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Area Food Producers Find Opportunity at Feast Marketplace

Becky Scarberry of Becky's Blissful Bakery offers samples of her gourmet caramels.

Its tagline is “Seoul for your food.” The final variation of KC Kye’s K-Mama Korean hot sauce came after 100 tries and he describes it as “initially sweet with a rich a buttery middle and a spice burn at the end.” Kye, last year’s People’s Choice Award winner at the Feast Local Foods Marketplace in Rochester, was back for the event December 1-2 to offer samples of his sauces and learn more about marketing his product to the foodservice industry as K-Mama expands to retail locations in all 50 states.

From selling the sauce at farmers markets around the Twin Cities to soon being available across the country, Kye and his Minneapolis-based K-Mama business are the exact kind of success story the founders of Feast want to become commonplace. From the first Feast event in November 2014, founders Jan Joannides and Brett Olson and their team have grown Feast to include nearly 100 food producers whose products are made in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin and who source the majority of their ingredients from the same three states.

Feast started from the idea of “making rural places better places to live,” said Olson, by giving those working in local agriculture more outlets for their products. It’s expanded to include everything from locally raised meats to fermented foods, salsas and vegan snacks.

And Feast extends far beyond the two-day event.

“With the Feast Local Food Network, we offer business assistance, mentorships, advice on how to access capital,” said Olson. “We provide a lot of resources for food producers.”

Many of those resources were being put to use December 1, when food entrepreneurs gathered in advance of the public marketplace to gain operational insight, discuss ways to strategically invest in their brands and showcase their products to buyers.

“It’s not just about the initial sale,” Tony Saarem, operations director for GoMacro, and organic energy bar company in Viola, Wisconsin, advised producers. “You need ongoing maintenance with accounts to build relationships. And you need to be at a point where you can deliver a consistent product.”  

Tera Johnson, who founded nutritional whey protein supplement company Teraswhey and now advises entrepreneurs through the UW-Extension’s Food Finance Institute, said when it comes to attending buyer-focused tradeshows, young companies need to first know their target market.

“Be really strategic about understanding who is going to be most likely to buy and make sure events will have those buyers,” said Johnson. “Buyers are looking to you to be the expert in your category.”

Rita Katona, who created Minneapolis-based food and beverage company So Good, So You to produce cold-pressed juices, coffees and now baby foods, advised clearly defining the brand from the very beginning “because it becomes the filter for everything, every future decision you make for your brand.”

For food producers who want to get their products into restaurants, John Byom said it’s important that they think of their products as ingredients and consider potential uses by chefs on their restaurant menus. Byom, owner of specialty foods distributor Classic Provisions, encouraged people to first check out the menus at any restaurant they want to approach and come up with ideas for how their products can fit in.

“And when you’re developing product lines, create those that can bridge both foodservice and grocery,” Byom said.

Learn more about the Feast Local Foods Marketplace and its resources HERE.

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