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January 30, 2012

Why Now Is The Time To Start An Artisan Food Business

artisan food businessCHOW.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?

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7 comments on “Why Now Is The Time To Start An Artisan Food Business

  • Lauren B. on said:

    Thank you for this well-written response! I don’t own an artisan food company, but I know enough to say that the points outlined in the article are not strong enough to dissuade people from starting a food business. Obviously, it is difficult to get products into places like Safeway or Krogers. But the author never mentions how technology has opened a whole new world of selling channels, such as Etsy, Foodzie, or Foodoro to name a few. The reasons outlined in the article can be said about starting ANY business–too much competition, top hard, too many long hours, etc. Yet, people are still choosing to follow their passions, and many are succeeding.

  • Jeff on said:

    Nice post, and to answer your question-no its not too late! I like your responses and would also mention that in my (very limited) experience motivation matters, especially since there is so much competition. Usually that means more than just $.
    Jeff

  • Nancy on said:

    I’m stunned that Chow published such nonsense. I’ve lost some respect for them. I can’t get enough local artisan food.

  • Misty on said:

    omgggggg…i just moved to south-central arkansas… when i asked the grocery store guy if they carried any organic meat, he took me to the boca burger section of the aisle.
    the people who don’t like a lot of ‘sauce’ on any dish, exist, but they keep a low profile. there are (2) small colleges in the town i live in (total 4k students), a good tapas and wine bar would do well here but there is resistance to change.
    my idea to help change would be to create an incubator where people could start a small business, in a large industrial building where it could house many small startups.
    there is still room for artisan food, if you’re willing to look in the most unlikely places…

  • michaelawanders on said:

    I think the last part is the most important and brings to mind something called ‘The Good Life Project’ and a video they did on a woman who left a law career to start a bakery. It may be difficult to start something new, but better to be striving and working and HAPPY, knowing you are doing what you want than comfortable but miserable working somewhere else.

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