Have you been selling your lovely food products from your home kitchen for a while now? Have you built a nice loyal customer base and are looking to take your food business to the next level? For many small food businesses that means getting out of the home kitchen and in to a commercial kitchen and hiring staff to help with the preparation of food.
This can feel like a huge step to take but if you do want to grow your business it is one you are going to need to take as there is only so much you can make in a small kitchen with only so many hours in the day. .
For some of you, the option of going with a co-packer may be the way to go. A co-packer manufactures and packs your product for you. But they often have reasonably large minimum order sizes so that can be a limitation for many small food businesses who aren’t quite ready to make that level of investment. There are more small scale ones popping up around the place so if that does interest you have a look at what is available near you.
For those who want to maintain a more hands on approach to producing your product – especially if you love the creating then you are probably looking to scale up to a commercial kitchen. This may be your own dedicated space or shared commercial kitchen, whether a formal shared kitchen arrangement or sharing with another business.
There are some steps you can take to make this growth process as painless as possible, though it is very rare for there to be no pain at all. One great step is to try out a commercial kitchen.
Try out a commercial kitchen
Before making any big investments, try out a commercial kitchen with your product. This could be a local café who doesn’t open on weekends, a school or community group who has a commercial kitchen facility, possibly a cooking school (but check they have commercial and not just domestic equipment), another food business who are you friendly with or a shared commercial kitchen.
The main aim is to see what changes you need to make to your product when you scale it up in to bigger batches. We have a tv show here in Australia where people compete to turn their recipes in to commercial products. One of the activities they have to do is make a large batch of their product in a commercial kitchen.
The contestants struggle not only in knowing how to use commercial equipment but also with the amounts to include in their recipes to scale it up and the adjustments they need to make to their preparation and cooking times to make the larger quantities.
Know what equipment you are going to need
In picking a commercial kitchen to try out, make sure it has the equipment you think you might need in a commercial kitchen. If you are going to need a specialist piece of equipment it will be worth travelling further afield to try out what you need. For example, if you are making pasta then see if you can find a kitchen that has commercial pasta rolling and cutting machines. If you can’t find the right equipment in a kitchen for hire near you, then ask your local Italian restaurant known for its hand-made pasta if you can come and see how they make their pasta.
Plan your batches
Once you have found a kitchen to trial things out in, make sure you have a clear idea of what sized batch (or batches) you would like to make. Work out what the quantities of ingredients you need in each batch and think about where you will need to adjust cooking times.
Plan to have more than one trial run through of large scale batch cooking as there are going to wrinkles you need to iron out. If you can’t do this in one day, plan for more than one day.
All of this might be a bit of a financial investment, but it pales in comparison to the mistakes you could make if you go gung-ho straight in to your own kitchen.
See if you can minimize the impact on your profit by making a batch you can sell. This is going to be more realistic for those of you with products that have a long shelf life, space to store in bulk and a product that needs minimal tweaks. Drum up friends and family and have packaging on hand to get your product ready for sale if the batches you make are a triumph. You will have product ready to go and can then focus on other business activities like increased marketing.
Have you done a test run in a commercial kitchen? What advice would you give those looking to take the leap/