Written by Rebekah Hay of Hakanoa Handmade Drinks Ltd
1. INTRODUCTION – What do you need to know set up a food business?
2. SUSTAINABILITY – How do you make a food business sustainable?
3. MAKING A LIVING – How do you measure & ensure success?
4. RUNNING A BUSINESS – Taxes, audits, websites, trademarks etc.
5. GROWING A BUSINESS – How to expand into shops without going broke.
WHEN I STARTED SELLING GINGER BEER TO PEOPLE IN 2009, I WAS CLUELESS.
I had a plan, of course I did, but no experience. Just an idea to make old school ginger beer and sell it to the people of Auckland. Hopefully make a living from it. There didn’t seem to be any way to find out if it would work except by doing it. I’ve learnt a lot since then, both from our own trials and successes, and from all the people we work with.
This “Beginners Toolkit” is everything I wish I’d known back then – useful stuff like what kind of food licence I needed, where to get bottles from, and how much should I be selling my goods for.
This is the stuff you need to know before you start, or at least all the stuff you should know before you decide whether or not to give up your day job!
There are more programs out there that will help you grow your idea further – such as ATEED and The Foodbowl – but they require you to have taken your idea at least as far as trialling it at a local market.
The ‘first rung of the ladder’ for starting a food business is all right here, and the Grey Lynn Farmers Market will help you take that first step.
HANDS-DOWN THE BEST MARKET RESEARCH
comes from manning a stand at a farmers market selling your wares.
Whatever your food business idea is, you’ll get invaluable real-world feedback from giving samples to people, and soaking up their reactions.
The Grey Lynn Farmers Market actively encourages start-ups. We offer short-term stall hires, experienced advice, and brilliant networking opportunities.
For 2 years we delivered all the information here in 5 seminars, honing the course to meet the needs of people with brand new ideas, and people with existing businesses who needed to fill some knowledge gaps.
Now we’ve made it shareable and accessible for everyone in Aotearoa on this site. If you are finding this interesting and helpful, we’d love you to publish a link on your social media too.
MARKET BUSINESS MODELS
Georges Gardens is an excellent example of this model. The majority of his sales are at weekend markets. George grows much of his own produce, but also brings in produce from neighbouring farms. He stocks the sort of range folks look for at supermarkets, competitively priced and spankingly fresh. His is the only stall that always has a queue every Sunday morning and he uses the biggest space and the most staff.
Carl of Natures Corner is another excellent example. Again his eggs are competitively priced and spankingly fresh, and also Carl can personally attest to the fine health of his happy hens.
Lime Affair is another – Greg sells whole citrus fruit and citrus juices from his orchard when in season, plus keeps a backup of frozen lime juice to defrost and sell by the bottle throughout summer when lime are $39kg at the supermarkets. He also makes gorgeous ceviche and a mean mussel fritter.
By selling direct and cutting out the middle man, the consumer gets fresher goods, and these vendors gets more money for their produce than they would if they were selling it to a shop or supermarket.
LOCAL BUSINESS SELLING DIRECT
Bread & Butter Bakery have two local cafes that sell all their own artisan baked goods, and a large bakery operation that supplies wholesale to other retailers like Farro Fresh. They run weekend market stalls at two central Auckland Markets, and have stands at events like Go Green Expo and the Auckland Coffee Festival
Jersey Girls Organics sell their superb milk at weekend markets, and also wholesale to Farro and other specialty food stores.
Both these businesses want the extra income from selling direct to the consumer, and they want the direct connection with local communities that builds solid brand loyalty for the retailers they supply.
ONE INCOME STREAM, NOT A WHOLE LIVING
There are plenty of stall-holders who are working for supplementary income. A side-hustle if you will.
Leon Narby (and when she was still with us, his late wife Anita) has an olive grove and sells his exquisite cold-pressed oils at the GLFM until that seasons pressing has sold out. He’s largely retired as a cinematographer, and the olive grove takes up most of his spare time.
The wonderful Felicity of Cook The Books used to sell her freshly-made almond milk at the GLFM as well as running her store Monday to Saturday. Now she sells her milk to local cafes and direct to her regulars via subscription, and works a more livable 6-day week.
PRODUCT & BRAND DEVELOPMENT
Hakanoa is one example of this. We started out making good old fashioned ginger beers that exploded if not kept cold enough and consumed quickly enough. Not a great business model for Auckland with it’s frequent wet weather and vast physical extent. While we were trying to sort that out, and so I could sell something when it was raining, I made a Ginger Syrup. A few months later the market barista, who had become a mentor to me quite by accident, suggested I make a Chai concentrate. Now we supply our premium cafe range of 9 concentrates to over 400 cafes around Aotearoa, as well as through Farro and Huckleberry.
Very Good Dumplings launched their brand by selling dumplings from a beautifully appointed food truck at markets and events, then moved to wholesale supply of frozen dumplings to specialty food stores like Huckleberry and Farro.
JUST DON’T MAKE ANYONE SICK.
Food Safety Laws can look scary and huge, but that’s because they have to cover a lot of ground. The main thrust of ALL of them is to prevent pathogens (bugs that make everyone sick) and allergens (foods that make just some people sick) from making people ill or worse, killing them. There’s a bunch of stuff around what you can and cannot say on your product labels too, but not causing harm is really the big concern.
It’s a huge act of trust, eating food. We all do it, several times day. There is a lot of room for nasties to get into food production and cause harm. Therefore all food producers have to prove they are taking all the necessary measures that stop the nasties.
Not just once, every time they produce something they must keep a record showing all those measures have been taken, proving that they are worthy of our trust.
The laws fall into 4 main categories;
PRIMARY PRODUCERS – PLANT BASED
Vegetables, fruit, and seedlings.
You fall under National Program 1 and a local ‘verifier’ needs to check that you are following safe practices before you can register for NP1. Your local council will have a list of verifiers and will issue the registration once you’ve ticked all the boxes.
If you want to label your produce ‘organic’ you must have a certificate to prove it. These can be issued by various bodies but for plants BioGro is the gold standard in NZ.
PRIMARY PRODUCERS – ANIMAL BASED
Eggs, honey, meat, fish, cheese & milk.
These producers have to run a Risk Management Program. That’s because pathogens can reproduce really easily in these foods if not managed carefully. Producers and vendors have to take a lot of extra steps and use a lot of extra resources to keep consumers safe. MPI runs the Risk Management Programs for production, and the local council issues NP2 or NP3 licences for the vendor.
SECONDARY PRODUCERS – TAKE HOME FOOD
Breads, pastries, dry goods, jams, cordials, and water-based ices. All deemed very low risk.
These producers need an National Program 2 registration. If you make jam, your Food Safety Plan will include all the steps you take to kill those pathogens like bringing the jam to a boil, and putting it in clean sterilized jars, and putting the lid on while it’s still really hot. These producers must follow those steps in a commercially licensed kitchen.
Soft drinks, brews, ferments, oils, vinegars and tea have a slightly higher risk of going wrong so need National Program 3 registration and a commercially licensed kitchen to operate in.
SECONDARY PRODUCERS – FOOD VENDORS
Coffee carts, food trucks, dumpling – basically anything served fresh to be eaten or drunk on the spot.
These producers have their licence issued by the local council, who also licence all permanent food vendors like restaurants and cafes.
USE SOMEONE ELSE’S KITCHEN
Your local cafe after it’s closed? The neighbourhood bistro? They might be glad of the extra earnings, as long as you know how to leave it properly clean.
Ask around at the market, some of the stall-holders might have extra capacity in their own kitchen.
There are places for hire – KitchenSpace in Glenfeild is a really good one. You need to book well in advance as it’s pretty busy.
If you want to go properly big scale, contract manufacturing is your first option. It will be like learning to cook all over again – cos 1000 times your kitchen recipe will not make the same goods, trust me! – and you will want the expertise a contract manufacturer can offer. They won’t want to talk to you until you’ve got a market-proven product that you have already made and sold.
Hakanoa doesn’t own a production facility. We don’t make enough ginger beer to own an entire brewery and bottling line. There are 140 soft drink brands in NZ and less than a dozen bottling lines. We brew with a cider maker in Te Puna and send the brew down the road to a bottler in Tauranga. We cook our concentrates in Takanini, and bottle them in Rosedale.
KITCHENSPACE This is an independent commercial kitchen in Auckland that you can hire by the hour, very professionally run.
THE FOODBOWL This is development facility – it has a lot of production space and all sorts of equipment but it’s not generally cost-effective to manufacture there. It can be used for production in some circumstances but you will need to be pretty established first. If you have an idea that you have already tested at market and want to learn how to make at large scale, this is one place to learn how to do that. Grants are available if you are aimed at the export market, but you will always need to stump up at least half of the cost.
OR CONSIDER GET YOUR OWN KITCHEN LICENCED
Councils are recognising that some home kitchens are made well enough, or could be modified, to meet standards of commercial production.
They’ll be looking for good ventilation, crack-free flooring and work surfaces and a daily written record of your cleaning regime at minimum. Assured Food Safety have the skills to advise you on what’s needed based on what you are producing. Councils can and will still come up with more things for you to do, but they’ll be much happier that you’ve taken professional advice first.
AUCKLAND CITY COUNCIL This is the spot to look for vendor licences and Food Safety templates and National Program requirements. There are also Food Safety Courses run by local councils. If you’ve got a secondary production idea and never worked in a professional kitchen before – as I hadn’t – take one of these courses before applying for a stall at the market.
ASSURED FOOD SAFETY This is one of several independent auditing bodies who have a lot of expertise. Their job is to help you get into retail outlets by guiding you through all the bits of the law that apply to your product range, and they will do exactly that. An essential spend if if you are planning to sell in shops.
MPI The Ministry’s job is to make sure you don’t break the law. It’s the same job as Assured Food Safety do, but from the perspective of looking for wrong-doing whilst having no commercial experience in food production. No-one I have ever spoken to has found interaction with them to be a positive experience. If you must talk to them, PLEASE get independent advice first.
BIOGRO The most commonly used organic certification body for primary producers of plants in Aotearoa.
ASURE QUALITY Facility for lab testing of all foods – you have to use these labs to prove all free-from claims on your products – and they also run an organic certification program more often used by secondary producers.
WHAT DOES THE GLFM MARKET MANAGER NEED FROM YOU?
Local councils send their food safety inspectors to venues to check that people are following the rules, and they don’t give you any warning!
if they find a breaches, the stall holder could be closed down on the spot. If they find many breaches, they may close the whole market.
Food vendors – anyone serving food or drink to be consumed on the spot are required by law to display there council-issued registration. Those are the ones that you hope say A on them when you are buying a hot snack from a stand 🙂
All other stall holders provide the relevant registration when applying for a stall, and updated registration is supplied every year to keep on file.
Every stall holder at the market has got over all these hurdles. You can do it too. If you are not sure where to start, we will help you figure it out.