A small business owner, who designed jewelry, once told me the greatest business decision she ever made was to turn down the opportunity to have a product included as one of “Oprah’s Favorite Things.” This shocked other people in the room. First, it was the idea that she had been asked, then the thought that she turned it down, then the fact that she still considered it to be a spectacular business decision. The truth is, she was right both then and now.
What this entrepreneur wisely recognized was that a boost of that magnitude could only catapult her to unparalleled success if she was prepared to fill all of the inevitable orders, with the same quality, and in a timely basis. She was not. Like many entrepreneurs, she lacked the funds to buy the materials, and staff up, in advance of what could have been an Oprah windfall.
Many food producers face a similar dilemma in their attempts to expand. It typically starts out as a coveted recipe for something that family and friends adore. Then, thanks to Michigan’s Cottage Food Law, they can broaden their audience at low cost, by making the product at home and selling directly to consumers at farmer’s markets and festivals.
The only way to truly expand after that, is to get the product into stores and restaurants. This requires a commercial kitchen and the capability to stock up for large orders, while keeping the price affordable. It's tougher than it may seem.
One option is to build a facility of one's own. That means securing a building, purchasing equipment, and coming up with more financial resources than most can access. Another option is to outsource production to an existing food manufacturer. The latter process is called "co-packing," and it's an excellent solution, if a facility is available. Three creative small businesses in Metro Detroit recently combined both options to create their own co-packing facility.
FEAST, operating as a private LLC, is co-owned by founders of three established local food companies, Marcia Nodel and her daughter-in-law Michal Nodel of Marcia’s Munchies, Scott and Suzi Owens of Scotty O’Hotty and Amit Makhecha of Bleaf.
“We’re proud to carry on Detroit’s lengthy and legendary manufacturing history in this new venture,” said Scott Owens. “Each of the FEAST co-owners have created a business and met challenges along the way to grow and expand. We’re beyond thrilled to be using even more local resources and expanding our state-of-the-art manufacturing process to feed and employ more people.”
Equipped with commercial kitchens and a food processing center, the 14,500 square foot facility is located at 26762 Michigan Avenue in Inkster. Licensed under the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and registered under the Food and Drug Administration, FEAST production will focus on acidified and shelf-stable food products.
According to Amit Makhecha, “We are excited about the new capacity it brings for all of our products, and also ready to take on others.”
FEAST, which stands for Food Entrepreneur Accelerator and Start Up Terminal, was made possible not only through the ingenuity and collaboration of its owners, but also through the support of many other entities.
Eastern Market Corp. (EMC), which has a strong track record of helping Michigan food companies grow, developed the program.
“FEAST is a first step in Eastern Market Corp.’s program to accelerate food business in Michigan and will fill the current void that exists for food entrepreneurs looking to ramp up production and move their business to the next stage,” said Mike DiBernardo, Director Food Innovation Programs for Eastern Market Corp. “Developing and supporting programs like FEAST which will grow the food system and increase economic opportunities in the region is a key part to Eastern Market Corporation’s strategic plan.”
The building was donated to EMC by Garden Fresh Gourmet founder, Jack Aronson, who has collaborated with EMC long-term to develop ways to grow food processing in the region. A loan from Northern Initiatives’ Michigan Good Food Fund helped to secure equipment.
In addition to providing small and mid-sized food companies in Southeast Michigan with co-packing services, FEAST will also offer services in recipe development, cooperative buying, and private labeling production. It will create six full-time positions. For more information, visit FeastDetroit.com.
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