There is a new trend afoot in the restaurant industry: going into retail. In the past few years, restaurants and chefs have retailed best-selling menu items to boost their food brands. Some have had a great deal of success—for instance, New Orleans celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse lines the pasta aisle with his prepared pasta sauces, and world-famous chain restaurant TGI Fridays has a popular line of frozen prepared foods. And when Whataburger announced that it would retail its signature condiments, Texans went wild.
You don’t have to be a household name to go retail, though. Just as one example, in 2010, Charlie McKenna opened Lillie’s Q in Bucktown, Illinois, as chef and owner. He soon launched a small line of hot sauces that became a national hit. Today his retail food line includes rubs, potato chips, and Bloody Mary mixes and is sold at big-box retailers including Target, Whole Foods, and Crate and Barrel.
Turning best-selling items into mass-market products presents an opportunity for every restaurant. It’s a great step to consider. On one side, it’s an effective promotional method to reach a wider audience, and on the other, retail serves as an alternative stream of revenue. “Restaurants have been hit really hard over the past few years and have been searching for alternative revenue streams,” says Mary Valentino-Carter, owner of Food Trade Consultants. “Many don’t realize how easy it can be to get their product in a bottle and start making money quickly, within four to six weeks even.”
If you have a sauce or food item that customers can’t get enough of, then going into retail might be an avenue worth pursuing. The trick is to offer a quality product while mitigating the risks. Below we reveal four crucial points restaurants need to look at when turning a best-seller into a bottled retail item.
Choose Your Signature Product
What item on your menu do customers ask about the most often? This should be your signature product. You want your existing customers to share their excitement with their community, so you can take advantage of word of mouth. The buzz around your product should inspire return visits from old customers and first-time visits from new ones. If your signature menu item is well received, you could end up with more retail sales.
If you don’t have a signature item, you don’t have to exclude yourself from the fun. Do some research into companies that specialize in creating products based on existing menus.
Keep in mind that you want to offer something unique to store shelves. For instance, offering your special recipe of mayonnaise might not be the ideal first product to bring to market, as it probably wouldn’t get the recognition it deserves when placed next to beloved brand names like Kraft or Heinz.
Have Cohesive Branding
Going into retail will put a spotlight on your company—so what do you plan on telling your new audience? It could be your history, your expertise, or even your quirkiness. Find the most authentic way of sharing your brand.
The retail world has become more visual than ever, so excellent packaging is essential. If you don’t believe us, just consider how important your front of the house is. The first impression customers have of your restaurant is from the host or hostess, who can affect customers’ entire dining experience. The same goes for your packaging: First impressions are everything. Find a top-quality packaging firm that will help you get all the important details straight. Those details include the bottle or other container’s shape, material, and color.
Most importantly, your label needs to ring true to your brand, with a cohesive aesthetic. For instance, if you focus on sustainable farming practices, your design should invoke those qualities and avoid “sterile” designs. In general, keep your visuals inviting and appetite-stimulating.
Don’t Oversell Your Product
Remember the old adage: No one likes to be sold, but everyone likes to buy. At some pint in time, we’ve all been at the receiving end of a poorly put sales pitch, and there no denying how awkward if not annoying such experiences can be. The truth is that consumer attention spans are getting shorter; there so much to be distracted with, which has equally affected the tolerance for irrelevant information.
Take a discreet approach when you sell your products at your restaurant location. To avoid seeming like a continually running commercial, integrate the products into your menu, and train serving staff to mention them. It’s often the case that customers will ask about a dish or sauce they enjoy. For an organic sales approach, take advantage of those opportune moments to introduce the item’s commercial availability.
Get a Co-Packer You Can Work with Long Term
The most important partnership you can make when taking a restaurant product to retail is with a trustworthy co-packer. That’s because your existing restaurant recipe, with its fresh ingredients, most likely cannot withstand the test of time or cost-effectiveness while in transit. Co-packers help to formulate a new recipe with ingredients that increase the product’s shelf life and are, in most cases, cheaper.
Because it’s difficult to produce your menu item with the same ingredients on a large scale, many chefs and restaurants have pulled their products off the shelves. A poorly managed retail item can have a lasting and negative impact on your brand. A co-packer finds alternatives that maintain the quality and flavor of your product, without the expensive ingredients that you might be using at your restaurant.
If you find that mass-market demands require too great a change to your recipe, successful restaurant-item retailer Jared Van Camp of Element Collective recommends selling on a small scale. By starting out small and scaling up slowly, you might have a greater chance at success
Use a Local Delivery Service to Distribute Your Food Product
Remember when you drove all the way across the state to your newest retailer? It was great the first time, but re-stocking the shelf with your second order was a lot of gas and time. That’s where local delivery companies come in hand. For just a couple bucks, they’ll likely pick up and deliver your product for you – and you don’t have to go anywhere. In Vermont, several companies do this. It’s $15 for up to 50 pounds – and for us, that’s a normal order. Beats driving two hours for one delivery!
In The End, The Customer Is All That Matters
Rather than throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, it’s advisable to take your time t figure out what works. Actually, engage your customers and find out what appeals to them, and also what’s relevant to their current situation.
Remember to ask relevant questions to discover needs and create value for the customer based on their answers. Learn how to communicate only relevant information at the appropriate times. Your assumption and values don’t matter at this stage, take them out the picture and completely on your customer and on finding a solution that fit their needs.