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Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center

Balancing the dreamable with the achievable

Unfortunately, no magic bullets exist when creating products. All ingredients come with pros and cons to consider. The successful entrepreneur must balance the dreamable with the achievable.

By Darren Scott

I recently purchased a dry-mix product from the grocery store. After I got home, I noticed the name and face of a famous television personality associated with food on the side of the package. As I read the list of ingredients, I was surprised by how typical it was. There were the base ingredients you would normally expect to find in such a product, but there also were an assortment of stabilizers, preservatives, conditioners and anti-clumping agents.

On television, this person is always certain to hit the buzzwords natural, simple, fresh, etc., and yet, it could be reasonably argued this flew in the face of that. However, rather than being annoyed or angry, I was content in the knowledge that while rhetoric may not always address reality in public, it will usually acknowledge it in private. In other words, to make a commercially feasible product, concessions to reality had to be made.

This can be an extremely helpful lesson for entrepreneurs to learn early on. Unfortunately, the temptation to follow questionable fads or even the mistakenly held belief of the supposed perfection of the recipe can prevent this from happening. Here are a few common challenges entrepreneurs must face.

All new, all the time.

One advantage often attributed to small companies is their ability to rapidly adjust production to follow the latest trends. However, a new company already struggling to meet the demand of manufacturing one or two flavors of product should think long and hard before attempting to manufacture four or five. Are the recipes basically the same except for a few minor ingredients, or are they radically different? Can the ingredients be purchased from current suppliers, or will new suppliers, along with new accounts, be needed? Can they be made on existing equipment, or will new equipment need to be purchased?

Everything but the kitchen sink.

The temptation for some entrepreneurs is to manufacture products with recipes a mile long and absolutely every last ingredient is indispensable. However, entrepreneurs are closer to their recipes and will notice things their customers won’t. Will anyone notice the flavor difference between gourmet sea salt and regular sea salt? Will anyone notice the difference between extra virgin olive oil and virgin olive if it comprises only 2 percent of the recipe weight? If a spice makes up only 0.15 percent of the recipe weight, will anyone notice if it is removed entirely?

So close, yet so far.

This point is slightly opposite of the one above (ahh, there’s nothing like being a contrarian, especially in the same article). Simple, clean labels, along with their associated recipes, are popular with consumers, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, the entrepreneur needs to recognize the limitations these recipes may place upon their products. It may not be possible to manufacture a food consisting of only five “natural” ingredients and expect it to function, cost and last as long as one made with seven ingredients, two of which are chemical/synthetic. Will consumers be accepting of a product that separates after a week because no stabilizers or emulsifiers were used? Will consumers be willing to pay more for a product that spoils faster because the natural preservative is more expensive and less effective?

Unfortunately, no magic bullets exist when creating products. All ingredients come with pros and cons to consider. The successful entrepreneur must balance the dreamable with the achievable.