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Is Market Feasibility Boot Camp Right for You?

August 23, 2018

By Charmian Christie, The Messy Baker

Got a food concept you’re ready to flesh out? Have a well-received product but don’t know if it can become a viable business? The Food Starter Market Feasibility Boot Camp (MFBC) just might be for you. This 12-week program is designed specifically for early-stage and pre-revenue food entrepreneurs looking to see if they should take things to the next level. Sessions run on weekends and evenings to fit your already busy schedule. We provide research tools, mentoring opportunities, expert advice, and peer feedback. By the end, you’ll have everything you need to make that critical go or no-go decision with confidence.

To give you an idea of the benefits of this unique program, we spoke with the following Food Starter MFBC graduates, and asked them to share a bit about their experiences. Their answers are as diverse as their products.

Marla Boehr (MB) of Milk & Honey Pie Company

Wallace Wong (WW) of Six Pack Chef

Larissa Esquivel (LE) of Violeta Patisserie & Catering

Tell me a bit about your company / product?

MB: We specialize in local seasonal fruit pies, using only the highest quality ingredients — fruits from Ontario in season, all butter crust. We use the bounty of the season.

WW: We are still not launched, but what we do is healthy and delicious, guilt-free food products. Six Pack Chef will be the parent company with two product lines — one is a sauce line, the other line is a confectionary.

LE:  I do catering and pastries, both Continental and Mexican cuisine. I’ve been doing it for the past 15 years. I started in Mexico City and emigrated to Canada 6 years ago. The MFBC is more product-oriented, so I thought I’d do a spicy salsa.

What stage were you at when you entered MFBC?

MB: I just had an idea. I had been ruminating on the idea of a pie company for years, but was involved in another industry. But [a pie company] was stuck in my head. I didn’t have the tools to know how to start it. I would just try things at home. Also, I just couldn’t find a delicious, indulgent piece of pie in Toronto, the type where you want to lick the plate clean — Flaky butter crust, juicy filling. I haven’t found it here and thought, “Maybe there’s an opportunity.”

WW: Out of a 10, with zero being you know nothing and 10 is launch, we were at a 2. We knew the product, knew what we wanted to do. I was going to do it no matter what, but for me it [MFBC] was a good time to cross reference and double-check my work.

LE:  I had been doing the salsa recipe from home for years. I had the recipe, but I didn’t know how to go about production.

What decision (go / no go) did you arrive at?

MB: The GO decision. Even after taking the class, it’s still overwhelming. Not only do you have to source the ingredients, you have to make the product yourself or outsource. It’s a lot. It’s overwhelming.

WW: For us it was a GO decision. The only issue was getting our product developed and created. That caused us not to launch yet.

LE: For the salsa, I decided it was a NO GO. I might return to the idea if I organize myself better and get some of the funding in place.

What lead you to that decision?

MB: I felt I was equipped enough [by the end of the course] to move forward, especially having ongoing support. The Food Starter staff was key, as was the encouragement and support of friends and family.

WW: It’s more betting on the jockey and not the horse. I had the connections —  who to go to, how to sell it. I just needed the product.

LE: When I met with experts at the end [of the program], I learned it would cost $25,000 to get a product off the ground successfully. Also, I learned that salsa and chips are the hardest market to break into.

One of our Market Feasibility Boot Camp cohorts.

What aspect or stage of the program was most helpful to you?

MB: For me it was the business side of it. I don’t have a background in business planning. Crunching numbers is not my forte. I knew that wasn’t my strong point going in, and I learned a lot. I was more comfortable with the design aspect. I was comfortable with recipes and ingredients. Just not the numbers.

Also, as you scale the business, it was good to know what things you should be aware of — even from a sanitation stand point.

WW: The most beneficial part was just being around other entrepreneurs.

LE:  I really like the last stage, although I would have liked to have known the costs ahead of time.

Many courses are done online. Food Starter’s MFBC is in-person. What benefit does this provide?

MB: I had done online school and what’s missing was interaction with others, just brainstorming together. I was at such an emerging stage, I needed the ideas flowing around the room, as well as the enthusiasm and excitement. Other people in real time can’t be replaced by technology.

WW: Communication. Being able to talk about problems, how to do things, discuss where we make mistakes. Sometimes online you can’t talk about things. But in-person, when a discussion happened, you’d hear, “Yes! I had the same issue…”

LE: I love hearing about other people’s ideas and hearing all the questions and the answers from whoever was leading each session. It is very helpful.  You learn a lot from the other people.

Did the MFBC provide things you couldn’t find elsewhere? If so, what?

MB: I could have gone a different route — I know other food entrepreneurs who have done well. The city provides a lot of resources, but I like that we are all in one comprehensive unit. It was nice for me because I needed the structure to propel me forward. I have two little kids, so finding time is hard.

WW: What it provided was specific people. For example, having a marketing class with a certain company. It didn’t give [information] you couldn’t find online, but it gave access to experts.

LE: Being able to get together with an expert was great.

[Regarding the $25,000 investment] I couldn’t find out [the costs] any other way. I had been researching online, but you can’t find all the information easily. If you want to get quotes you already need to have something very clear in your mind. That’s what’s great about meeting with Food Starter experts. They have all the expertise. They know what they are talking about, so you can get a realistic ball park figure from them.

What advice would you give someone deciding whether or not to take MFBC?

MB: I would say it’s worth the time and money. It’s a once-a-week course in the evening or weekend. For that sort of thing it’s a reasonable price point, gives you the tools to move forward — or not. Especially if you’re not coming from a food background.

WW: I would tell them A) You’re not going to be able to launch right after the course. Don’t have that expectation. But it [MFBC] is definitely a good way to double check to make sure you looked at all the things you should look at before you start. It’s a good checking point. You don’t want to miss something crucial.  And B) It’s also good for discussion. Other people come up with positive or negative points about your brand that you might not have figured out.

LE: Go in knowing what you want, so you can make the most of the boot camp. Be sure to have a clear idea. I wasn’t very decided — should I go into the catering side or the salsa side? That was my own indecision. I also think it would be great if they knew to launch a product successfully it will cost $25,000.

These interviews have been edited for the purpose of clarity and brevity.

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