By Djenaba Johnson-Jones
Rising food entrepreneurs are often energetic to hit the market, make their mark with their culinary delights, and entice new customers with their service or product. Many have spent months—even years—testing out their treats, customizing new recipes, and perfecting their packaging. But what some are lacking is the ability to tell their authentic story—a story that helps them stand out from the competition and connect with their customers.
Each week, I have the pleasure of speaking with food entrepreneurs who are at the beginning of their brand story journeys. They express excitement over their new product or business concept. They’re a bundle of nerves and energy, anxiousness and delight as they look to grow their business from the infancy stage. Many ask that I keep their project a secret, even going as far as asking me to sign a non-disclosure agreement. As you can imagine, I hear a lot of the same ideas (baking and meal prep businesses are very popular these days!).
So, what distinguishes one business from another? Since there are tons of similar products, food trucks and restaurants ideas, I like to do some digging to find out what motivated each entrepreneur to start a food business. My biggest question is always: “How will you differentiate your business from your competitors’ businesses?” I explain that it’s not enough to be, for example “organic” or “gluten-free.” Consumers want to connect with you. They want to know the “why” behind your business.
They want to know your story.
Entrepreneurs must be able to articulate personal experiences, explain their desire to solve a problem or share how this business fulfills a personal aspiration. These are important aspects of connecting with your target audience. It is that connection that turns first-time customers into loyal consumers of your brand.
Here are some tips on developing your own brand story:
Stop trying to add a “cool” or “bold” factor to your narrative. Your story is YOUR story. Share it with pride and honesty. If it’s important to you, it will likely resonate with others.
Embrace your differences.
What differentiates your culinary creations from others? Look for opportunities to stand out by taking the time to analyze your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. What ingredients do you use that others don’t and why? Where do they sell or distribute their products or services and how does that differ from your plan? How is your product or service delivered to your customers?
Illustrate with details.
Share stories and be specific. These details help share your personality, your passion, and your purpose. Think about what led you to start your food business in the first place. Did your child have an allergic reaction? Did your family pass down recipes that you are looking to commercialize? Did a mistake in the kitchen lead you to discover a new twist on an existing product? How does your background connect you to the community or target market? Is there something unique about your menu or production process? These characteristics all make up your brand story, and often there are others who will be able to relate to you because your experience is similar to theirs.
Share your timeline.
What key milestones helped you along your journey? Did you start cooking when you were in elementary school? Has your business been a 10-year dream in the making while you toiled in corporate America? Or did you take a leap of faith six months ago, and the pieces are starting to fall into place? Whether the journey has been long or short, the experience has been yours. There is no right or wrong path to take. There is just YOUR path.
Be realistic yet aspirational.
Where you are today may not be where you want to be in 2 or 5 years. Share your aspirations while ensuring they are grounded in realistic statements and not “pie in the sky” thinking. Are you planning to grow from food truck to restaurant, or farmers market to grocery store? Do you want to start with a handful of cookies and grow into a full line of desserts? What does success mean to you? Share that journey and you invite customers to take the ride along with you.
Every entrepreneur’s experience is different. Some are culminations of childhood dreams, others are adult visions realized. Whatever your brand story, it is YOURS. Embrace it, describe it and express it to make a connection with your customers. When you invite people into your entrepreneurial journey and share your personal experiences, you offer them a glimpse behind the food products and additional insight into your unique service. You offer them a chance to believe in you, grow with you, and share in your successes.
This article was originally featured on the Total Food Service website, a publication that delivers the latest news, insights, and interviews focused exclusively for the world’s largest food service and hospitality capital of the word, Metro New York..