Food glorious food. The food industry is a large concern if we look at the entire value chain. From primary production, processing, preparation and finally selling of food to customers there’s a lot that goes on. It would only be right to divine a few lessons for businesses from an industry so large and essential to human life. Here are 5 lessons for entrepreneurs from the food industry.

It’s not just-food

While we may look at the food as the centre of the industry time and time again it has been proven that it’s not all about food. The man credited with bringing McDonald’s to the world had nothing to do with the burger business. Ray Kroc stumbled upon the McDonalds brothers assembly line styled burger business as a salesman of milkshake mixing machines. He joined the business and later bought them out. McDonald’s is the largest franchise business in the world today. Sadly not present in our country there is a valuable lesson to learn here, sometimes businesses have strange models. Google doesn’t make you pay for Google search, their money comes from selling adverts and data. Business is not always straight forward and a little creativity can go a long way.

Think outside the box

Speaking of creativity a law lecturer of mine once told a story of a restaurant in Paris France that made a surprisingly business-savvy decision. In the high-end restaurant game good food is only a part of the experience. Things like ambience and atmosphere take over and become more important. As such the restaurants simply make money by filling tables. At the right stage, you get booked in advance. The restaurant’s predicament was they were always fully booked and had no way to increase revenue. The owners decided to extend the seating area and close the kitchen, instead opening a kitchen in a part of town with cheaper rent. Using SMS and motorcycles they would transport food from the kitchen to the restaurant. Sometimes there’s another way of looking at things but you do have to step outside of the box or think like there is no box.

Keep it simple

In food, there is a simple truth that once you have a formula that works, changing it may be a very bad idea. Think of the Mazowe debacle. Schweppes thought they could make a more health-friendly version of their cordial drinks and that would serve customers better. What they didn’t realise was they were taking away something essential to the customer experience of the product. It didn’t take for them to realise their error after much public pressure and they reverted to the original formula. We are operating in drastic times and every entrepreneur has surely thought once or twice about cost-cutting if they haven’t already done it. It’s important to know what is vital to the customer and to keep the offer simple and in line with that.

Give it a try

Notwithstanding the above example, a little innovation is never a bad thing. I don’t have empirical evidence of this but I’m confident that history will show that experimenting with new flavours, formulae and recipes has recorded more failures than successes. The key, of course, is how it’s done. While Mazowe changed pretty much overnight they right way to do it is to offer as an alternative. New, limited edition, special or however else you spin it, innovation can open up new markets and customers if pursued correctly.

There’s room for many in an industry

Food is a great product because people always come back for it or at least they have to eat again at some point. You do the right things and they will likely come back to you. So perhaps because of the realistically infinite customer base, the food industry can look at the supply of customers as never-ending. Understandably some industries are not as fortunate. Customers are limited by many factors and competition is thick. This, however, doesn’t mean that you cannot work with your competition to grow the industry or market. In the process of completing many in fledgeling industries do not take time to establish a market standard or educate the potential customer base on the industry. Many people sell vegetables, how many communicate the challenges being experienced on the production side of the market? Collaboration need not be deep. There is plenty of room for many operators in an industry.

There is of course so much more we can learn from the food industry as it is wide as it is deep. These five takeaways are great lessons to learn from.