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How to market a new food product

Special to The Times

Question: I would like to sell a special marinade for meat and poultry. How do I go about getting started?

Answer: With dozens, if not hundreds, of marinades already on the shelves, your product has a chance only if it is clearly different or represents a major improvement in the market.

“Nobody needs another me-too product,” said Ray Coen, a food industry consultant in Pacific Palisades. To succeed, your marinade will need something special: a unique flavor, better quality or a way for wholesalers or retailers to improve their profits.

If you plan to sell your products through retail channels, Coen suggested that you employ “related-item merchandising.” This means selling the marinade in the meat department of supermarkets and meat specialty stores. “Meat departments are often looking for ways to increase the productivity of their limited space,” Coen said.

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If you have enough patience and time, approach meat managers at local butcher shops and small food chains and ask them to carry your products on a trial basis. If you want to get rolling more quickly, identify a broker who deals with supermarket chains and see if he or she can advise you about placing your product.

If you plan to sell the marinade wholesale, approach restaurant distributors and meat companies to gauge their interest. Whether retail or wholesale, “you’re entering a tough world,” Coen said.

“It’s tough for the big guys and extremely tough for the little guys.”

The National Assn. for the Specialty Food Trade www.specialtyfood.comprovides advice and information on products like yours. The PalateWorks website www.palateworks.comsells a start-up kit for food companies.

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Research online training courses before signing on

Q: I need training and certification before I can start my business. There are so many courses offered online and I’m not sure how to choose one. Do you have any advice?

A: Go first to your industry’s professional association to see whether it endorses specific vendors that provide the training you need. If there are no authorized training companies, you’ll need to choose a firm based on its track record, cost and training focus.

“If you’re ready to start your own business, focus on training that offers quick certification,” said Michel-Joy DelRe, a consultant who specializes in corporate and entrepreneurial training through Los Angeles-based Consulting Alliance.

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Go to people working in your field and ask them where they were trained and where they send their employees for training, DelRe said.

“Ask people what worked for them, what didn’t work and what the professional results have been,” she said. Push for a candid assessment with details.

As you investigate online training firms, look for those that emphasize results. How many students have gone through the program? What percentage go on to become certified in your industry and open their own companies? In addition, the trainers should be able to connect you with successful program graduates.

“If their websites aren’t quoting results, they may be legitimate and even have a good idea, but their training is probably not very valuable,” DelRe noted.

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Investigate the track record of the company and its founder and ask what the course covers. Make sure that the curriculum enhances your strengths and vigorously addresses your areas of weakness.

Check out potential trainers with the appropriate licensing agencies and the Better Business Bureau www.bbbonline.orgto make sure they are legitimate.

“There’s a lot of training being offered online, often for very little money. If you’re being asked to pay a large fee, make sure you call first and talk to someone,” DelRe said. “Don’t go into anything blind and never send the full fee upfront.”

Got a question about running or starting a small enterprise? E-mail it to karen.e.klein@ latimes.com or mail it to In Box, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012

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