(Chicago, IL) It's the land of the titans in the food industry. And sometimes I feel like David without the slingshot. How do you compete with the multi-billion-dollar food giants? That's the question I ask myself most everyday, as we steer the fledgling family enterprise through the shark-infested waters of the food business. What possessed me to dive into the specialty food business? What does it take to compel a person to make the leap? Fighting a battle with insurmountable odds? Guess it's a lot of things. But it begins with a moment of inspiration.
It was 1999 when I had that "eureka' moment. Interestingly enough, we were in Havana, Cuba, traveling with then Illinois Governor George Ryan. A delegation of the top business leaders in the state were on a humanitarian mission to the island's capital city. But no one made a secret of the main objective to foster relations with the Cuban government to boost future business prospects, when relations are normalized between the US and Cuba.
Eating lunch with the delegation at a fancy tourist district restaurant, the moment arrived for the frijoles negros, or black beans and rice. This popular island delicacy is a popular staple in Cuban cuisine. The waiters brought the beans out with great pomp and ceremony. Frijoles negros recipes are jealously guarded. And the restaurant clearly had a lot of pride in what they assured us would be "the best black beans you've ever tasted."
But when I sampled the dish, my immediate reaction was, "this doesn't even come close to my secret family recipe," passed down from generation to generation by my Cuban ancestors. And that's how it began. I realized at that very moment that we (my family) had something very special in our artisan Cuban recipes.
When I returned to Chicago, I slowly started toying with the idea of marketing the old family recipe. In between the demands of raising a young family, I found spare time to research the market. And over the course of many years, I talked to industry professionals to learn about the process of marketing a food product. And the plan slowly started to come together.
So word to the wise if you're thinking about bottling an old family recipe? It'll take you some time to do the homework, research the market and hatch your plan.
And when you venture out among the giants, remember to bring your slingshot.