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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Photography, the Visual Aspect of Marketing

January 14th, 2015

Photograpy is an important part of marketing your business. You need simple photos that highlight your products.

Whether you only use social media or also have a website, the visual aspect of connecting with and enticing customers is very important.

How to take great photos has been addressed many times, especially in the food blog hemisphere. But food bloggers tend to take many photos. For business purposes, fewer is better.

Bake magazine has an excellent article by Tania Colamarino, “Smartphone Photography.”  Tania’s tips can be remembered with the acronym RECIPE:

R- Right light
E- Every angle
C- Creativity rocks
I- Increase your audience
P- Pose, practice and post
E- Eat the subjects when you’re done- that’s the best part!

For creating nice layouts and photo collages I use PicMonkey, which has an article by EJ Armstrong, “7 Food Photography Tips.”

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I often use collages to highlight my business.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Your photo background is very important; customers should see a picture that highlights your baking and products, not a background with a pile of laundry or your kids watching television.

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Starting Your Home-Based Baking Business

January 7th, 2015

Join us at the SweetAmbs studio on Saturday, February 28, in Beacon New York for our class:

Start Your Home-Based Baking Business

Do you love to bake? More than forty states now have a cottage food law that allows for home-based baking. Whether you’ve always envisioned yourself with a small food business, would like a second source of income, or want to stay at home and be your own boss, this class will guide you step-by-step through the entire process, from your initial business plan through delivery of products to your customers.

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For anyone interested in learning how to run a profitable part-time or full-time home-based baking business, this class is for you. Leave class with a business plan and a checklist for moving ahead. If you’re unable to bake from home, alternatives will be discussed.

Start Your Home-Based Baking Business for more information and to register.

For more information about other SweetAmbs classes and tutorials.
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Home-Based Baking at its Best! Learn how to start your own home-based baking business.

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A Business Plan for the Coming New Year

December 31st, 2014

Happy New Year everyone! For anyone thinking about starting a home-based food business, start the new year off right. Take the time to plan for your business. It’s worth the time and effort.

Plan for the coming year.

The most important ingredient for a good business outcome, is to plan for it. Start with a simple business plan or create something with more detail. My book, Start & Run a Home-Based Food Business, has a sample plan.

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There are also numerous sample templates available online. Your plan is a place to start, it does not have to be perfect. You’ll always be making changes and updating, but having a plan gives you a start to creating a viable, profitable business.  

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Writing a unique business plan is an excellent way for you to formulate a personalized plan, one that can help you meet your needs.  Good luck in the coming year!

Home-Based Baking at its Best! If writing a plan seems like too much work, then starting a business now may not be for you.

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