Start a snack business!Get your snack food onto store shelves & earn $3.2 million.
By Stan Roberts
If you’ve got a homemade food product you’d like to get onto store shelves, but don’t know how to start the process, read on. Aline and Sergio Font moved to Central Florida from Mexico to launch a business making nutritious snack bars. They had limited startup funds, no knowledge of local, state and federal food-making regulations and no experience packaging, distributing or marketing, but within three years their brand, To You Healthy Snacks, was on sale in 27 Orlando-area locations. Here’s how they did it:
HEALTHY SNACKS, HEALTHIER PROFITS
From a 1,500-square-foot facility in Oakland, Florida, near Orlando, the Fonts turn out exotic flavors such as Apple Pecan, Chocolate Cranberry and Mango Yogurt.
The company also came up with a special feature: They’ll produce personalized bars for customers. “We let customers choose their own ingredients and flavors,” said Aline Font. “We also make private labels for companies that want to to provide their own lines of snacks.” Within three years, their brand, To You Snacks, landed on shelves of 27 retail outlets, hotels and health facilities. Sales are $35,000 a month.
The idea of a personalized snack bar appealed to Whitney McClintock, a professional water skier from Orlando. She ordered customized bars of of almonds, yogurt and berries—with her face on the wrapper. “I predict this will be a big brand because it’s so pure,” she said. For more info on To You Snacks, call 407-614-8942 or go to www.toyousnacks.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Product. To get ideas how to make a snack bar that was nutritious and tasty, the Fonts visited the Internet and the local library. They were surprised at the details available. One website, WikiHow, even carries a section called “How to Make a healthy Snack Bar.” Following a recipe found on a website, the Fonts selected all natural products–almonds, peanuts, cranberries, apricots, chocolate chips, brown rice syrup–and added no sugar or preservatives.
To find these ingredients, the Fonts were advised to work through food brokers. They found them by reading trade journals. A broker led the Fonts to suppliers from Thailand. Another broker arranged for them to get cashews, pecans and almonds from a source in neighboring Georgia. As a startup company, with no credit history, the Fonts paid with credit cards and cash borrowed from family.
Start A Snack Business
Production. The Fonts realized the smart way to learn how snack bars are made was to see how the experts did it. They weren’t bashful. They got a list of food producers around the U. S. and visited their facilities. “They were very helpful,” said Sergio. “We saw how snacks are made and the equipment we would need.”
Ingredients are mixed in a batter. This is poured into a machine that slices the mixture into 1/34-inch by 2-inch forms. The next step is applying the wrappers. This is done through use of a conveyor belt. The Fonts purchased the slicer and Font, who was handy with tools, bought the materials for the conveyor belt and, using a diagram he found on the Internet, assembled it himself. The machines and material cost about $30,000. As for the wrapping, the Fonts selected paper made from polypropylene and located a supplier in Mexico.
Labeling. The U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has strict rules about labels. They must list all ingredients and their nutritional content–calories, fat, cholesterol, proteins and vitamin. The Fonts wanted a simple, attractive label and hired a designer. The label, which is beige, carries the ingredients and copy that reads: TOYOU, all natural, Chocolate Cranberry (or whatever the flavor is); weight, and Made in Central Florida. The labels are attached to the wrapped bar by hand. (The Fonts plan to buy a machine for this process.)
Licenses And Certificates. Food making requires a myriad of city, county, state and federal regulations and permits and licenses. Work space must be zoned for food making. The Fonts located a 1,500-square-foot section in a warehouse in Oakland, near Orlando, appropriately zoned.
They needed an occupational license from the City of Oakland. The State of Florida required a permit to collect sales tax. The Fonts also had to take a state-required course to get certified as food handlers.
USDA Regulations: The Fonts got a list of USDA requirements to operate a food-making facility. Sinks must be a certain size, depending on square footage of work space; storage racks must be plastic or steel, no wood, and placed above the floor. Floors and walls must be painted with a special enamel that can be cleaned; signs must be posted in bathrooms directing employees to wash hands; food ingredients must be stored in sealed containers that identify contents; cooking utensils must be kept in sanitary sections. Temperatures must be maintained at certain levels.
Marketing. The Fonts understood the importance of an Internet presence and Fonts hired a pro to develop a website. “We wanted something simple,” said Aline Font. Unhappy with the developer’s efforts, they replaced him. “We got what we wanted,” she said.
After several test runs, the Fonts, satisfied with their products, set up a booth at a farmer’s market at Windermere, an upscale neighborhood near Orlando. They posted a sign that read: “We Sell Real Food–No Preservatives!” They handed out samples, and asked for comments. Buoyed by the responses, they hired a sales person who called a variety of retail outlets, hotels and health facilities. “It took a lot of effort to get us where we are, but it was worth it,” said Aline Font.
Visit the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov to learn more about selling food items.
Stan Roberts is a Contributing Editor.