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The Secret Sauce: From Kitchen Banter to Business Blueprint

by Juan Penzini | Jul 8, 2024

This guide covers nearly everything you need to know to develop a food product, whether it’s from a cherished family recipe or a new idea you’ve created. It offers a comprehensive overview of the steps involved in transforming your recipe into a marketable product, including development, packaging, and sales, no matter where you are in the world.

Back Story

At the Artisan Culinary School, we pride ourselves on creating immersive culinary experiences for our students. Each course we offer includes a designed daily menu that aligns with the course’s theme, complete with carefully selected wines to ensure our students’ experience is as holistic as possible. We even vary the menus to reflect the seasons and the freshest products available in our area of Spain, the idea is that each meal is relevant and exceptional. One such menu was developed by Chef Ryan and me for one of our Artisan Spanish Charcuterie course last year.

Chef Ryan insisted on including patatas bravas, a classic Spanish tapa, in one of the menus. Patatas bravas are often poorly made, with bland, starchy sauces or industrial mixes that all taste the same. However, Chef Ryan’s rendition was a revelation. His sauce was a perfect blend of deep, harmonious flavors, complex yet balanced, with a texture that was simply to die for. Our students couldn’t stop raving about it.

While it might not be considered canon by bravas purists, the sauce was so unbelievably good that we couldn’t stop experimenting with it, trying it with the most unexpected foods. That night, as we calmly closed the long day, I jokingly told Ryan that he should bottle the recipe and sell it.

What started as a lighthearted comment has since evolved into a serious exploration of how to turn a good recipe into a successful business.

First things first, the Three Essentials for a Viable Business: Idea, Money, and People

Before diving into the specifics of bottling and selling your sauce, it’s crucial to understand the foundational elements of any successful business. The premise of most ventures rests on three pillars: the idea, the money, and the people. Each of these components plays a critical role in making your business viable and sustainable.

The Idea

Your business starts with a unique and compelling idea. In our case, it was the recipe for a sauce. A great idea is not just about being different; it’s about solving a problem or fulfilling a need in the market. Chef Ryan’s sauce stands out because it provides quality and taste that were lacking in the existing market of bottled patatas bravas sauces. Moreover, there is a significant market for this sauce in small bars and cafeterias that lack the staff to make the sauce in-house, making it a convenient and high-quality option for them. In any case, your idea should be well thought out, and it should have a clear value proposition that resonates with your target audience.

The Money

Funding will be essential to turn your idea into reality. Money is needed for various stages of your business, from product development and testing to production, marketing, and distribution. While starting with limited funds is possible, as we will explore, securing adequate funding will help you scale and sustain your business. This can come from personal savings, loans, investors, or crowdfunding.

The People

Even the best idea and ample funding won’t succeed without the right people. This includes not only the team working directly on the product but also mentors, advisors, and partners who provide valuable insights and support. In the case of this bravas sauce, our collaboration was crucial. Together, we combined culinary expertise with business acumen to take the project forward. So, surround yourself with people who complement your skills and share your vision. Or at least tell you how horrible your idea is, or how wrong you are (this people’s advice can save you a lot of time and money too).

Understanding and balancing these three elements will set a strong foundation for your venture. Now, let’s dive into the specific steps to bring your product to market.

  • Step 1: Develop and Refine Your Recipe
  • Step 2: Conduct Market Research
  • Step 3: Legal Requirements and Permits
  • Step 4: Business Planning
  • Step 5: Get the bureaucracy out of the way
  • Step 6: Product Development
  • Step 7: Branding and Marketing
  • Step 8: Production
  • Step 9: Packaging
  • Step 10: Distribution
  • Step 11: Launch and Growth

Step 1: Develop and Refine Your Recipe

Perfect Your Recipe

Before you can sell your product, it needs to be perfect. Start by refining your recipe until it has a consistent taste and quality that stands out from the competition. Consistency is key—every batch needs to meet the same high standards, so take meticulous notes and standardize your measurements and processes. In our case, this meant ensuring that every ingredient Chef Ryan added made sense in terms of flavor, texture, and behavior when heated. We asked important questions such as: Did the emulsion keep? Did it change color? Did it alter the taste? These were critical considerations we wanted to address while standardizing the recipe. More on that later.

Document the Process

Write down every detail of your recipe, including the exact measurements, cooking times, and techniques. Additionally, it can help protect your recipe as intellectual property, though the exact protection available for recipes can vary. When taking notes on your process, ensure they are clear and understandable for future reference. Often, taking notes in the lab can end up being a fruitless task if they are just scribbled on sauce-stained paper. Avoid vague comments like “unbalanced” or “needs more kick.” Instead, accompany them with specific instructions for future tests, such as “correct savory/sweetness balance” or “acidity at x, use a different vinegar or raise the quantity by x.” High-quality notetaking is immensely important when perfecting your standard recipe, and it will prove vital when scaling up production.

Step 2: Conduct Market Research

Identify Your Target Market

Understanding who your potential customers are is crucial. Are you targeting health-conscious consumers, gourmet food lovers, or spicy food enthusiasts? Conduct surveys, focus groups, or simply talk to potential customers to get a sense of their preferences and willingness to buy your product. However, without substantial resources, it can be challenging to conduct costly market research studies. Instead, you can organize taste tests with your family, friends, and coworkers. To eliminate bias and get more honest feedback, don’t tell them it is your product; instead, say that you bought it from someone else. Accepting criticism gracefully is essential for the benefit of your product. Listen carefully to what people are telling you. Dismissing feedback with excuses like “well, he/she is not an expert” is not helpful—remember, experts are not your customers, they are.

For example, when tasting Ryan’s sauce, someone mentioned, “I do not like that it is spicy (hot).” The essence of bravas sauce is the heat—the word “bravas” means angry, emphasizing its spicy nature. Instead of sighing and discarding her comment, we thought of creating an alternative “sweet” version of bravas. Think with a positive mind and make the most out of people who give you their honest opinions.

Analyze Competitors

Research other products available in the market. What are their strengths and weaknesses? What makes yours unique? Identify gaps in the market that your product can fill. Understanding your competition will help you position your product effectively. To gain a thorough understanding, I went out to buy every bravas sauce I could find, from the supermarket Hellmann’s-style sauces to the more artisan-made Espinaler. Some were gummy, some were too sweet, and others tasted off. Based on my assessment, Ryan’s sauce did not need any adjustments—not in taste, heat level, or texture. Additionally, I noticed the wide range of prices, which proves invaluable when it comes to set our own pricing. This comprehensive market research allows us to highlight the unique qualities of our sauce and ensure it stands out in the already crowded market.

Step 3: Legal Requirements and Permits

Understand Food Safety Regulations

Complying with local, state, and federal food safety regulations is non-negotiable. In your country there is an agency that regulates food products, and you’ll need to understand their requirements for labeling, safety, and production standards. It’s important to address these regulatory aspects early in the process. Sometimes, the bureaucracy involved can make the business too expensive from the beginning, rendering it not viable.

In our case, Spanish health and safety regulations allowed us to produce the sauce ourselves in a small, approved kitchen, maintaining an “artisan style” production. However, expanding from this small kitchen to a larger facility would entail significantly higher costs for equipment and installations to meet the authorities’ approval. This reality poses a major challenge for scaling production and reaching larger retailers, as the financial investment required for such an expansion can be prohibitive. It’s essential to thoroughly evaluate these factors before diving deeper into business planning.

Step 4: Business Planning

Create a Business Plan

A well-thought business plan is essential for outlining your goals, strategies, and financial projections. We believe that a business plan should serve as a clear guide for ourselves, detailing what we want from the business, the steps we have in mind to reach our goals, and our specific objectives. It should include:

  • Executive Summary: A concise overview of your business, highlighting the key points of your plan.
  • Description of Your Product and What Makes It Unique: Detail the unique features of your product, why it stands out in the market, and its value proposition.
  • Market Analysis: An in-depth look at your target market, customer demographics, and competitive landscape. This section should demonstrate a thorough understanding of market needs and trends.
  • Marketing and Sales Strategies: Outline your plan for promoting and selling your product. This should include your branding strategy, pricing model, sales channels, and promotional activities.
  • Operational Plan: Describe the day-to-day operations required to run your business. This includes production processes, location, facilities, equipment, and staffing needs. (Even if it is only you in a small kitchen, write it down).
  • Financial Projections: Provide detailed financial forecasts, including projected income statements, cash flow statements, and balance sheets. This section should illustrate how your business will be financially sustainable and profitable over time.

Step 5: Get the bureaucracy out of the way

Choose a Business Structure

Decide on the legal structure of your business. Options include sole proprietorship, partnership, Limited Liability Company (LLC), among others. Each has its own legal and tax implications, and this decision will impact many important aspects of your business in the future, such as taxes, bringing in new partners, selling your company, and resolving disputes with third parties. It is crucial to thoroughly understand the conditions and consequences of choosing one structure over another. Therefore, we strongly recommend consulting with a legal or financial advisor to ensure you make an informed decision that aligns with your long-term business goals and needs.

Register Your Business

Register your business name and structure with the appropriate government authorities. This step is crucial for establishing your brand legally and for tax purposes. In addition to registering the business, ensure that all necessary documents are in order with your tax agency and local authorities (such as the county or equivalent). We recommend hiring an accountant or advisor to handle the more complex documentation and ensure compliance. When we established the Artisan Culinary School, I managed most of the simpler requirements myself, but some documents needed to be presented and complied with by a registered accountant. Professional assistance can help avoid costly mistakes and ensure everything is done correctly.

Obtain Necessary Permits

Depending on your location, you may need various permits and licenses to produce and sell food products. These can include health department permits, business licenses, food handling certifications, and fire department approvals. It’s essential to check with local authorities to ensure you have all the necessary paperwork. A valuable piece of advice is to have a conversation with someone in your area who is running a similar operation, if there are any. If this is your first time navigating these requirements, asking questions and seeking guidance can help you avoid common pitfalls. Do not assume anything—speaking with someone experienced can provide insights that are not always apparent from official documents alone.

In addition to permits and licenses, zoning laws are another critical consideration. Sometimes you may find a magnificent location to buy or rent for producing your product, but if you are not careful, you may conflict with zoning regulations for that specific area. Depending on the magnitude of your project, you may start out fine with smaller production, but as you scale up, you might face restrictions due to factors like the amount of trash, noise, vibrations, traffic of people and vehicles, water consumption, and fumes exhaust. Sometimes, resistance comes from neighbors who do not want such activities in their vicinity. Our advice is to check with your city authorities about what you are allowed to do and what is prohibited. Obtain this information in a written document before you commit to signing any purchase or rent agreement for any location. This proactive step can save you significant time, money, and hassle in the long run.

Trademark Your Brand

To protect your brand, consider trademarking your business name and logo. This step is often overlooked, and many people confuse registering their company with registering their brand. When we founded the Artisan Culinary School, we had registered the brand even before the company itself, because sometimes these brand registration processes can be slow to get an answer. The process is usually very straightforward, and you may have to pay a small sum for the associated tax. This kind of intellectual property protection is crucial.

As an anecdote, we have some friends who owned a very cool sandwich shop in a small city. They never registered their brand. Two years after opening the shop and enjoying local success, they received a letter from another company in a major city that had registered the same name (even though the concept, logo, and colors were different). The other company demanded exclusivity and threatened to sue. The entire brand registration process would have cost them roughly 45 euros (about 50 US dollars), but because they neglected this step, they had to rebrand entirely. This included changing their business name, packaging, location signage, business cards, and more. Protecting your brand from the start can save you significant trouble and expense in the future.

Step 6: Product Development

Scale the Recipe

Scaling up from a kitchen recipe to a production-level batch can be challenging. This is one of the most difficult processes to start, but once you get the hang of it and understand the key factors in your product, you’ll do fine. Test your recipe in larger quantities to ensure the flavor and consistency remain the same. You may need to adjust ingredients or processes. Some people specialize in this area and can help you with this part of the process.

Not only do you have to scale ingredients up, but you will also be faced with new kinds of equipment, larger vats, containers, fridges, storage rooms, and more. For example, the first time I made industrial quantities of bread, I was amazed at how much dough the large mixers could handle. I was humbled by their strength and speed, and it took a while for me to get used to the larger quantities. Fresh out of baking school, the test batches we made in class were minuscule compared to what I was working with now. Even though the bread formulas were practically the same, the temperatures changed considerably. These machines altered the temperature of the dough mass very differently from what I was used to. The same will happen to you when you change variables in your process. A small 20-liter pot behaves very differently from a 500-liter one when you are cooking sauce. Jarring marmalade in your kitchen is very different than using a 350-liter vacuum cooker/sterilizer. Assume you’ll invest time and resources learning to scale up, adapting to new equipment, and ensuring your product maintains its quality and consistency.

Shelf-Life Testing

Determine the shelf life of your product by conducting tests to see how long it stays fresh and safe to eat. For this, you will need to rely on safety and health regulations in your jurisdiction. This process typically involves lab testing to check for spoilage and bacterial growth over time. Some labs can test your product and either approve or disapprove your results based on these standards. The same person who helps you scale up, whether a food engineer or chemist, will guide you through this part as well. Their expertise will be invaluable in navigating the regulatory requirements and ensuring your product meets all necessary safety standards, ultimately helping you decide on an accurate expiration date.

The expiration date you determine is a safe amount of time that serves as a guide to your clients, indicating until when the product is safe to consume. Some products are safe to eat for a window of time, but their quality may decay before that date is due. This is often indicated by the “best if consumed before” date on some products, which suggests that the manufacturer recommends consuming the product before a certain date to ensure it is still at its peak quality and flavor. This dual approach helps you maintain customer satisfaction by ensuring safety and optimal taste.

Nutritional Labeling

Create accurate nutritional labels that comply with your local regulations. This includes listing all ingredients, nutritional facts, and any allergen information. There are specific rules for this, and you must follow them to get your labels approved by authorities (if applicable). If you want to get your product on a supermarket shelf, chances are you must comply with local labeling regulations. Nutritional analysis can be done through lab testing or using software designed for this purpose. Make the labels readable and clear. For those of us who read labels and ingredients, it is a necessity. I have personally avoided buying products because I couldn’t read or understand the label, the ingredients, or the allergen information.

Step 7: Branding and Marketing

Develop a Brand Identity

Your brand identity includes your logo, color scheme, and overall aesthetic. It should reflect the personality and quality of your sauce. Unless you are a professional brand designer, do not attempt to do this yourself. Always seek the advice of professionals when designing your brand.

To turn your vision into reality and make it easier for the professionals to help you, you must be very clear about what you want from your brand. Check references of other brands, even if what they sell is not remotely related to your product. When we created the Artisan Culinary School brand and our Owl of Minerva logo, we gathered plenty of references from other companies. Everything from hotels, hunting shotguns, luxury watches, and car brands served as inspiration for our brand.

Invest in professional design services if necessary to create a cohesive and attractive brand. When you receive options from your professional brand designer, request a Brand Manual. This document outlines the guidelines for using your brand elements consistently, including the logo, color palette, typography, and imagery. Above all, always respect this document. Consistency in branding is crucial for establishing a strong and recognizable presence in the market.

Build an Online Presence

Create a website and social media profiles to promote your product. A well-designed website can serve as a platform for sales and marketing, while social media helps you connect with customers and build a community around your brand. Sometimes, the research for your product will start here. It is a good idea to check what other people or companies are doing online before you even decide to create yours.

Once you decide to turn your product into a business venture, establishing your online presence is essential. In the past, having a website was all you needed, but now many successful products thrive primarily through social media platforms. Your social media profiles must have a clear sales strategy (more on that soon). They need to stay active, regularly posting content that resonates with your audience and keeps them engaged.

Engaging with customers’ questions and comments is crucial. Prompt and thoughtful responses can build trust and loyalty among your customers. Social media offers a unique opportunity to create a direct and personal connection with your audience, allowing you to gather feedback, share updates, and promote your products effectively.

Marketing Strategy

Plan how you will promote your product. Consider online marketing, attending food festivals, offering samples in local stores, and partnering with food bloggers or influencers. Use a mix of strategies to reach a wider audience. Getting help from professionals who design sales strategies is crucial. They can navigate market trends and help you craft a plan to get on people’s radars. Preferably choose people or marketing agencies that have experience selling similar products.

When it comes to food, people need to taste your product. Organize events or attend those where people can sample your sauce. Gift samples to restaurants (if applicable) and culinary schools (like ours! We love experimenting with artisan products). Attend fairs, farmers markets, and ask your local supermarket if you can set up a small booth to offer tastings or gift samples.

A well-rounded promotional strategy might include:

  • Online Marketing: Utilize social media ads, email marketing campaigns, and SEO to drive traffic to your website and social media profiles.
  • Food Festivals: Participate in local or national food festivals where food enthusiasts gather to discover new products.
  • Local Store Samples: Arrange for in-store sampling sessions to let customers try before they buy.
  • Partnerships with Food Bloggers/Influencers: Collaborate with influencers who have a following that aligns with your target market to create authentic endorsements.
  • Tasting Events: Host your own tasting events or collaborate with local events to feature your sauce.
  • Restaurant and Culinary School Samples: Provide samples to restaurants for potential inclusion in their dishes, and to culinary schools for students to use and experiment with.

Step 8: Production

Find a Commercial Kitchen

Producing sauce in your home kitchen might not meet health and safety regulations for commercial food production. It’s important to find a place where you are allowed to produce food products, considering zoning laws as well as the specific requirements of the location itself. The lab, kitchen, or factory, depending on the size of your project, must meet certain standards in design, building materials, exhaust and ventilation systems, illumination, electricity distribution, water and waste management, equipment, noise control, and foreign contaminant isolation. Several ready-to-use places on the market meet these standards, but if they are not available in your area, you will need to factor in the cost and effort of creating one from scratch (not before checking with zoning laws!).

One practical option is to rent a certified commercial kitchen. These kitchens are designed for large-scale food production and comply with health regulations. Renting such a space, even for limited amounts of time per week or month, can be a good starting point.

Another option is to outsource production to a co-packer or contract manufacturer. These companies can produce your product using their facilities and equipment, which can help you scale up without the upfront costs of building your own facility. If you choose this method, it’s crucial to sign a strict contract regarding your intellectual property. Include non-compete clauses to protect your product from being copied. This ensures that while the manufacturer benefits from keeping their machinery running and earning additional profits, your unique recipe and brand remain secure. This approach can save significant time and resources, allowing you to focus on other aspects of growing your business.

Step 9: Packaging

Packaging Design

In many cases, the packaging can make the product. A beautifully designed package that aligns with your brand and is practical for your product—or even reusable after the product is consumed—can be a compelling reason for people to buy what you are selling, even if they do not know what’s inside the jar. Remember, people eat with their eyes first. The visual appeal of your packaging can draw customers in and create a memorable first impression.

Additionally, be conscious about waste. Many consumers today are choosing products with environmentally friendly packaging. Using recyclable or biodegradable materials or designing packaging that has a second life (such as jars that can be repurposed for storage), can attract eco-conscious customers and enhance your brand’s reputation. By combining aesthetic appeal with functionality and sustainability, your packaging can significantly influence buying decisions.

Source Packaging Materials

Find suppliers for bottles, labels, caps, and any other packaging materials. Consider the aesthetics, durability, and cost of these materials. Buying in bulk can often save money, but ensure you have adequate storage space for the materials.

Keep in mind that sometimes packaging can be more expensive than the product itself, but it plays a crucial role in the overall experience of consuming your product. The right packaging can significantly influence future buying decisions. There are packaging options that can make your customer feel cheated, create a mess when using your product, be oddly shaped so customers can’t use the entire product, or be excessive and hard to open, producing a lot of waste.

On the other hand, well-designed packaging can enhance the user experience, making your product more enjoyable to use and increasing the likelihood of repeat purchases. It should be functional, easy to open, and allow customers to use the entire product without frustration. Additionally, considering sustainable packaging options can appeal to environmentally conscious consumers and reduce waste.

Balancing aesthetics, functionality, and sustainability in your packaging design is essential. While it may be tempting to cut costs on packaging, investing in high-quality, well-designed packaging can pay off in the long run by attracting and retaining customers.

Step 10: Distribution

Choose Sales Channels

Decide where you will sell your sauce. Options include online stores, local grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and specialty food shops. Each channel has its own advantages and challenges, so choose the ones that align with your business goals and resources.

The problem with, and the blessing of, social media is its potential to expose your products worldwide. While this can be a tremendous advantage, it also presents a challenge when you have customers on the other side of the world wanting your product (hopefully). In the beginning, focus on your immediate market where you have the capacity to sell and distribute efficiently.

When partnering with others to sell your product, ensure they respect a formal agreement. This agreement should outline:

  • Display Locations: Specify where your product will be placed in their shop.
  • Product Maintenance: Determine who takes care of the product’s display. Some larger companies send employees to ensure the product is well-seen, organized, clean, and stocked.
  • Pricing: Agree on the retail price of your product.
  • Delivery and Stock: Define the quantity you must deliver, delivery schedules, and what to do with expired products.
  • Payment Terms: Clarify whether they pay you upfront or pay by units sold.

Remember to reach agreements that benefit both parties.

When it comes to online shopping, figure out how your product will travel. Ask yourself:

  • Packaging Durability: Does the packaging withstand the trip?
  • Product Condition: Will the product arrive in good condition?

Logistics

Plan how you will store, transport, and deliver your product. This includes setting up storage solutions that maintain the quality, arranging for shipping if selling online, and managing inventory to meet demand without overproducing.

Pricing

Set a competitive price for your product that covers your costs and provides a profit. Research similar products to see what they are priced at and consider your production costs, desired profit margin, and what customers are willing to pay.

Step 11: Launch and Growth

Soft Launch

Start with a soft launch to test your product and processes. Initially, sell to a small audience to gather feedback and make necessary adjustments. This approach can help you identify any issues before a full-scale launch. This step is often overlooked because you might get so caught up in the business details that you forget the original goal of creating a delicious recipe. Be humble and listen to what people are telling you—remember that their feedback is invaluable for perfecting your product.

Official Launch

Plan a launch event or campaign to introduce your sauce to a broader audience. Use all your marketing channels to build anticipation and drive sales. Consider offering special promotions or discounts to attract initial customers. Generate buzz and get people talking about your product—everyone, everywhere should know that it is now available!

Continuous Improvement

Once your sauce is on the market, actively collect feedback from your customers and be prepared to make continuous improvements. This feedback is crucial for growth and refinement. Whether it’s tweaking the recipe, enhancing the packaging, or refining your marketing strategies, staying responsive to customer input will help you evolve and meet market demands. Continual improvement shows your commitment to quality and customer satisfaction, which will, in turn, foster loyalty and drive your business growth.

Once you are up and running, it becomes much easier to introduce other products that can be made with the same machinery, equipment, location, and distribution channels that you already have. Additionally, your established name and brand, recognized for quality, will give new products a head start in gaining customer trust and market acceptance.


We invite you to sign up for our newsletters to stay updated on our latest offerings and insights. If you’re interested in learning more, consider enrolling in our artisan food production courses. We also encourage you to leave comments and share your thoughts. If you have a unique product idea and need assistance developing it, feel free to reach out—we’re here to help you bring your vision to life.

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