Published March 19, 2021 on Feast Norfolk Magazine
Thinking of starting a food and drink business in Norfolk? Here’s some sage advice from brand expert Richard Horwell
Norfolk has wonderful produce and a diverse range of exciting new food and drink brands. From the bakery to the dairy to the smokehouse, there is plenty going on! Perhaps you also have an idea for a new product that you’d like to launch.
On a cautious note, it is important to recognise that it isn’t easy to enter the food and drink sector. However, you can start by following some key steps so you understand the market and test your idea before investing in your new brand.
Let me share the steps to help you get started:
Researching your market and building your understanding is essential. The more established a category has become, the harder and more expensive it will be to make inroads.
Research in the UK, and elsewhere. You’ll learn from other brands’ mistakes and get great ideas from the flavours they’ve used. Also delve into their consumer messaging and retail pricing.
Point of Difference.
In the last 10 years there’s been A LOT of innovation in the drink’s category. So, to stand out you must have a point of difference (POD). You need a reason why your potential consumers should go out of their way to buy your brand.
A POD is not just about adding, say, Norfolk honey to a product to create a funky-flavour. Nor is it just about eye-catching packaging. It is being unique – blending ingredients that others have not thought of before and making sure it tastes great.
Food and Drink isn’t a cheap industry to enter. One important issue is minimum production runs. You can develop a production recipe (as opposed to one made at home in your kitchen), get a brand name/branding, and then attempt to raise the money in order to pay for a production run; but it’s virtually impossible to raise money just on a basic idea.
Think very seriously about where the money will come from. I ‘ve seen too many entrepreneurs with just enough money to do their first production run, and nothing left to do any marketing. This is destined to fail. It can be up to two years before you make any money to support yourself. So, make sure you can survive.
It’s essential to have a clear financial budget, whether you’re self-funding or going to investors. The taste, the name, the branding, the distribution, the samples, the presentation pack for buyers all need to be spot-on from day one.
Developing your recipe
Making a drink at home doesn’t mean that it can be exactly replicated in mass-production. We work with recipe development experts to source the ingredients at a competitive price and ensure they work together – resulting in a drink that tastes like the one you created in your kitchen but will suit your co-packer.
Some ingredients just don’t blend. This is a very specialised area, and the recipe needs to be perfect. So, you will definitely need expert help to create an exact recipe for your contract manufacturer. And, for the packaging labels, you will need the nutritional information.
One area many entrepreneurs overlook is the regulation on Novel Foods, which applies within the UK and the EU. (See: https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/novel_food_en)
Not all ingredients are allowed to be used in drinks and this is determined by the Novel Foods regulations, so you need to be sure that all your ingredients are allowed. This will save you time in the future rectifying any obstacles you could have tackled in the initial stages.
This can make a huge difference to your cost outlay so you need to spend time researching suppliers, understanding the production runs etc.
Glass is still the cheapest option, though the weight and risk of breakage can make it less popular with wholesalers and retailers.
Cans are very popular but minimum runs are high. For example, minimum runs for printed cans are 150,000 and minimum filling runs are 75,000. There are options to fill blank cans from as low as 12,000 volume and then sleeve them afterwards. It is a more expensive option but a far better way to test the market.
Understanding the best packaging for your product and target market is important, and also given the costs you’ll want to get it right. Also, a wrong decision could leave you with very expensive unusable goods on your hands.
Co-packers (Contract Manufacturers)
Co-packers fill your drink in bulk so are a key part of the process. Make sure that the company you select has a good reputation – maybe speak to other brands they have filled? Also make sure they have the right certification as that question will be asked by retailers and wholesalers.
Do your research, get expert advice and you’ll be at a good starting point with your idea for a new Norfolk-based food or drink business.