Food entrepreneurs learn about business planning

Participants of E-Fest 2012 learned and celebrated Michigan entrepreneurship.

Individuals interested in starting their own food business were able to gain knowledge from experienced entrepreneurs and business experts at E-Fest 2012, a conference held at the Dogwood Center in Fremont, Mich. Organizations and agencies, including Michigan State University Extension, whose goals are to educate and promote entrepreneurial ventures in the local area, combined resources to offer the conference.

More than thirty-five individuals participated, learning about the role of the Michigan Cottage Food Law and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) in food processing.  Cathy Martin, a local MDARD inspector outlined the basic differences between operating under the Cottage Food Law and being required to produce a food product in an MDARD certified licensed commercial kitchen.  There are a number of start-up or incubator kitchens available for new businesses to use with a fairly small financial investment.  These types of kitchens are certified under MDARD and a number of different entrepreneurs can pay a rental fee to use the space to produce their product.  Many of these incubator kitchens also work with the entrepreneur to give them guidance in their business planning in addition to providing a space. 

A panel of possible distribution sites for products was also presented with representation from Michigan farmer’s markets, an independent grocery store, and a small distribution company.  Presenters discussed how a food entrepreneur can prepare to offer their products to each of these very different retail outlets and what the cost is that must be incurred by the processor.  Individual food entrepreneurs often don’t consider the additional cost of a distributor or the difference between selling retail and wholesale in the marketplace and this can cause them to price their product too low to make a profit.

Matt Birbeck from the MSU Product Center provided information on the “Made in Michigan” promotions in Meijer’s stores and Kroger stores across the state, helping participants understand the process for having their food product considered.  He also presented a formula that entrepreneurs can use to determine their pricing strategy and discussed the importance of marketing and packaging in the selling of their product.

The conclusion of the conference included a trade show where food entrepreneurs could display and sell their products to participants.

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