Secret Sauce: Getting Your Recipe to Market with New Seasons

The ingredient is different, but the dream is the same. Your grandmother always made the best barbecue sauce with a secret spice that she told no one but you. Or, for three generations, your family has won over dinner guests with their green cabbage kimchi because they add a dash of something unexpected. Maybe it’s the pasta sauce your Italian godmother cooked up to woo her husband-to-be, and then you made it, too. And now you want to bring that family recipe to market.

Where to begin? Google “recipe to market,” and the top result is a one-of-a-kind, 14-week course at the Small Business Development Center at Portland Community College called Getting Your Recipe to Market (GYRTM). The pioneering program was developed by the SBDC, the Food Innovation Center, and New Seasons Market, 

“The goal is to help entrepreneurs take their recipe and get it to a commercial-ready point at the end of the program,” says Jill Beaman, strategic advisor for GYRTM. Over each biannual 14-week course, experts cover topics that span from food science and safety to brand development and packaging to distribution and forecasting cost of goods.

“Before the course, when I interview each entrepreneur, I ask them to picture a year from now when they are up and running their food business,” says Jill. She wants them to envision their daily and weekly tasks — making and packing the product, launching promotions and demos, distributing, and marketing. “Because it’s not really efficient or feasible to do it all.”

Especially when many of the food entrepreneurs are pursuing their business in addition to maintaining a full-time job—”adding a whole other level of complexity,” says Jill. “For example, now you are renting kitchen space at 3 a.m., making product so that you can still get to work.” Then after a full day of work, labeling products into the wee hours again. “I’m always amazed at the passion and endurance.”

In the past decade, over 300 recipes have been brought to market by GYRTM graduates, ranging from raw, organic chocolate to chia chips. One of the most noted alums is Brazi Bites, a husband-and-wife team who appeared on ABC’s “Shark Tank” in 2015 and have national distribution for their traditional Brazilian cheese bread, inspired by a family recipe. 

“We measure success differently for everyone,” says Jill. “We also say that success is after you complete the program, you realize this is not for me, or this product is not feasible. That’s still success because we just saved someone a ton of time and money.” Some people come through the program with the goal to sell at local markets. For others, success is seeing their product on a shelf at New Seasons. 

“Part of our defining culture is to support the local food economy,” says Chris Tjersland, private brands development manager for New Seasons, when asked about the company’s commitment to the program. “But more so, through this course, we can be really connected to the local food economy in a different way.”

A certified B corporation since 2013, New Seasons adheres to the credo that business can be purpose-driven and works to create benefits for all its stakeholders, not just shareholders. The GYRTM program aligns with New Seasons’ mission to champion local, bolster community, and contribute to a regional economy. 

“We don’t want to just be a place to sell, we want to help entrepreneurs bring their concept to market and thrive in retail,” says Chris. A team at New Seasons is always on the hunt for new local products, but what sets them apart is how they nurture rookie entrepreneurs. “We are here to coach them,” says Chris, “which is a big part of it.”

When a new vendor comes in, New Seasons selects a group of stores for the launch, giving the vendor time to adapt to making deliveries, scheduling orders, and sampling products. “We start them small, and when they are ready, we look for more locations,” says Chris.

It’s popular for grocery stores to say they support local retailers, but New Seasons works to build relationships with the producers that go beyond simply putting products on the shelf and calling it a day,” says Chris Bailey, founder of Pozole to the People and a GYRTM alum. 

Coaching from New Seasons buyers is a key element of the GYRTM course, especially near the end, when the grocer hosts Evaluations Night. “Everyone thinks it’s like “Shark Tank,” but it’s not that scary at all,” says Jill. Entrepreneurs pitch and sample their product to 3–4 buyers at the New Seasons headquarters.

And it’s not final-exam mode, but more of a conversation that homes in on cost of goods and profit margins, what sells in the market and why. Other nitty-gritty factors discussed include how a product fits within allotted shelf space and how the product will demo. “The feedback is invaluable,” says Jill, and it provides each food business with targeted ways to fine-tune their creation.

In addition to logistics and detail, the buyers weigh in on story. “Often, when vendors present, all of the focus is on the product,” says Chris. “For me, their backstory is as important as the product, because the consumer connects to both.” Is the inspiration family heritage, like the Italian sauces from Sapori di Casa? Or does it connect to health, like Kember’s Gluten Free granola and mixes?

For some, their product evolves from restaurant legacy. The family-owned Tân Tân Café and Deli in Beaverton and Vancouver is releasing a line of Vietnamese sauces after completing GYRTM. “New Seasons has been the ideal first retail market to introduce our sauces because they are the most encouraging and patient partner for a local food startup such as ours,” says second-generation co-owner Lisa Tran.

“Because of the program, we get to introduce products that our competition doesn’t have,” says Chris. And open doors to diverse communities. As New Seasons expands into Washington and Northern California, they hope to grow this model by connecting with local food incubators and other mission-driven organizations.

Already on the radar is La Cocina in San Francisco’s Mission District, a kitchen incubator for minority and immigrant women-run food businesses, as are The Good Food Network and Business Impact NW in Seattle. “All three support local producers in different ways and provide valuable resources, from securing small producer loans to marketing and business planning,” says Chris.

For our food-loving city, this inventive collaboration of Portland Community College, Food Innovation Center, and New Seasons Market paves the path for more culinary dreamers.     

Edible Portland | May/June 2017

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