How to Start a Baby Food Company: Lessons From a (Failed) Food Entrepreneur – Part 1

An interesting thing has happened since the last blog came out (where I announced my decision to stop making baby food); I’ve received several calls from startup baby food companies around the country showing their support for my decision and asking for suggestions on how to avoid the pitfalls I experienced.  Early on, I made the decision to be extremely transparent with my blog in hopes other aspiring food entrepreneurs would find the information it helpful.  It’s inspiring to realize that they have.

So on that note, I’ve assembled a short list of things I’d do differently knowing what I know now.  Some make call it mistakes I’ve made, but I heard a quote recently that resonates with me even more:  You don’t know what you don’t know.

Surround yourself with a qualified team

I’m talking about a formal group of trained specialist that are there to help you succeed, not just your friends & family that you rely on for emotional support. This could be a formal incubator program (like La Cocina or the newly-launched Food Craft Institute), it could be through the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) or the Youth Business Association (YBA), or it could be your own steering committee of highly trained experts. Experts being the key word here.

In my perfect food world, I would have liked to have: a graphic designer, a food lawyer, a product development & packaging expert, a public relations specialist, a commercial kitchen consultant, a CFO, a business strategist, a food distributor, and about a hundred other roles that I found myself in throughout starting this company.

Looking back, I would have been willing to pay several thousand dollars to surround myself with this type of talent, but again, at the time, you don’t know that.  It really (really) does take a village…

Find a business partner

I was not looking for a business partner in the beginning, and in fact, had adamantly insisted I didn’t need one.  While the ease (and control) of being a solo-preneur is nice, eventually it worked against me and may have been the biggest mistake I made along the way.

You need to share the burden, the successes, the motivation, and the workload.  You need someone to keep you both creative and accountable, and you definitely need someone call you out on being a jackass!  Looking back, I could have hit the breaks six months ago and put energy into finding the right business partner, but by the time I realized this, it was too late.

Advice: Look for someone who has a skill set complimentary to yours and shares the same basic vision and philosophy as you do.  Sign a mutually beneficial NDA (non-disclosure agreement) so you can speak freely about your ideas, and start exploring potential scenarios.  Brainstorm first; figure out the numbers next.  This could take years, and (I think) to my detriment, I was too impatient.

Prioritize raising investment money

Your business growth depends on having money.  If you have no money, you end up doing everything yourself.  If you do everything yourself, you waste precious time, and you get tired.  If you get tired, then you don’t have the mental or physical energy to stay in an entrepreneurial frame of mind.  And that’s the kiss of death.

Four small hints:

  1. Expect to invest three times as much as you originally intend.
  2. Institutions don’t like lending to startups with no sales history; it becomes a little easier to gain access to capital after one year of revenues.  If under one year, be prepared to have a co-signer or prove to them that you are able pay the money back if your business isn’t successful.
  3. It can take upwards of six months to secure a small business loan (for small food startups, this is generally in the 25k range).  Start the process earlier than you need, even if you think you won’t need it.
  4. Every successful entrepreneur I’ve met says the same thing: Raising capital becomes an ongoing, and everyday part of the process.  It’s always on their mind and on their radar.

Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon!  And a heartfelt thanks to all the customers, friends & family that have shown their support in the last few weeks…

Jill Epner is the owner of Little City Kitchen Co. is a Bay Area company making handcrafted, organic, frozen baby food with an International twist.  Follow us on Facebook, or sign up to receive our newsletter with information on starting solids & making your own baby food.


6 Comments to “How to Start a Baby Food Company: Lessons From a (Failed) Food Entrepreneur – Part 1”

  1. Gretchen Perkins says:

    I have been asked to make baby food for a friend that operates a home delivery service providing local produce, breads, dairy, a few prepared products (marinara sauce, apple butter…) and some meats. So, where do I start. I can rent time in a commercial kitchen to process the food. Where can I find nutritional guidelines for the stages of development? What are some of the most popular flavor combinations? Thanks in advance for your response.

    • littlecitykitchenco says:

      Hi Gretchen, the rules varies by state/county, but yes you’ll need a commercial kitchen to legally be able to sell baby food. You find much conflicting info on nutritional guidelines for baby food, so I chose to partner with a pediatrician and nutritionist for some guidance. Generally however I had a common sense approach and cooked with the freshest organic produce, grains, beans and meats that I could find. Good luck.

  2. Lisa says:

    So how about reorganizing using these lessons learned and start over? Your inspiration can come from the babies who l-o-v-e your food and from your passion to develop their pallets for not only healthy food but for a variety of foods early on.

    You were so enthusiastic at first filled with such creative energy that I hate to see you give up. On the other hand you have incredible knowledge between this venture and the ten years at Hilton that I see you starting a consulting business, charging for your advice and also having time to write and publish. No matter what, I am always in your camp. Love ya, Mom

  3. Nerissa says:

    Incredible insight and fantastic writing. As a fellow young, small business owner, I can concur with everything you wrote. Kudos to you for such a candid accounting of your business experiences!

  4. Anni Minuzzo says:

    Precious pearls of hard-earned wisdom that resonate with one of your team members! Can’t wait to read more, Jill. Big hug, Anni

  5. Such valuable tips Jill. Thanks so much for sharing these with us. Your title does sound like the perfect cover for a book.

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