A lot has changed in the world of food over time. From it being completely normal for people to eat just about everything baring those with an allergic reaction, we now live in an environment where for dietary or other reasons people seek speciality food and ingredients. For the astute and enterprising there’s a good business opportunity in there. It requires a bit of marketing savvy and an understanding of the customer. Let’s look at the business idea and the keys to making it work.
It would be much easier to give examples than to try to fully explain what speciality ingredients consist of as this is a wide variety. Celiac disease and gluten intolerance have become a big talking point in the last 50 or so years. Gluten is a protein naturally occurring in wheat which people cannot fully digest and may cause complications for some. Solutions to this include items like rye. Let’s take a look at the banting diet which has taken the world by storm. Banting is a Low Carbohydrate, High Fat (LCHF) diet which encourages the consumption of fresh fruits vegetables and meat. Then there’s the case for people on diabetic and sugar restricted diets who prefer brown grains such as zviyo, millet, mapfunde to the white maize meal. There’s more! It’s not just about people chasing certain diets as many people look for speciality ingredients out of want.
A brick and mortar shop is great but a bricks and clicks is the best approach. Speciality ingredients do not always have concentrated markets. The markets may be large but not entirely homogenous, take the gluten-free market, the gluten intolerant are randomly distributed. Wider reach will be of much greater importance to you. You may even be able to forego the bricks and just sell online entirely. If you are going to open a physical shop you do not require much space. Enough to display products and have adequate storage. Location is not much of an issue, most of your clientele will gladly go through hell and high water for the products you stock.
Of all the things you will do this one is going to be the most important. You operate in a market (food) that is saturated but still has underserved segments. Therefore your major goal is not the awareness part of marketing but rather positioning. So paying attention to the “why” behind those customers who want what you’re selling will help you greatly. It will also tell you where to find your customers which is equally important. You will find them online and offline groups having conversations about what they’re looking for. Social listening will do you a world of good. Understand that it’s not a one size fits all. While banting fans may want something that is recommended in the banting diet books there are local alternatives that are in abundance that can do the job and this is your chance. This will require a deeper understanding of the need for the ingredient and the ability to clearly point out that the alternative is adequate.
Products and Packages
While speciality ingredients are sought on their own they are not always used on their own. Say you decided to sell Red onions, for example, you can sell them alone but they are often consumed in salads. With this knowledge, you can sell them in a salad pack that features other popular salad ingredients. This has disadvantages to consider. This will require extra investment in inventory of products that people could find elsewhere. Assuming you’re also selling these additional things at a mark up that is overall greater absolute profit for you. This is a move you want to pull when you have regular clients and roll out carefully.
Your customer could be anyone but is certainly not everyone. You may need to be careful with how you market your products. If you overly focus your marketing messages on ailments you risk the prospects having negative associations with your business. Marketing something as low sugar makes better sense than marketing it as diabetic. While the latter will probably get you, customers, in the long run as soon as they have an alternative they will likely go for that. The nature of the products means you operate in a niche and niches can extract higher prices with proven customer value. Speak in terms the customer understands.
Just a quick note on suppliers. I’m going to focus on fresh vegetables but I hope it will illustrate the idea clearly. With many Zimbabweans venturing into small market gardens you have an opportunity to build a strong supply chain. So instead of waiting until something is on the market, you could bring it to the market. In consultation with your customers and their needs of course. Understand that introducing new products you must allow time for customers to gain awareness and the products to gain traction in the market.
Finally, the allure of serving every single customer with specific food ingredient needs is appealing but very difficult to pull off in practice. You may be better served by initially focusing intensely on a sub-niche and build slowly into other sub-niches.