How to Cook Ostrich (yea.)

Now I know the internal temp to which one should cook Emu and Ostrich. Seriously, the licensing classes and food prep certifications are important but some of it is just complete common sense or NA, unless I guess, if you live in an yurt off-grid then sanitary food prep is probably last on your list right after finding potable water. (DISCLAIMER: I’m sure if you live in an yurt, it’s very nice and sanitary. I’m not picking on you for your choice of abode, I’m just using you as a comedic device so I hope you don’t mind…and if you do live in an yurt, I prefer to think of it decorated like the inside of the “I Dream of Jeannie” bottle)

Back to the ketchup.

Found bottles, but need logo before I can get the license I was told I need when I called DOH about four months ago!

Short post cuz I’m racing to get this thing going! Ketchup later!

It's Distribution, Distribution, Distribution!

So, I’ll spare you the backstory but I completed the Better Process Control School class and it was every bit as exciting as you would think it would be! Who knew processing acidified foods was a “thing” in academia. At least it’s done. This week I’m concentrating on how to set up a Shopify commerce site so I can start selling Chumley’s Natural Ketchup to you and all your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, all the people you know!

So, back to business. One of the things I’ve been really struggling with (besides developing a product and navigating all the challenges of just starting a business, never mind an online food business) is distribution. It’s been my obsession because, as great ketchup as Chumley’s Natural Ketchup is, if I can’t get it distributed, I can’t sell it, and if I can’t sell it, I don’t have a business that lets people buy great ketchup and that would make me and Chumley, well, sad! 

I’ve been reading a lot about how to distribute small-batch food products and the one distribution channel that keeps coming up is, of course, farmers’ markets. It’s where you have to start to get real-world feedback about your product and where you’ can get people to try your product, etc. but I just don’t see how a real business can get going and compete with the “big boys” by spending every weekend at a table hoping to sell a few jars of Chumley’s Natural Ketchup. I mean, that’s a hobby; not a business. I just isn’t sustainable. So, yea, distribution is my obsession and it’s why I thing the online channel is the way to go especially when you consider that weekends at a farmers’ market is “down time”, basically. I can’t make ketchup or market it broadly if I’m standing at a table for an entire weekend. So, I’m focusing on the commerce channel which brings me to this week’s kind of exciting discovery of Amazon. Why? Well, because they have distribution with a capital “D” and along with distribution, one of my other obsessions is shipping. Here’s why: So, I’ve developed a product, started a company, gone through the licensing demands of the Department of Health, found a commercial kitchen, etc. (see previous blog posts for backstory) but in order to get Chumley’s Natural Ketchup into a customer’s hands, I need to ship it and shipping is expensive. BUT, apparently if you start an Amazon store, they offer attractive shipping options for both the store (Chumley’s Natural Ketchup) and the customer (YOU!). So, this week that ’s going to be my focus. I’ll let you know how it goes in my next blog post. Come back again and let’s ketchup!

There's a Fee for EV-Er-Y-THING.

“I’ll make small batches of natural ketchup and sell it on my online store!”. Simple, right? It is until you learn that the State or Rhode Island (my home state) doesn’t allow people to use their own kitchens for commercial enterprises. Huh? Right. In my increasingly deflating call with the RI Dept. of Health, I learned that a “specialized food” …ketchup?! Really? “specialized food”?! It’s a CONDIMENT! Anyway, apparently it’s a very special snowflake kind of condiment because whether I liked it or not, it was a “specialized food” and could only be made for commercial consumption if it was produced in a state-certified “commercial kitchen”. Sounded expensive. And it is. Way more expensive than I could afford (and I couldn’t afford much). Fortunately, I found out there are a few “incubator” kitchens around that are perfect for people like me who want to start a small food business but don’t have Venture Capitalists as family members. 

The eventual good news is that I eventually found a great non-profit that rented out their state-certified commercial kitchens to small business start-ups so I could finally check this off my list but not without another financial “hit” that I just never expected. But it could have been worse. How? Not sure. Just trying to be “positive”!

So, while I’ve been struggling with how easy it is to set up an online store on Shopify (it’s not. See my previous blog post if you missed my tirade on this) I’ve managed to get together everything I think I need to get a license to make (never mind sell!)…ketchup:

-Access to State-certified commercial kitchen ($150 a month ugh!)

-Process Authority Letter from Cornell University Dept. of Food Science (7 week process and another $150)

-Formed and registered as an LLC with the Secretary of State’s Office (how much? another $150…does every piece of paper have to cost $150)?)

-Developed detailed Operational Plan (I wrote it myself so … free)

-Developed Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Plan (I never thought I would say this but, “I wrote a HACCP plan” so…free)

-Developed Recall Plan (Yes, it’s as exciting as it sounds and I wrote it myself, so…free)

So, just to be sure I’m “good to go” and can apply for a license to…why was I doing this again? Oh, yea…apply for a license to start making my ketchup, I call the Dept. of Health to confirm everything and I’m “all set” just fill out the application “… and send it along with your certification from a Better Process Control School”. Huh? “yes, you need to attend a Better Process Control School. UC Davis has one and so does the University of Tennessee”. Sooo,, now I need to go to school to learn something called “Better Process”? Sounds stupid …and expensive. How much I don’t know but I think it’ll be more than $150 this time. Check in again and we’ll ketchup.

"I'll Just Sell Ketchup Online", he said.

…I figured the best and least expensive way to sell ketchup would be to open an online store. I mean, malls are closing, “brick & mortar” stores are increasingly going away, and even retail workers are losing jobs, plus every other commercial touts how easy it is to open your own online store - commerce baby! (Wix, Squarespace, Shopify, on, and on). So that’s what I decided I’d do. Simple, right? Welllll. Not so fast.

I knew I’d need some guidance on how to start so given that I was going to sell food, I knew I probably would need to deal with my state’s Department of Health so I figured that’d be a good first step on my way to being self-employed! So, I called them to find out how to get a license to sell ketchup. “Is your kitchen certified? Is your company registered with the Secretary of State? Do you have your EIN and your Process Approval Letter? And you’ll need a process approval letter, operational plan, HACCP and Recall Plans…”

Waaa Waaa? Yea. Wow. So I’ll fast forward to today as I write this post two months later I’ll spare you all the details of what it took to do it but, finally, I now have my Process Approval Letter and all the other stuff (and more) that I learned I needed before I could even ask someone to buy a bottle of Chumley’s Natural Ketchup. And now I’m shaking my fist in the air as I try to figure out how the HECK to “easily create an online commerce site”. IT”S NOT. I’ll be the first to admit I really dislike technology - well, not that I dislike it, I just don’t want it to interfere in what I’m trying to GET DONE. And it is. The problem is, is it’s designed by people who design web sites others will use, not by people who actually USE the web sites, you know? People like, oh, I don’t know…people like, ME?!” 

So, after all this, guess where I’m at… I am now ready to apply for a license with the State to sell Chumley’s Natural Ketchup. That’s right, I’m just at the beginning and it took me all summer to get to the point I thought I’d be at when I made that call to the Department of Health! That’s okay though, cuz I’m on my way! I’ll update you soon with how I found out about what all this “commercial kitchen” stuff is about. Check in again and we’ll ketchup.

Corporate "Life" ... Isn't.

Sooo…I spent most of my career in marketing for a technology company and after 20 grueling years of 10 to 20 hour days (yes, including so many all-nighters I stopped counting) I eventually worked my way up to head of global marketing then, at the age of 49; (the death knell for many corporate drones), I was laid off and decided I just couldn’t go back to the job search and mind-numbing interviews with “Human Resource Professionals” who were neither “human”, nor a “resource” and rarely, if ever, “professional”. 

So the “what can I do?” refrain was playing non-stop, day and night in my head. I still couldn’t shake the dream of NOT working for someone else again; especially working for someone else in “corporate America”, which is redundant because what isn’t “corporate” in “America” anymore?

I always had the idea of making my own mayonnaise or mustard. I mean, condiments are a happy thing! Whenever I use condiments, it’s because I’m having something yummy at a cook-out or with family and friends enjoying a meal. Good times, good fun. The total opposite of a soul-sucking corporate job. But mayo has eggs and that could be difficult to turn into a business and mustard? Ever look at a mustard aisle in the supermarket? Been done a thousand times over.

Then I thought about ketchup. I love ketchup but every darn one of those bottles had either sugar or high fructose corn syrup or both! So, I started to make my own ketchup. From scratch. In small batches. And you know what? People loved it! Then, I decided to start a ketchup company. Simple, right? Well, there’s some backstory here so check in later and we’ll ketchup.