Is Food Service Right for Your Brand?

When developing a consumer product, most food and farm entrepreneurs envision selling it either at retail or direct-to-consumer through Amazon or their brand’s e-commerce site. They often don’t think about the boundless possibilities in food service. In fact, when first starting out, many are completely unaware that such opportunities exist. 

Food service is a gigantic industry, valued at a jaw-dropping $1.7 trillion in 2020. Encompassing all businesses that provide meals, snacks, and beverages prepared outside the home, food service is also extremely broad. The channel includes restaurants, coffee shops, catering businesses, food trucks, grocery store hot bars, stadiums, college dining halls, school cafeterias, hospital cafeterias, corporate cafeterias, and much more.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, food service accounted for 55% of all food dollars in the U.S., a metric we call “share of stomach.” That percentage slipped some in 2020 and 2021, as the pandemic forced many foodservice operations to close and people began cooking more at home. But now that most COVID-19 restrictions have eased and life is regaining normalcy, the sector is bouncing back fast.

It’s true that restaurant chefs usually craft the entrées for restaurants, that coffee shops roast their own beans, and that “lunch ladies” whip up meals for school kids. Even so, many food and beverage brands and even farm-based businesses build solid revenue streams within food service. How? By providing products that the restaurant, cafeteria, school district, or other operation can’t do on its own—or that the brand can simply do better.

Take restaurants, for example. No matter how skilled a chef may be, they probably don’t excel at preparing everything on the menu, and some items may be too time-intensive or costly to make in-house. Why not bring in a local company’s craft beverage or a family farmer’s value-added blackberry jam? These items will delight customers, cut down on restaurant labor, and support a fellow small business—a triple win.

It’s similar with retail food service. Even if the kitchen staff prepares most of the items for the hot bar, salad bar, and grab-and-go section, the store might want to expand its selection beyond its capabilities. In that case, the retailer could bring in an outside brand’s handcrafted soup, fresh-made tortillas, famous cupcakes—or authentic Indian spice kits.

That’s the niche Madison, Wisconsin-based FillMyRecipe has found for its Flavor Temptations brand. The company, featured in the latest Edible-Alpha® podcast, had built successful retail and direct-to-consumer businesses for its Indian spice kits and sauces, and then foodservice doors began opening. Several school districts, along with grocery stores’ prepared foods departments, were looking to provide more ethnic and vegetarian dishes, and Flavor Temptations is helping them do just that.

More opportunities like this are springing up all across food service. With rising consumer demand for ethnic, plant-based, sustainably sourced, local, organic, allergen-free, nutritious, and handcrafted foods, small food and farm brands are perfectly positioned to fulfill these needs.

Just know that the food service channel has its own nuances, schedules, and demands that can differ from other channels, so entrepreneurs must approach these ventures with a solid business plan.

FillMyRecipe co-founders Sara Parthasarathy and husband Partha Sabniviss launched Flavor Temptations spice kits to help consumers cook authentic, joyful Indian food. Ten years and one global pandemic later, their business looks a lot different than they ever imagined. Tune in to learn how this nimble, resilient omnichannel brand has scaled its operations, honed its sales strategy, and navigated new opportunities.

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