When it's Time to Package Your Goods
Think your sauce is the boss? If you find your customers constantly asking for more sauce to drizzle on their food or want to know if your spice mix is available to use at home, perhaps other shoppers may want to do the same. Maybe it's time to take your product from the kitchen to the store shelves. But how do you make the leap?
Many restaurant owners have successfully packaged a product that you can now find in stores. Hit places like Whole Foods and you'll see chef Rick Bayless' Frontera Foods or go to Safeway and Wolfgang Puck smiles back at you from his soup cans. But not everyone has the backing of a big company like Campbell's Soup to get their products out to the masses.
Bill Kim, the chef/owner of Chicago's BellyQ, Urbanbelly and Belly Shack restaurants, had made soy balsamic sauce for nearly 20 years. It wasn't until 2009, when one of his customers asked if he ever considered bottling it, that Kim realized he had something people wanted. It turns out that customer was the former culinary department manager at Sara Lee. He left to start his own company, Chef2Shelf, and wanted to help Kim bottle his sauces. Kim now has four sauces for various uses.
"We really wanted it to be consumer-friendly and not just restaurant quality, with people actually using it," Kim said. "The whole idea for our food is we want to be diverse. You can use it to make a dressing, a marinade and a dipping sauce. How many sauces do you have in your refrigerator that you wish you could get rid of and have just one of two bottles?"
The Belly Sauce line was available in the Chicago market at Whole Foods, Mariano's and various smaller stores, as well as in London. Kim rebranded the line last summer and added recipes to the labels to make the sauces even more user-friendly before relaunching.
Being user-friendly is important when it comes to packaging your goods. Lena Kwak knows this. When she was research development chef at the French Laundry, Kwak noticed more diners requesting gluten-free options. She and her boss, Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller, worked to create gluten-free flour the restaurant could use. Then a light bulb went off.
"When I started seeing gluten-free people crying over eating bread, I then realized," she said. What came next was Cup4Cup, a line of gluten-free, non-GMO flour blends and baking mixes, including a pizza crust mix, brownie mix and pancake mix. "I could have developed the bread or the brownies, but I wanted to give people that ingredient, that they could use to then re-create their memories."
Cup4Cup is now sold in about 3,000 retail locations around the country at stores like Wegman's and Albertson's, and about 35 percent of their business is direct with restaurants and industrial accounts.
At Chicago's Bread & Wine, owners Lisa Foster Kelly and Jennifer Wisniewski always planned to launch a line of packaged goods and wine even before opening their neighborhood restaurant. While they've bottled red, white and rosé wines since 2013, working with a producer in California's Central Coast, they're just now working on artisan products like whole grain granola, house-pickled giardiniera and ginger blueberry jam. The restaurant has a small marketplace, but their plan is to also branch out into larger grocery stores.
"We can't just sell out of our market and website to make it worth the while," Foster Kelly said. "We've been open almost four years now so we feel we can focus on something other than just running the restaurant. We want to diversify a little so we're not completely reliant on the restaurant since income varies so much from season to season."
Making money is always good, but having a purpose behind a product line is also important, according to Kwak.
"When you approach a project like this, it has to be mission-driven; everything else will come," she said. "There has to be purpose as to why you want to release a tomato sauce. When you build on it, the foundation is stronger when you have a mission."