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samhoud places kitchen

From banker to top chef

The key to success for a FMCG startup

By Vera Hoynck Van Papendrecht, &samhoud food

Starting from scratch in the food industry and succeed to industrialize your product in three months; it is possible. But you need that one pure quality: really connect with the right people.

We started with:

  • a mission: bringing gastronomy to the world by inspiring and connecting people
  • a hand-made burger
  • a gastronomical chef
  • a small team experienced in project management, operational excellence and networking

We were free from and therefore not inhibited by:

  • experience in industrializing a food product
  • experience in distribution of fast moving consumer goods
  • experience in marketing and communication of fast moving consumer goods

Use your energy
This translated into an environment of heightened energy and expectations. We saw only possibilities, not obstacles. We were confident that within a year, we would have our products on the shelves. This was an attitude that would either make or break us but there was certainly no stopping us.

Be ambitious
We wanted to industrialize our key product so we could share it with the world. The product looked – and still looks – like a burger, was made from tomatoes and was highly cost inefficient to produce. We sourced the finest ingredients from the best supplier and fabricated the burger by hand. While it is motivational to set ambitious goals, at some point we had to be realistic.

Learn
We postponed plans to build our own factory, at least for a while. Instead, we studied the existing market. We studied the mass production processes behind food production. We went out and visited plants and interviewed experts in the field. We started to calculate, and I mean really calculate, as in spreadsheets with tight margins. We actually turned out to be very good at this. We followed an exponential learning curve.

Connect with the right people
That showed to be the right path to follow. But there was another crucial element: we got help from the right people. As you should all know, you are only seven steps away from your ‘president’. I speak from experience when I say that highly experienced product developers willing to help out on an innovative project are much, much closer. Especially when they can come with their own production facility the mission moves within reach much faster than you can dream. We proved to ourselves that dreaming big and establish real connections can bring you to your desired results fast.

Go
So with our audacious goal in mind and our calculations in mind, backed by some really dedicated people at the heart of the project, we moved forward by going back to where it all started; the recipe and kitchen process. We combined this with what we had learned and of what we needed: high volumes of tomatoes and a factory with the necessary equipment but on a bigger scale that anything we had attempted before.

To find the machinery we got into contact with specialized producers, told them what we needed, and they advised us on the equipment we would need. Furthermore, they shared with us information about their customers who had this line of equipment and might also have production capacity leftover. This narrowed our search down considerably, to only a few possible production partners. Desk research gave us more insight into the vision and way of working of the different producers and lead us to our current production partner.

In our first meeting we shared our company vision, ambitions and confessed our lack of experience in the field. There was a connection on the way of working, the personal approach, and the enthusiasm for innovation and thinking differently. The mutual drive to put in effort to assess the feasibility of the industrialization of our product was there. After tasting our hand-made product and assessing its potential, we continued at a fast pace.

In just two kitchen sessions with their product developer, we learned about how ingredients act when processed in bulk, what effect the extra pressure in the machinery would have and world of undiscovered raw materials and their applications opened up before us. Being open and expressing a desire to learn from and be advised by an expert made it possible for us to come to an industrialized recipe quickly. After the first production test, we felt a massive sense of relief, we knew that we would succeed.

Our keys to success:

  • The right combination of people; a highly experienced gastronomical chef open to new experiences, an experienced product developer, a facility to experiment, and people to support in planning, sourcing.
  • Listening to the experts and making sure desires of all parties involved were looked after really moved the project along.
  • Finding the sweet spot, mutual enthusiasm for the product and it’s potential and establishing a trustful relationship opened up a productive atmosphere in which to share, ask, discuss and advance.

Only three months after the first meeting with our producer we could produce &Tomeato patties by thousands at a time. The recipe could do with some improvement however, and maybe a little more…What can I say? That’s what real chefs do. Even perfect is not good enough, so prepare for a prolonged process of small improvements. But where and how to put a stop to that? That’s what you need a team for: the right people, keeping each other sharp on the goals and daring to ask or suggest when not asked to do so. Love it when a plan comes together, fast.

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