Sidestepping Food Industry License Regulations

June 8th, 2016

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A recent article, Homemade App Connects Local Cooks And Eaters Through Home Cooked Meals, was published in a Philadelphia magazine. It describes the new app Homemade, as “an incredible resource for cooks who can’t afford or are too busy to run their own restaurant but would like to make some money selling their food. Not only is the app an effective platform for that, but it also offers free coaching for cooks to help them become successful… cooks can get help with food photography, marketing, establishing their brand, and setting prices for their meals.”

Another article in the Wall Street Journal glorifies and promotes Homemade as an idea of selling home prepared foods with no license regulations. “Homemade … sidesteps laws that forbid food sales without a licensed commercial kitchen by deeming all purchases made through the app as a food-with-friends arrangement… We think that over time the laws and the regulatory environment will advance and sort of catch up…”

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Clearly, these tech people are naïve. They’ve strayed from their area of expertise and have no idea how health and safety regulators will respond. In terms of protecting the public from serious food violations, agencies responsible for public welfare will no doubt step in to correct the “sidesteppers.”

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Really best when businesses are licensed.

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Slumping Sales for Factory Made Foods and Mixes

May 20th, 2016

No mixes here! Real scratch-made, homemade cake!

How is our friend, Betty Crocker? Glad you asked!

“The fictional homemaker General Mills invented back in the 1920s is not happy.” From a Star-Tribune article, General Mills’ Betty Crocker, Pillsbury cope with baking slump, “Sales of Betty Crocker baking mixes, a classic General Mills offering, have been in the dumps for over two years. Another major part of the General Mills baking business, its Pillsbury refrigerated dough line, has experienced weakness, too. Indeed, the entire U.S. baking mix market has been eroding. …’the biggest factor in our category is that people are just busy,’ said Elizabeth Nordlie, vice president for baking at Golden Valley-based General Mills.” The article goes on to state that, “On-the-go consumers are more drawn to ready-made cookies, cakes or pies.”

Why is this important to us, the home-based food processor? Because this story confirms that sales of fresh baked goods are growing.

Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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Naked Cake – Trend or Fad? FAQ

May 6th, 2016

Top: Blueberry cake is true nakedness. Bottom: Raspberry Limoncello and Pink Velvet cakes with un-iced sides.

Have you seen the original idea behind naked cakes? The concept began as simple cakes with no icing, as in the blueberry cake above. Then some bakers, pastry chefs, and cake decorators gave their cakes a swipe of icing across the top. Over the years the naked cake phenomenon gained in popularity and more cakers began offering their own version. With simple designs and professional execution, these cakes were elegant (and especially good for people who don’t like frosting).

Cakes by sugar me sweet bakers.

Then something happened. The word naked continued to be used, but the previously simple designs with no frosting traveled into a different cake universe. Some cakes were crumb-coated (a thin layer of icing used to seal in the crumbs before the actual icing) and then some cakes ended up fully iced, yet bakeries still referred to their creations as “naked.”

While many of these cakes are beautifully executed, others are sloppy and lean heavily to one side. Or worse, many are now so laden with “stuff” (twigs, pine cones, flowers, fruits, candies, etc) we can hardly see the cake.

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In Brides magazine, most of the cakes are lovely and simple, and epitomize the idea of naked cakes. But the cake photo above is from an article in The Knot, another wedding industry magazine.

The industry must stop using the word naked. Maybe we can call them half-naked or semi-nude. The sloppy ones can just be called sloppies.

Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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Holy Ingenious Marketing, Batman!

April 28th, 2016

Freestanding display in a health food store.

Bake-At-Home Bread? These loaves already appear to be fully baked. And according to the promo they stay fresh for months not days.

Sounds delish.

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Home-Based Baking at its Best! Holy ingenious (albeit disingenuous) marketing, Batman.

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Clean Eating Trend, Good News or Bad?

April 22nd, 2016

Fresh produce and open air markets.

Is the clean eating trend good news for us? I’d say yes! For consumers, and society as a whole, we are all better off eating a more healthful diet. But not everyone is happy.

Sometimes, when I read a food industry trade magazine, I wonder: who are these people and why are they writing such nonsense? In a recent issue of Bake magazine I found a convoluted article, The paradox of choice, which explained their side.

The article began by talking about consumer TV habits. “Not long ago, Nielsen released an eye-opening report on the television watching habits of Americans. Despite the fact that the average number of TV channels received by US households increased dramatically from 128 to 189 within five years (a 48 percent jump), the average number of channels actually watched remained flat at just 17. More channels did not equate to viewing a wider selection.”

Apparently, they believe the number of increased stations should mean people can increase their viewing to match what’s available. Sadly, these folks don’t realize there’s a finite number of hours in each day. People chose from what’s available and if there are new programs, they stop watching older ones.

The article moved on, to the food analogy. “The same can be said about consumer eating habits. While Americans are moving in all sorts of different directions, as people become increasingly more selective about the foods they will and won’t eat, the overall number of food and beverage occasions consumed by the average consumer is flat, according to a new report by The NPD Group.”

Why, yes, of course the number of food and beverage occasions remains flat. Most people are not eating more, they are replacing what they eat with new choices. And with the healthy food trend, people are choosing healthier foods. Good for them! Trends happen, people change, and this trend bodes well for the other trends: eat natural, eat local, support your small businesses. And these small local businesses produce foods with fewer chemicals. Isn’t that a good thing?

Uh, oh, I kept reading. “Another equally menacing fact for food manufacturers and food retailers is consumers’ increasing demand for purity in their foods and beverages. Consumers are avoiding adulterated elements and looking for natural and fresh foods and beverages, as well as avoiding some of the processed foods on which many major food companies base their business.”

“Another equally menacing fact”? That seems to be a shame. But it sure is great for most home-based bakers who don’t usually add chemicals to their homemade baked goods.

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Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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Thinking Outside the Dinner Kit, part two

April 15th, 2016

In the last post we talked about mail order meals. The concept is a combination of take-out and delivery updated for the lifestyle and income of a market segment. As Hello Fresh explains, “We do it all for you; from creating the recipes and planning the meals, to grocery shopping and even delivering all of the pre-measured ingredients right to your door!”

Meals in a box is not a new idea. Many eateries have had it on the menu as boxed lunches. My bakery & café sold these very popular items for business meetings. We also delivered individual boxes during lunch time so workaholics didn’t have to leave the office. Over time, our boxed lunches expanded to include breakfast and dinner take-out.

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For hometown businesses that would like to capture some of this business, the concept can be adapted to your local customers and economy. If your cottage food law regulations allow, this meal delivery idea is truly home-made, local, and super fresh. And less work, since the customer will put together their sandwich from your ingredients. Everyone wins!

Other mealtime options: Some businesses send meal delivery to office buildings. Sourdough Stacy, a small hometown business, made sandwiches on fresh homemade sourdough bread. She piled the sandwiches in a large basket along with cookies and brownies, and made the rounds in a few office buildings. People knew when she would be there; they could order ahead or pick from what she brought that day.

Another meal delivery idea is catering to market segments, such as kids’ lunches for busy parents. In a local Arlington Massachusetts newspaper, Lisa Farrell, owner of Red Apple Lunch said, “There is this whole idea around kids and food and that having healthy food is so important to them. But it’s not easy to get healthy options, especially having parents invested in their careers and family. It’s hard to make it all meet.”

Home-Based Baking at its Best! With thought and creativity, and a good business plan, some of these concepts may work for you.

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Thinking Outside the (Mail Order Dinner Kit) Box

April 8th, 2016

Next week we’ll talk about adapting this concept to your local area.

Have you seen the current food rage? Meal kits in a box, delivered to your door from far off businesses with names such as Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Green Blender, and Peach Dish.

Now that we have this mailed-to-your-door convenience, why should anyone bother thinking about a menu, making a shopping list, trudging to the store, fighting the crowds, dragging groceries back home, then prepping a meal – all this before we even eat? And then we have to clean up when we’re finished! Makes no sense, right? Especially when we now have this meal-in-a-box alternative.

Why bother shopping and preparing your meals when there's a new easier way to plan, purchase, and fix dinner?

For those of you who haven’t seen the latest fad in food preparation, here’s an article from the New York Times,   It’s Dinner in a Box. But Are Meal Delivery Kits Cooking?

“Some analysts say meal kits show classic signs of a bubble that may already be leaking air. They [analysts] make comparisons to the rise and fall of the grocery delivery service Webvan in the first wave of the tech boom, or meal assembly storefronts, where cooks pick recipes online and then show up to put together what are essentially fancy casseroles from precut ingredients. Such companies once opened at a rate of 40 a month in the early 2000s but have faded from view.”

Sometimes odd or unusual ideas take hold and turn from fad to long-term trend. It’s definitely too early for us to know. The Times article goes on to talk about past “new” innovations (frozen foods, microwaves, bagged lettuce) that initially appeared as fads but have become solid parts of our culture. With this new business idea, we’ll have to wait and see.

Overall, the meal kit delivery venture has received some good press. But positive press or not, my first concern is with the PR spin from respected, outspoken chefs and authors who are promoting this new business model. They might be more interested in encouraging the trend because of their own business possibilities, than with the long-term impact mail order meals have on our lifestyle and communities.

If you’re interested in this concept, think it through and document ideas in your business plan. Think about the cost for putting together this kind of venture. Who is your target market for buying mail-order meal kits? Think about the competition. It’s not just from businesses already in the game (plus new ones that will appear soon), it’s also the businesses adversely affected – businesses such as take-out shops and local supermarkets that will come up with their own in-store response to easy meals.

For businesses like yours: with a commitment to buying local, supporting other home-town businesses and local farmers; keeping a small footprint; and avoiding too much packaging; there can be ways for you to create a local version of meal delivery.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Next week we’ll talk about some innovative ideas for creating your own meal delivery business.

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Pied Piper Pies, Bakery Tour

March 31st, 2016

Pied Piper Pies is located in Highland Falls, a quaint town in New York’s lovely Hudson Valley. All the delicious pies in this recently opened shop are made from scratch using Suzanne Carroll Quillen’s home recipes for fillings and crust.

The eatery has two strong advantages: a corner location and an energetic owner.

Meet Suzanne - owner of Pied Piper Pies.

Day two!

Front counter display.

Daily menu.

Chicken pot pies!

Snickers pies!

Ginny and I tried several delicious pies. We'll be back to try more!

Suzanne began as a home-based business, selling her pies at area farmers’ markets and festivals.

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Is “Convenience of Delivery” Realistic?

March 24th, 2016

Delivery may sound like a good idea, but will it work?

Trade publication Bake magazine is a fast read with occasionally helpful articles and lots of food pictures. In the March issue there’s an interesting article, Believe it or not, bakeries can deliver too, about the ability of bakeries to jump on the “convenience of delivery” bandwagon. Bake believes this is another source of revenue that bakeries should seek.

“As consumer demand for convenience and instant gratification continues to build, local mom and pop bakeries looking to remain competitive with big names like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts must be able to provide the convenience of online ordering and on-demand delivery without having to completely restructure or make capital investments in infrastructure like fleets of delivery cars.”

These are fancy, but unrealistic words aimed directly at small businesses. Too bad it paints a rosy picture and glosses over the reality of delivery cost and sustained consumer interest. It may work in densely populated cities or college towns, but even in those areas, it’s a stretch for long-term success.

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A customer may place an order when they are in a tight spot, or for the novelty of it. The erratic behavior of college students might prompt a call for a late night delivery. But would it work for the “local mom and pop bakeries looking to remain competitive with big names like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts” to have a delivery person available?

Pizza delivery has been hugely successful, but it’s tied into the American love affair with an already popular, favorite food. If Bake magazine wants to hand out advice for success, they would be more helpful if they began a column sharing successful ideas that already work for small bakeries, rather than send struggling businesses down a well-oiled rabbit hole.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! When you hear or read about great new ideas, be sure to do some serious thinking.

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Irish Orange Soda Bread

March 17th, 2016

Orange juice gives this bread a golden glow.

Irish Soda Bread is the classic holiday bread for March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. We start seeing these breads for sale at the beginning of March.

The original version was made with only four ingredients: flour, buttermilk, salt, and baking soda. But the American taste for sweet and tender has spurred creative bakers to offer a sweet, rich bread that’s enjoyed by most folks, whether Irish or not.

Irish Orange Soda Bread
Yield: two small loaves, or 18-24 rolls
4 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup (½ stick) butter, softened
½ cup buttermilk (or use 7/8 cup milk with 2 tablespoons vinegar)
½ cup orange juice
2 tablespoons orange zest
1 egg, beaten
½-1 cup raisins

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment or silicone sheet.
2. In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and butter. Add raisins.
3. Stir in buttermilk, juice, zest, and egg. Mix until it forms a soft dough.
4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead slightly. Form dough into two small loaves, or 18-24 rolls. Place on prepared baking sheet and with a sharp knife cut an ‘X’ into the top.
5. Bake in preheated oven until a light golden brown, 20 to 50 minutes, depending upon size.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Customers like classic foods, but especially ones with a new twist. Even a size difference is enough to catch a consumer’s attention. Try making single-serve breads – simply round the small balls of dough, flatten slightly, and score the tops. Sprinkle with sanding sugar or streusel.

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