A consistent and great-tasting product.
A compelling story or element of your brand that motivates customers to invest in your product.
A great customer experience, that can range from your customer service to your packaging.
As part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Moore who recently joined the team at Proof Incubator as Programs Lead. Before joining Proof, Tim most recently spent a half-decade at Co.Lab (the Company Lab), a business accelerator headquartered in Tennessee. At Co.Lab, Tim ran their consumer goods program, which helped food startups launch successfully and bring new products to market. He’s worked with a long list of groups, from rum distillers and creameries to chocolate startups and specialty spice creators. At Proof, Tim employs his expertise to help food startups get off the ground across the Southeast.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Sure! I grew up in Cleveland, Tennessee, which is a quintessential small town. In college, I swore I would move somewhere unique from the area I grew up in, but then I started going to visit the Sunday, open-air market in Chattanooga, which was just one county away. I fell in love with the city’s thriving ecosystem of makers and producers, and that is ultimately what led me to want to get plugged into the community in Chattanooga. More than five years later, I’m excited to be working full-time with entrepreneurs in the food and beverage space with the team at Proof Incubator.
Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?
Though I haven’t created my own food brand, I’ve worked with a long list of entrepreneurs in that space to help them get their products successfully to market. If I had an “ah ha” moment, it was to focus my energies specifically on this industry. Before joining the Proof Incubator team, I worked at an entrepreneurial accelerator that had its hand in multiple industry verticals. While there, I had the chance to lead a consumer products cohort, wherein many of the participants were working to launch food-related brands. I loved that experience and decided then that I wanted to dive more deeply into that world.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Thankfully, I haven’t goofed too much, though I’m sure there are plenty of funny mistakes to come.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food line? What can be done to avoid those errors?
One of the most common missteps I’ve seen is when founders try to offer an overly wide variety of products from the start. Some of the most successful food brands you see on shelves, even if they offer a dozen or two SKUs now, started out with a small number of core products. When you focus on offering a limited number of core products, not only does it help create a clear message to your customers about who you are, it also helps you manage your own costs and operations more effectively. Producing and selling a large range of products, especially when starting out, can be incredibly expensive and, if you are producing on your own, certainly time-consuming. My advice to anyone starting out is to establish what your core product is, use that to penetrate the market and build a customer base and loyalty, and eventually roll out other products once you’ve built a name for yourself.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
I would first do as much research as you can into who the current competitors are in the space, and identify where there may be gaps as far as their product offerings and target customers. At the same time, I would try developing a test version of your product and start doing tastings with friends, family, and colleagues to get their opinions (and even non-existing contacts, if you really want honest feedback!). If you think there is room for you to carve out your own piece of the market, consider a soft launch of your product into the marketplace and use that to continue gathering feedback that informs your product development.
Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?
It’s no secret that fear can be the biggest obstacle preventing someone from starting a business. To overcome that, a step you can take is to surround yourself with a network of people who will encourage and support you. Most regions have entrepreneur support centers like Small Business Administration (SBA) offices or nonprofit organizations that can lend an ear to you and provide guidance on actionable steps to take. From there, I recommend you look for ways to validate your idea. That can look like offering free samples of your concept to people in the community for feedback, or by doing market research. And if you get a sense of demand and validation in that process, ride that wave to launch your business venture.
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
I think you can find a balance of both! For product development in the food and beverage space, I think it is absolutely worth reaching out to someone with R&D experience to see if they are willing to walk you through a typical R&D process that could help prevent mistakes or unneeded work in the long run. However, if you can’t find someone who has the time or bandwidth, it’s worth giving product development on your own a shot.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
There are so many pathways to funding a business, more so today than ever before. I think the best way to decide the path for you is to consider your goals for the business and what steps you want to take with it. If you are looking at your food and beverage venture as more of a “lifestyle” business and not as much one that you want to mass scale, I recommend looking for ways to bootstrap or via lending options (both traditional and nontraditional).
Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?
If you have a food and beverage product and want to expand through retail distribution, I recommend starting by getting in the door with a local store. Oftentimes, major retailers will look at how your product performs in a single store or market and determine its viability for wider distribution from there. I say start building relationships with those retail managers or decision-makers and get their insights on ways you can set yourself up for potential success with that retailer down the road.
Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- A consistent and great-tasting product.
- A compelling story or element of your brand that motivates customers to invest in your product.
- A creative and well-thought-out online presence.
- A great customer experience, that can range from your customer service to your packaging.
- A great team that can help you build infrastructure for growth.
Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?
Think of a product feature or element that makes you stand out from the competition. It could be something about your actual product or your brand positioning that helps you do this. A great example I have seen is Grillo’s Pickles. The pickle industry is saturated with a number of products and has been led by companies like Mt. Olive in terms of scalability. However, Grillo’s in just a few years has risen to the ranks of the most interesting pickle brands out there, particularly due to the distinction of their product (unpasteurized, fresh pickles in the refrigerated section) as well as an iconic brand image of a pickle on a lawn chair, which has even put on t-shirts at Urban Outfitters and launched partnerships with sneaker brands.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I see myself as an empowerer, and through that, I hope that I can multiply my efforts — through the many people and organizations I work with — to reach more individuals positively. I’m fortunate to collaborate with literally hundreds of people to bring their ideas to fruition, and as each of them grows their success to touch more lives, my efforts are multiplied.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
In the coming months, I would love to see a way to continue supporting the impoverished people in our communities while also supporting restaurants.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Personally, I really admire Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder of Chobani. The story behind Chobani and how he started the business is incredible. They are constantly innovating while also staying true to their values. And now the company is investing so much back into the food and beverage ecosystem to support continued innovation.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.