Developing your specialty food product

Steps for a Small Scale Food Business

As a Michigan State University Product Center counselor, I often hear my clients tell me about a great family recipe that they would like to use to start a small-scale food business. However, the process of making it safe for human consumption and government regulated is a key, and often overlooked, ingredient. 

Northeast Center for Food Entrepreneurship fact sheet, "Steps To Start A Specialty Food Business" lists the initial steps to getting a food product tested and ready for production.

  1. Take your recipe (AKA your prototype), and test it out on people. Collect and incorporate feedback on flavor, texture and appearance.
  2. Determine whether your product will be shelf-stable, refrigerated, frozen, baked, canned, etc. which is your “market form.”
  3. Determine how much you will make in each batch size for commercial production. A good start-up size for a liquid product (dressings, etc.) is 5-10 gallons. For solid product, consider a 15-25 pound batch.
  4. Consult a Process Authority to scale up your recipe. A Process Authority serves as an expert in regulatory processes. Take the following into consideration:The formulation may change due to regulatory and food safety requirements; testing (pH, water activity, etc.) may be required for compliance with regulations; It may take several attempts to achieve a scaled-up product comparable to the original; ingredient amounts will not change proportionately. For example, you may double the tomato sauce in a BBQ recipe but find you only need to slightly increase the amount of garlic.
  5. Get approval for your recipe from a Process Authority. This resulting document, a Scheduled Process, will help avoid product safety and quality issues.
  6. Determine the cost of ingredients based on your approved, scaled-up recipe.

The above steps and more are explained in a fact sheet, "Steps To Start A Specialty Food Business." This document is a publication of the Northeast Center for Food Entrepreneurship at the New York State Food Venture Center.

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