Cottage Foods vs Commercial Foods

Can Cottage Food operators compete with commercial food companies? Is it possible to have a remarkable cottage food product that adds value to the marketplace? I can’t count the number of people I’ve met with innovative food ideas and mediocre products. Before you dive into starting a small food operation, I’d like to tell you a somber fact. Your food has to be over the top. There, I said it. If you are going into the food business don’t go in half-cocked. You have to stand in your truth and face the music. If you’re hoping you’ll get better, stop and go back to the drawing board.

“If you are going into the food business don’t go in half-cocked.” 

Think you got what it takes to be the Bill Gates of Cupcakes? The RBG of the BLT? Recently I had a student say, “I don’t need to be all that, I’m not even worried about the money, I love baking.” Are you serious? You don’t care about money? Yeah, until you’re broke. Money is like oxygen, there’s not much you can do without it.

Exotic food still sells

In the past, the exotic unusual foods of today were down-right cheap. Think about it, oxtails, chicken skins and pig ears were not even close to a dollar a pound. Then there was a loaf of white bread, butter sold by the stick and dried beans. These foods were neither remarkable or profitable. You had to sell a bucket load of bread at seven cents a loaf to make a buck.

Fast forward to today, and a plate of braised oxtails can run upwards of $20 per plate. A Glazed Pig’s Ear Lettuce Wraps is $12 for one ear and a stack of fried chicken skins will set you back $10. Why am I telling you this? Competition is fierce. You don’t have to create foods that are exotic or remarkable. If you’re able to design a jaw-dropping recipe with simple ingredients, the world is your oyster.

Did you hear about the Syracuse foodpreneur who’s bringing back mincemeat?

Would you take time out of your busy day to have lunch at a hole-in-the-wall that sells pig ear sandwiches?

Not familiar with cottage foods

Wait! I need to back up and divulge a bit more about cottage foods. These are low-risk food products produced in the home kitchen and sold to the consumer. Production is overseen by the State/Local Health Dept. or State or Local Dept. of Agriculture unless a commercial kitchen is used. The concept of selling homemade food is hardly new. Folks sell everything at the farmers’ market from heirloom beans to a dried Thia Spice mix. I was once asked by one of my students, what’s the most profitable cottage food product? I responded, “a product that hammers the competition, and gives consumers something remarkable; and obnoxiously unique.”

“What’s the most profitable cottage food product? A product that hammers the competition, and gives consumers something remarkable; and obnoxiously unique.”

Most importantly, cottage food operators are food artisans who think their product is unique. Not obnoxiously unique, only unique and this is a major issue. If you want lines of consumers begging for your food, select something that smacks the competition in the face. Gluten-free cupcakes that don’t taste gluten-free. A hot sauce that becomes a staple in the pantry. For example, there are 3-5 bottles of hot sauce in my pantry at any given time. I’m not endorsing any of them, but here goes. Franks, Texas Pete, Sriracha (the original), and Elijah’s Xtreme Ghost Pepper Sauce. Plus, my personal favorite, the Cajun Power Spicy Garlic All Purpose Sauce. Mercy, mercy! Do you see the little guys are right there with the commercial brands? Interesting.

10 ways to set yourself apart from competitors

  1. Make your product an outlier. In other words, create a product that can be bought the same day. For example, you specialize in 6-inch celebration cakes that can be baked in the morning and picked up by 6:00 p.m. (Remember to pre-sell.)
  2. Make your product exclusive. Create exclusive products that are expensive or super cheap. One or the other.
  3. Produce products that are super large or miniature. (“I got hot sauce in my bag, Swag”)
  4. Let’s say you make jams, jellies, sauces or something in a jar that has a great shelf life. Offer to customize the label. Create a company’s hot sauce for their yearly barbecue!
  5. If the marketplace is oversaturated, stand out like a sore thumb. Are you listening cupcakers?
  6. Most importantly, if something doesn’t work, let it go an move on. Don’t waste your time crying over spilled milk.
  7. Sell to your niche. Everybody is not your customer. So stop trying to attract the attention of the GC. (general consumer)
  8. Identify those folks willing and able to pay the price you’re asking for your product. Hard stop!
  9. When you’re in a slump throw everything in the pot. Downturns are when the competition is anxious. Go forward full speed.
  10. Avoid mediocrity. Think big, act small. Make every day a productive day. Do things the competition won’t and try new things. Be bold!

Never rest on your laurels. Once you’ve accomplished making a great product, move on to the next one.

“Never rest on your laurels. Once you’ve accomplished making a great product, move on to the next one.” 

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