Suppose you inherited some truly stunning recipes for cookies so good that you envisioned baking and selling them commercially. How would you get started?
Buying bigger pots and pans, or maybe a second range and larger refrigerator, would not begin to provide the necessary logistic, equipment, or production support. And, what about regulatory compliance, liability, and health regulations? Or packaging, distribution, and sales? Each factor, if mishandled, can individually sink the whole adventure.
Many people turn to a contract packager, or co-packer, for services that can include actually making the products. Using your recipe, a co-packer might bake, package, and label the cookies, taking on much of the detail work, and also much of the control. The Artisan Exchange in West Chester, Pa., and similar organizations offer an alternative path to production.
“Decisions matter,” said Frank Baldassarre, a principal at the Artisan Exchange, a part of Golden Valley Farms.
Golden Valley Farms imports and roasts coffee — robust, full-flavored, USDA-organic, fair trade-certified, and bird-friendly coffee. In the same low-rise warehouse, Golden Valley also rents 130-square-foot food production spaces for specialty food makers. Each space comes complete with regulatory approval, centralized utilities and facilities, and shared production areas. The facility is even approved for organic processing.
The Artisan Exchange has assisted specialty food producers go from idea to market in as little as one month by providing “... an affordable environment that supports entrepreneurs committed to producing hand-crafted, sustainable foods while sharing sound business practices that have a positive social impact.”
“Don’t use the word ‘incubator,’” cautioned Baldassarre. “We don’t want to just incubate; we want to foster and sustain. ... Our longest member has been here four years. ... It’s all about mutual support and sharing knowledge.”
Who’s getting what
Currently, 54 companies rent space in the Artisan Exchange. Member companies that thrive in a collaborative environment can receive assistance with insurance, liability, packaging, and other elements required for bringing their products to market.
Sales and distribution are always problems. The Artisan Exchange has created a network, selling to the likes of Whole Foods, Aramark, and 30 other locations. On Saturdays, the building’s central, truck-accessible distribution corridor serves as an indoor artisan food market, enabling member companies to sell directly to the public. The Saturday market publicizes the vendors, generates cash flow, and enables members to “beta test” new products. Thirty to 50 vendors can see as many as 750 potential customers on a good day.
As a food production hub, the Artisan Exchange also offers a 1,000-square-foot commercial kitchen, available to members needing to scale up production. The kitchen also offers hourly rentals, food classes, demonstrations, and a low cost point of entry into the Artisan Exchange.
“Ownership matters,” said Baldassarre. “Artisan Exchange helps people become part of the entrepreneurial class.
“It’s also preservation of food cultures. We currently have 23 countries represented, including Indian, Mexican, Russian, Chinese, Italian, Southern American, Latin, German, and even vegan. Some members are using family heirloom recipes.”
Perhaps most importantly, the Artisan Exchange encourages a holistic approach to producing foods. Baldassarre brings in experts in various industries to help members grow, improve their businesses, and retain more control over their finished products.
Take another serious look at your stunning inherited cookie recipes. A basic question: Do you have the time, energy, patience, commitment, and deep pockets necessary to bring them to market? If the answer is “yes,” the Artisan Exchange represents one possible production method and venue.
This month’s recipes complement most any cookie.
2 cups coffee
1/3 cup cocoa
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup whipping cream
Dash of cinnamon
Mix cocoa, sugar, coffee, and milk in a saucepan. Heat over medium heat, constantly stirring, until simmering. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour into four cups and top with whipped cream and cinnamon.
1 measure of Irish whiskey
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 heaped dessert spoon of whipped cream
Hot strong coffee to fill the glass
Pre-warm a stemmed glass. Add the whiskey. Add the sugar and stir in the coffee. Float the whipped cream on top. Do not stir after adding the cream. Drink the coffee through the cream.