January 30, 2012
CHOW.com has declared the artisan food movement dead and warned aspiring entrepreneurs that they might as well forgo their dreams and stay put in their dead-end cubicle jobs. So is now a good time for artisan food entrepreneurs to try and build the business of their dreams?
First and foremost, yes! Here’s why:
1. CHOW commented that the artisan food world is too crowded right now and that’s one key reason no one new should think about getting into the game. That’s true, in part. In some areas of the country, like San Francisco, the artisan food movement is alive and well and there is in fact immense competition. However, I’m currently typing this while on a mini sun break in some warm southern city and have spent all day searching for unique artisan food products only to come up empty-handed. Not to say that those artisan food companies don’t exist down here, but it’s certainly a far cry from my home base of Seattle where you can’t go more than 10 feet without bumping into an artisan food entrepreneur.
So first, how crowded your marketplace is really depends on where you are. Just like some people are saying the food truck fad has passed, some cities have yet to even allow a single food truck onto its streets. Has the fad passed in those cities? And last time I checked, Portland – the city that holds the honor as being the birthplace for the food truck movement – is still going strong.
CHOW is right though that pumping out the same product as everyone else isn’t going to get you anywhere. As in any business, your product and company have to be differentiated in some way or another. As I wrote in an earlier article, being “artisan” is simply not enough anymore these days. Even the big guys are out there saying that they’re artisan. And because you are an artisan company doesn’t mean you can skimp on things like packaging or marketing. But if you create a product that is differentiated, delicious, and well marketed – then yes, I would argue that there is room for you to be successful.
2. CHOW also argued that there are limited selling channels for artisan food businesses these days. That, I would argue, is not quite true. Depending on how you set up your company and what your particular market is like, there are numerous sales channels available to food artisans though you have to be willing to do the work to develop those channels. Getting into grocery stores is not going to be easy but that doesn’t have to be your only sales channel. Perhaps while you’re trying to get on those store shelves (and don’t discount the mom-and-pop grocery, health food, and gift stores) you can also sell retail online or via farmers’ markets or see if you can sell your products wholesale to restaurants and cafes just to name a few.
3. Lastly, CHOW says that your current job is likely easier than starting an artisan food business. While working on your feet day in and day out is no easy task – in fact the opening chapter in the Starting A Part-Time Food Business book begins with a caution about how much physical labor a food business really takes – is it necessarily any harder than sitting in a dead-end soul-sucking job that you hate? And remember, it is possible in many cases to start-up a small part-time food business on the side while you work full-time in your other job and maintain your regular paychecks and health benefits (that assumes you’re lucky enough to receive health benefits!). By starting an artisan food business you are in no way guaranteed a life of riches, gold, and ample leisure, but if making and selling your specialty food product brings you happiness, makes your heart sing, and can be turned into a viable part-time or full-time business than isn’t it worthwhile to give it a shot?
What do you think? Is is too late for new entrepreneurs to join the artisan food world?