tasty products that are easy to produce.  These adapt well to any size and (depending upon filling) do not need refrigeration and have a relatively long shelf life. Use any pie or pastry dough, but I prefer using the recipe below.

Use a lot of flour and these are easy to roll out.

Flaky Cream Cheese Dough
1 cup (8 ounces) butter, softened
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons water
2 cups (8.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
Purchased almond filling; may also use fruit pie filling

Cream butter and cream cheese. Mix in water. Add flour and combine until dough forms a clean ball. Wrap and refrigerate. Use approx 2 ounces dough per pastry, but size varies depending upon product needs.

Roll out dough on well-floured surface, place filling in center and spread. Fold sides in and roll up as you would a jelly roll. Place seam side down on baking sheet. Can egg wash and sprinkle with almonds or coarse sanding sugar.

375-400° F for 15-20 minutes, until a golden brown. Cool thoroughly before storing in air-tight container.

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Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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Happy Valentine’s Day

February 11th, 2015

If you’re new and still working on a business plan, now is the time to do market research for this sweetest of holidays!

If you are already in business, are you ready for Valentine’s Day sales?

Remember that in our business, nothing says love more than chocolate.

Chocolate Brownies

Fudgy little heart-shaped brownies sell even better than brownie squares.

If you’re looking for fast and easy sellers, bake any of your recipes in heart-shaped pans. Below, an apple crumb coffeecake.

"You're the Apple of My Eye"

Mini pies with heart cut outs.

Plain shortbread cookies, sold in bags or boxes for customers to eat or decorate.

Gingerbread cookies dipped in white chocolate.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! To all of our hard-working sweethearts, a very Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Is the Home-Based Bakery a Saturated Market?

February 4th, 2015

The Good News for Bakers
No, the home-based bakery business is not saturated. Baked goods are always in demand. These products are consumable – people are always looking to purchase delicious homemade goods that are eaten and then replaced with more delicious goods! With this kind of repeat business, it’s very possible to have a profitable home baking business.

While certain segments of the industry seem to be filled with too many bakers selling the same products, there are always ways to create a profitable, successful business.

This means planning. Before you throw together a Facebook page or hand out flyers for door-to-door delivery, spend time planning. In a previous post I talked about the importance of writing a business plan. The time you spend doing this will force you to think through the details. This process will save you money and time that can be invested elsewhere.

The Bad News for Cakers
While the home-based bakery business, in general, is still viable, in some regions the market is already saturated with custom cake decorators. This includes sculpted cakes, wedding cakes, and finely decorated all-occasion cakes. If you are thinking about selling custom cakes, consider the skill-level necessary and the competition in your area.

Delicious Desserts* - a successful custom cake business owned by Laney Cowan

Some decorators such as Laney Cowan, who owns Delicious Desserts, are professionals who do remarkable work and charge accordingly.

But unfortunately, some cakers do awesome work for next to nothing. When competitors don’t charge enough to make minimum wage, it’s exceptionally difficult to compete with them.

Those lower-priced cakers either have no idea how to price properly, or they are subsidized by a spouse/partner. Also, some competitors (who may call themselves hobby/businesses) have other jobs. They make cakes as a sideline so their income is additional and they often charge only enough to cover costs. Other cakers charge less because they have a lower skill level and think they will raise prices after they practice on current customers. Still others say they do it for their passion or because they want to provide low-cost cakes since “everyone deserves to have a nice cake.”

The market is also flooded with “cheap cake ladies.” These people charge minimal amounts and offer a lower quality. This cut-rate, sloppy, knock-off cake market is saturated with far too many “businesses” that sell on Facebook and Craigslist. These folks have not learned to price their products and sell at such a low price they often lose money. Unfortunately, they don’t realize it until too late when they decide to stop selling. But in the meantime, other new “businesses” pop up selling cheap cakes.

Regardless of motivation or individual circumstances, all of these cakers are making it impossible to charge a fair price for the work involved. It’s becoming less viable to dream of running a profitable custom cake business. And even less so to have a retail cake shop. So it’s important to think about if your area can handle the price points necessary to support a custom business. That’s where a good business plan is important.

Delicious Desserts Cakes by Laney Cowan
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Home-Based Baking at its Best! Do you have a business plan?

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A Few Farmers’ Market Pointers

January 28th, 2015

If you sell at a farmers’ market, or are planning on this form of direct customer sale, it’s a good idea to review how your products are displayed. Always follow guidelines set up by your health inspector and your market.

Please, all products should be wrapped. The vendor above has no respect for the customers' health and safety.

Signs like this rarely work.

Cutting of products is never allowed unless the vendor has on-site handwash facilities.

Products displays need to look abundant or shoppers will not stop at your table.

Don’t keep cash in full view. A good idea is to wear an apron with pockets, or pants with pockets.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! When you set up a display table, be sure to look at your table through customers’ eyes.

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Pie Practice

January 21st, 2015

If you have a home-based food business and do not make pies, consider adding this product line to your offerings. With the trends toward home-made, seasonal, and local, your customers would appreciate purchasing fresh pies.

Yes, I know, pie requires the ability to make a decent crust and the ability to roll out dough. I agree, pie can be downright difficult. It can be fussy, irritating, and too darn much work. But the benefits? Happy customers and better sales.

Start practicing now and be ready for summer’s fresh bounty. If large pies seem intimidating, begin with small pies, or roll out pie dough for strudels and turnovers which might be easier to manage.

An alternative to making the traditional (did I already mention fussy?) flaky crust, is stirring together an oil-based crust that is tasty, fast, and easy.

Texture is the biggest drawback for using an oil-based crust. When fresh baked, an oil crust is not too flaky. However, after the first day, the texture is similar to a classic cut-in-the-fat recipe.

So if you’re interested in a fast and easy product that holds up well for several days (better than a flaky crust) give this recipe a try. It’s enough for a 9” two-crust deep dish pie. (Or makes approx. 8 turnovers, 10 individual strudels, or multiple minipies.)

Cherry Pie

Carnival Squash

Peach Pie ready for the oven.

Poptarts and mini hand-held pies.

Individual strudel.

Oil-Based Pie Crust

3 ¾ cups unbleached flour (or 2 cups unbleached and 1 ½ cups ww pastry flour)
¼ tsp each, baking powder and salt
⅞ cup oil
¾ cup milk or water

Stir all ingredients together. Don’t knead or work the dough after it forms a rough clump. Add more flour if too wet. For pie, divide dough in half and set aside one piece. Roll out first half (use waxed paper for easy clean-up) and place in greased pie pan. Trim edges and fill with your favorite fruit filling, then roll out top crust and crimp edge. For smaller products, roll into rectangle then cut, fill, fold, and crimp.

Depending upon pan size, filling, and thickness of crust, bake pies 40-60 minutes at 375-400 F degrees. Strudels, poptarts, etc. bake 10-20 minutes.

Your pie crust will not be flaky the first day. But after that, it’ll be comparable to any classic pie crust. If you’re a home-based baker, this recipe is excellent for having a good shelf-life.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Remember, homemade pies are excellent selling products.

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