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Podcasts

How Union Kitchen’s Ecosystem Helps Build Profitable Food Businesses

How Union Kitchen’s Ecosystem Helps Build Profitable Food Businesses

Union Kitchen is a shared-use kitchen and food business accelerator in in Washington D.C. While having a shared-use kitchen eliminates the need for capital for kitchen equipment, there are many other things food businesses need to raise capital for, which why they have distribution and retail outlets as part of their model. Their vertically integrated business and infrastructure – the kitchen, distribution and retail outlets – pairs with its accelerator program, which includes technical assistance, mentorship, classes and other means to help its members be successful. They have worked with over 400 businesses that have hired over 1,000 people and of those 400, 80 have opened their own storefronts. The financial community is more willing to provide capital to their member businesses because their ecosystem has allowed their members to prove that their products have traction in the marketplace and their operations are solid.

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Value-Added Producer Grants With Jim Gage

Value-Added Producer Grants With Jim Gage

James D. Gage Consulting is a firm that helps value-added farms and other agriculture clients problem solve in critical business areas so that they can be financially viable. Jim’s firm works as a value-added business strategist and creates a client-consultant relationship with entrepreneurs before writing a Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) for their business so that he can both write a better grant and provide more meaningful follow-up technical assistance to help them implement the grant. VAPGs include both Planning Grants (maximum: $75,000) and Working Capital Grants (maximum: $250,000). While the VAPG grant can be complicated (for example, a 75 page application plus Business Plan and third-party Feasibility Study), it requires applicants to critically consider expansion of the customer base and the marketplace for products as well as demonstrate how they will have sufficient business structures, profit and cash flow to operate in the long-term. Adding value-added as part of a farm’s business strategy is one of the key financial means to help farms transition to the next generation.

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Rightsizing The Ship: A Farmer’s Tale of Scaling Down

Rightsizing The Ship: A Farmer’s Tale of Scaling Down

Rufus Haucke is the owner of Keewaydin Farms, a 200-acre diversified organic vegetable farm that also works aggregating local farmer’s produce in a distribution business. The business’ sales peaked in 2012 at over $800,000 with Rufus coordinating production from over 100 different producers (including his own farm) throughout the season. However, he discovered that the bigger the business got, the more money it lost and that his moving aggregation functions off of his farm caused his operation to be less efficient at that level of sales. Now he had a decision to make: expand rapidly, likely to $2 million – $3 million in sales, or contract. He chose to contract. This has meant he still owes many of those suppliers money, one of the most difficult things about his decision. But, he has remained in open and honest communication with those producers and has focused on rebuilding relationships with them while right sizing the business to achieve profitability.

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Scaling Innovative Food Products At The Right Time

Scaling Innovative Food Products At The Right Time

Shari Leidich, founder of Know Brainer, started down the path of being a serial entrepreneur when she found out she had Multiple Sclerosis (MS). She turned her love for healthy, sprouted raw whole foods that helped mitigate her MS into products under the brand Two Moms in the Raw (now Soul Sprout). Shortly after she left Two Moms in 2016, she began to experiment with incorporating grass-fed ghee and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) oil into consumer products like individual creamers. The ideal market for their individual creamer products has been online with Amazon and their own online store while their multi-serve product is more of a conventional grocery item. Shari reflected that she knows more about how to grow the business the 2nd time around. Now that the company is growth mode, they are seeking investment. But, they are ensuring their product has traction and their processes are tight before partnering with investors, and that has meant saying no to some potential opportunities, at least for the time being.

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Impact Investing In Regenerative Agriculture

Impact Investing In Regenerative Agriculture

Eric White is a Principal at Cogent Consulting, a firm which helps social entrepreneurs and revenue-generating nonprofits raise social impact investments. Cogent also works with social impact investors to source investment opportunities and helps them build their portfolio strategy, including the incorporation of tools like Program Related Investments (PRIs). Eric feels that cash flowing and making money can coexist with goals of social impact as long as entrepreneurs “translate” their message for different audiences, including using the language of business models and finance when seeking investment. Eric thinks there are investable opportunities in companies that provide support for regenerative agriculture systems. And, he has seen smaller, donation-supported loan funds with loan amounts in the $15,000-$50,000 range – combined with technical assistance – fill a market gap for small entrepreneurs as they scale up and seek larger sources of financing later.

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How Seal The Seasons Matches Mission With Scale

How Seal The Seasons Matches Mission With Scale

Patrick Mateer is the Founder and CEO of Seal The Seasons, a brand of produce frozen on a state-by-state or region-by-region basis that is then distributed to those same communities’ grocery stores. They began production in one of the partitions of a shared-use commissary kitchen facility where they installed an Individually Quick Frozen (IQF) production freezer. They began partnering with a co-packer in 2017 and almost doubled their gross margin contributions as a result, passing more money to their farmer suppliers. Patrick has seen customers respond to Seal The Seasons’ vibrant packaging and messaging in addition to price promotions, in-store features/displays, store circular placement, newspapers/traditional media and connecting via online media to the grocery’s eCommerce site. Though they thought they would need to raise $1 million to $2 million to finance their operation, now they estimate that they will need two or three times that amount due to increased consumer demand for their products and supporting their sales growth in turn. Pitching each investor based on their unique preferences and needs has been one of the most difficult things Patrick has had to learn as an entrepreneur.

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How Top Note Tonics Pivoted Beverage Categories and Understood Their Market

How Top Note Tonics Pivoted Beverage Categories and Understood Their Market

Mary Pellettieri is the co-founder of Top Note Tonics, a company that makes complex and layered American craft mixers. Mary’s experience in sales, marketing, distribution and new product development/research and quality assurance, including at Goose Island and Miller/Coors, has allowed her to take calculated risks. Top Note has pivoted away from syrups towards niche ready-to-drink, already mixed sparkling tonics, using their foray into syrups to further understand the mixer category and build their brand. Mary reflected that having a good bank as a partner is important and that learning about money has been the most important and useful thing that she has picked up as an entrepreneur.

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MobCraft Beer’s Creative Sourcing of Recipes and Financing

MobCraft Beer’s Creative Sourcing of Recipes and Financing

MobCraft beer is a brewery and taproom with a unique business model of crowdsourcing ideas for beer recipes from their customers. Their brewery/taproom in Milwaukee cost just over $2 million to build. When MobCraft first started to raise money to finance their facility, they looked for institutional capital at first without much success and then pursued equity crowdfunding. Knowing how much equity they needed vs. debt to finance their facility build out and equipment needs helped them pitch specific asks to both banks and investors. They took advantage of the SBA 7a program to raise the debt they needed, talking to multiple banks before securing bank financing. They also worked with the landlord of their facility to help finance the improvements to the space, which worked as equity when approaching the bank. They then strategically sold their distribution rights to help raise cash.

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Growing Madison Sourdough Intentionally Through Vertical Integration

Growing Madison Sourdough Intentionally Through Vertical Integration

Dave Lohrentz is co-owner of Madison Sourdough, a bakery, café, patisserie and mill in Madison, WI specializing in sourdough breads. They have grown using a vertically integrated business model by adding a restaurant that highlights their baked goods and bakery. They have also added an artisanal grain mill to their production processes, sourcing much of the flour themselves from local producers. Dave has found it is difficult to get the local and unconventional grain supply chain to a robust enough point to have options for multiple actors in the chain. He advocates for entrepreneurs to use the lean startup model of trying things, talking to customers, learning from mistakes and pivoting quickly, rather than writing up elaborate business plans built on assumptions that may not be true and may change over time.

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Jonny Hunter Of Underground Food Collective On Thinking Bigger in the Food System

Jonny Hunter Of Underground Food Collective On Thinking Bigger in the Food System

Jonny Hunter, one of the founders of the Underground Food Collective, talks about the Collective’s growing as a series of horizontally integrated businesses. Their business model works because of infrastructure like a centralized production facility behind them to support their interrelated retail and manufacturing/processing businesses in an efficient manner across multiple product lines (meat, baking, pasta, fermented products) and multiple retail outlets (restaurants, events, butcher shops). He wishes that values around local and sustainable food could be used to create systems that have scalable efficiencies that are affordable to consumers and advocates for working together to build and sustain the infrastructure that would support processing and other means to scale up the local food system.

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