Market Research Your Food Business


Start Researching Your Dream Food Business

Do you dream of having your own food-based business? Want to know if you can make money living that dream? Before you start your own food business it’s important to market research your food business. This will help you to understand why customers might want to buy your products. You should look at all the factors involved in their decision-making process, all the way from personal reasons to cultural and social reasons. Start your market research now. Here’s how:

Primary Research

Primary Research as experts refer to it, is research carried out by you or others on your behalf. This is research, which answers your specific questions. Your primary research should focus directly on the customer and consist of first-hand contact. An example of this would be surveying people in your target group or speaking to them over the phone. Have you already been making your product (your pasta recipe, your craft beer etc.) for friends or family yet? Speaking to them first can be a great start to researching your new food business.

Secondary Research

Secondary research on the other hand is research, which already exists. It might be a study of bakeries in California or some statistics on the success of juice bars. Most likely, someone has already done some research about what you’re interested in doing, so find these companies or organizations and study what they’re doing now. They also may have written guides that you can read or have blogs that you can visit from time to time. You might even pick up the cook book of a food entrepreneur such as Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams* or that of a food blogger such as Ashton and find out how they started their brand.

Depending on what kind of food business you’re interested in, you might just want to concentrate on instant, first-hand research, like having people taste or try your product. Many food businesses begin life in a farmers’ market setting. It’s the ideal place to get immediate feedback and very helpful advice. You don’t have to heavily research what other people have done if you don’t want to, but it might give you some ideas that you haven’t yet thought of. Ultimately, it’s up to you and what you feel comfortable with.

Start with the basics

Regardless of which route you take, you are going to want to answer some basic questions. Some of these may include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • Who will your customers be?
  • What are they currently buying?
  • Why are they buying a particular product (or a rival brand)
  • Why would they want to buy from you?

Let’s quickly break these questions down. Ready?

Who will your customers be?

Think about who your target consumer is and start describing them. Think about them in terms of who they are and what they like. Many marketers describe this process as imagining your ‘avatar’ or perfect customer. Your ‘avatar’ will cross the road to buy your coffee. When your bagels are among 10 rival products on a supermarket shelf, they will select yours every time. They are on Facebook and Twitter marketing on your behalf. So who are these ideal customers?

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Are they male or female? Or does their gender not matter?
  • How old are they? Are they young, middle-aged, seniors?
  • What’s their income? Are they thrifty or do they have a large disposable income?
  • Are they individuals or a company, like a restaurant or distributor?
  • Do they live a certain type of lifestyle, like healthy or vegan?
  • Do they have special food needs, like gluten intolerance or a peanut allergy?

It’s a good idea to jot down as much information as you can about your potential customer. If you’re having trouble with this, think about the people who have already tried your product. If you have not yet produced your food products, imagine what they are likely to want.

What are they currently buying?

Once you have a general idea of who your (avatar) perfect customer is, you can start thinking about what their buying habits are like. Start to describe the types of purchases they may be making and from whom they may already be buying.

For instance, you can make an assumption, that people who buy “pre-made salad cups”:

  • Are health conscious
  • Don’t always have the time to make their own salads
  • Have the income to pay for food at this price point
  • Are possibly vegetarian or vegan (depending on their salad choice)
  • Are making an effort to eat more salad or enjoy the taste of leafy green veggies

Based on this example, try and work out how much they’re paying for these types of salads, where they’re buying them from, what kind of varieties are available to them, and how often they’re buying from their favorite shop.

Why are they buying a particular product?

It’s time to “get into the mind” of your ‘avatar’. Everyone is different so their reasoning and motivations are going to vary, but go ahead and give it a try. Remember, these answers are always going to be different for every type of food product you consider selling, so this is an exercise that you might have to repeat more than once.

Let’s continue using our “pre-made salad cups” as an example and examine our consumers mind. Why might they buy Tasty X Brand instead of Tasty Z Brand? Both tasty brands of pre-made salad cup have a wide variety of healthy options and zesty dressings.

Tasty X Brand happens to use only organic ingredients and has a carbon-offset program in place. (Full marks!) They advertise these facts heavily. Tasty Y Brand comes in a very handy cup that is made from bio-degradable materials and is also a dollar cheaper. They advertise their loyalty program and delivery service vigorously.

Is any one of these brands better than the other based on these differences? Not necessarily, but these differences can be a major contributing factor to which super tasty salad cup company a customer buys from. What are your ‘avatar’s’ needs likely to be?

Why would they want to buy from you?

This isn’t about Tasty X or Z brand though, it’s about you. So why would your ‘avatar’ want to buy your tasty food product as opposed to that of your competition?

First, consider what you’re already doing with your product that’s unique. Who benefits from it? What’s going to be so different about your pre-made salad cup that when given the choice, your ‘avatar’ will buy yours over another brand? What’s going to set you apart from the rest?

Let’s consider a new range of pre-made salad cups. Many of these companies already focus on environmental concerns and dietary concerns. Many companies focus on gluten-free, soy-free, lactose-free, legume-free and vegan needs, but have you ever tried to find a single product that is more than one of those things? Why not create a range of salad cups that include dressings and croutons that fit several of those needs?

Do you live in a large city with a busy downtown area, like Boston? Do you have the ability to do daily deliveries of your fresh salads to certain downtown locations? This is just another factor that can attract a customer to your brand. Be creative.

Whichever type of food business, there’s probably a great deal of information out there already. Customer buying and spending habits are normally closely studied, so check and see what trends are doing at the moment. Try and get as much information as you can in this way and it will help you to build a better business plan*.

Can we help you?

Would you like us to interview a particular business or someone in a particular area you would love to know more about? No problem! Perhaps there is some thing you would like to learn. We can marshal the expertise of our food business network contacts to address any aspect of the food or drinks business to help you. Simply fill in our contact form by clicking on this link.

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About Author

Mark Hayes - Editor

Graduating after 4 years at Shannon College of Hotel Management in Ireland, Mark worked in hospitality and restaurant management roles for ClubMed, Disney (in both Florida and Paris, France), Sheraton Hotels (Frankfurt, Germany) as well as management positions in restaurant chains in the UK. Mark completed an MBA in 2010 with a master's thesis focused on food franchise operations. Through interviewing food business owners, franchise-holders and food-vendors, Mark found that he really enjoyed finding out exactly what compels people to start food businesses and what it is they do to make them profitable and rewarding. In recent years, Mark has also run a successful farmer's market business with his parents, both of whom are passionate 'foodies'. From sourcing ingredients to making food by hand, packaging it, pricing it and selling it in a competitive marketplace, Mark wants to help you to make your food startup a success.