Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to attend a Pick Tennessee Products trade show in Nashville where dozens of booths were filled with food products made in Tennessee, from popcorn to granola, chocolates, jams, jellies, sauces and more. And as I asked a number of business owners how they got started, there was a common thread that wove its way through nine out of 10 answers: "Well, I started in my kitchen at home."
How many times have you been told a certain dish you make is good enough to sell, and you think about it, but within a day or two, those thoughts go by the wayside either from lack of interest or simply because you don't know the first steps to take?
Tammy Allgood, marketing specialist with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, cannot stress the importance of planning enough.
"That's the key to going from a great idea to a successful food business," she says.
And here are the steps she recommends to interested entrepreneurs for putting your idea into action.
• Evaluate your personal characteristics. There will have to be loads of time dedicated to this at every level.
• Develop and write a business plan.
• Translate the idea into distinct consumer benefits. Talk to potential customers and let them tell you what those benefits are rather than you determining this.
• Evaluate the competition. This is essential. Look at price points, containers, marketing strategies, etc.
• Redefine and improve your idea -- base this on the competition. Is your product too similar to multiple ones already on the market? What makes it unique?
• Examine market conditions: Are tons of new similar products flooding the market? Timing is everything. If you are one of those businesses fighting for the bottom scraps, you are in for a long, slow kill of your idea/business.
• Design the smallest possible viable business unit. You have to find the place where your product fits into the market and money is made ... period.
• Once all these steps have been followed, act on your idea.
For every 10 people starting their own food-related businesses, eight will fail in the first 18 months, Allgood says. It has mostly to do with making unwise decisions. "It's self-sabotage," she says.
If you're looking for a one-stop "shopping" place to learn about packaging design as well as bottling, food safety and all other aspects of getting a food product to market, Allgood says it is vital to make sure food safety practices are enforced on every level. You can find out all about this at your local agriculture extension office. In Hamilton County, it's located at 6183 Adamson Circle off Bonny Oaks Drive (423-855-6113). You'll also find good resources at the Tennessee Department of Agriculture Regulatory Services Division.
"But always start with your local county/city zoning board to make sure what you have planned to do is legal where you plan to do it," Allgood advises. "Then move on to the local extension office and TDA."
Part of the trade show included a contest that would spotlight the best of Tennessee products. There were honors for first, second and third place, as well as three businesses who received honorable mentions. Those winners, and the locations where their products may be purchased, are:
• First place: Chubby Bunny Baby Food, Nashville-based maker of fresh baby food packaged in individual 4-ounce pouches that store in your freezer. Available at chubbybunnyfoods.com.
• Second place: Bradley's Chocolate Factory, Knoxville-based maker of handmade chocolates. Available at www.chocolatelovers.com.
• Third place: SoberDough, a Nashville-based bread company featuring assorted beer-bread mixes. Available in Chattanooga at Whole Foods and online at www.soberdough.com.
• Honorable mention: Sophie's Choice, a Rockwood, Tenn.-based maker of mixes for appetizers, dips, muffins, sandwich spreads and desserts. Available by phone: (865) 805-5271.
• Honorable mention: Tilted Palm, Franklin, Tenn.-based maker of 100-percent natural cocktail mixes, including Bloody Mary, sweet-and-sour, and citrus Margarita mixes. Available at www.twistedpalm.com.
• Honorable mention: Sunday Morning Pancakes, a Nashville-based maker of freshly-milled, nine-grain organic pancake mixes. Available at myfriendwholovestocook.com.
And remember, when you buy products make in Tennessee, you're not only strengthening the state's economy, you're supporting the entrepreneurial spirit found throughout the Volunteer State. For a complete list of products made in our state and to order them, log onto www.picktnproducts.org. A basket of food items makes a great gift to take as a hostess gift when you visit out of state.
Off the bookshelf ...
The latest cookbook from South Pittsburg's Lodge Manufacturing, "Lodge Cast Iron Nation," has to be the most comprehensive collection of recipes dedicated to cast-iron cooking in the company's cookbook history. If you're a fan of cast iron, this book will keep you cooking for months and years to come. Here's one of many sweet dishes found inside this delectable cookbook, perfect for using Tennessee's late-season peaches. And as we all know, cast-iron skillets turn the cooking world upside down when it comes to cakes. I was out of vanilla when I made this cake and used almond extract instead. It was delicious. The recipe is equally scrumptious using blackberries or blueberries. Use frozen if fresh are not available.
Fresh Peach Upside-Down Cake
2 cups small-diced peeled ripe peaches
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons salted butter, melted
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon bleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup masa flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Vanilla ice cream, optional
Caramel topping, optional
Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat a 9-inch cast-iron skillet with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, combine the peaches, brown sugar, melted butter and 1 tablespoon flour.
In another medium bowl, beat the softened butter, oil and sugar with an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
In a small bowl, sift the remaining 1 cup flour, the masa flour, salt and baking powder together three times. Alternating with the milk, add it to the batter, beating with the mixer until smooth. Add the vanilla (or almond) extract and mix until smooth.
Spoon the peaches evenly over the bottom of the pan; pour the batter over the fruit. Place the skillet on the middle rack of the oven and bake until the center springs back with touched or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30-35 minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert cake onto a serving platter and cut into wedges to serve. Top with vanilla ice cream and drizzle with caramel topping, if desired.
Email Anne Braly at email@example.com.