Learning to Scale: How to Grow a Home-based Food Business

Many home-food businesses, particularly artisanal producers, fear that there is no way to sustain or scale their food business without investing in their own premises and resources. Thankfully it’s just not true thanks to rental commercial kitchens.

Coffee shop owner pouring coffee

If you’re one of the UK’s 2.9 million homepreneurs, don’t be afraid to grow your food business. Its intimidating at first but perfectly possible, with planning. There are plenty of opportunities to enable your business to grow at the rate you wish it to, even as you make the transition from home food business to stores.

Commercial kitchens are the first step

Graduating to premises is the biggest initial leap a home business will take. It evokes an air of legitimacy and the idea that you plan to be around a while. But buying can be a step too far for small businesses or startups, so why not try renting a commercial kitchen first.

London-based Dephna provide commercial kitchens ideal for both new and established businesses with no infrastructure outlay. Equipped with ventilation, metered utilities and drainage, their kitchens to rent meet the standard for food hygiene and environmental compliance. This is essential, as to run any business that makes or prepares food, you are subject to inspections and awarded a food hygiene rating.

Alongside production kitchens, they also provide 24-hour access to cold storage facilities. As the Food Standard Agency (FSA) observed last year, promoting understanding and use of freezing food processes is key to promoting a more sustainable food industry in the UK.

Meanwhile, food startups are discovering that it pays to be environmentally conscious when it comes to maximising yield. If businesses and kitchen startups can store produce in freezers and incorporate working with frozen produce into their daily practice, it’s likely to see considerable improvements in the economy and efficiency of their output.

It’s not just about passion, it’s about professionalism

When scaling up your food business and making the move from your home kitchen, you’re no longer just a chef. As your business grows, so does the administration and your legal responsibility.

You may have experience operating a business from home already, but your responsibilities differ when you rent permanent premises. You might wish to invest in a virtual office to handle day to day admin or buy a space. However if you choose to buy instead of rent, you will have to pay business rates. As a small businesses you can apply for a discount, so you may wish to speak to specialist business rates advisors.

In fact, as your business grows, you’ll need more management help and be less and less on the business front line. From registering as a limited company to managing your supply chain and distribution, you’re likely to need a little help. If you’re not yet ready to employ someone to manage your the paperwork, it’s helpful to consider outsourcing some of this admin. A virtual PA can help you claw back some valuable time to spend staying hands on and forward-planning.

Home-made artisan doughnuts

Reach customers with a marketing strategy

If you’re looking to break into stores, you need a brand that gets you noticed. Start with a business name and identity that is true to you. Take advantage of online tools and build mood boards, or use business model canvas to lay out your products and values. This will help you discern the most important aspects of your business and help create a useful starting point when crafting your brand.

Once you have an idea, your broader branding strategy might require a little help from a specialist branding agency. Robot Food specialise in food branding, so their advice that “You’ve got to have (or create) something about you – a purpose – that resonates” is likely worth heeding.

When it comes to marketing, food is one of the most competitive sectors, dominated by the bigger brands with the capacity to buy out advertising and retail shelf space at the expense of artisanal producers. It’s necessary, therefore, to get creative and gain a community following.

The entrepreneurs behind Hello Fresh, for example, had success with a guerilla marketing campaign that included handing out root vegetables to commuters and engaging with customers via Google Hangouts. In the digital age, social media is a useful resource you may consider to promote your food business, particularly image-driven platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. Most offer targeted ad campaigns.

Once you’re on your feet, having begun to grow your brand presence, the next step comes with creating an investable scaling plan and persuasive pitch to win support and capital needed to break into stores. The Better Business Finance website has information about the finance options available for your business, but often the solution comes from more than one source, so research your scale-up funding options thoroughly.

These are only the first steps to growing your home based food business, but get it off the ground and you can start thinking about your next bigger and better step.


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