|4/28/2016 4:50:00 PM|
Stirring up success at the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen
by Stephanie Bennett-Brokopp
Have you ever thought your great-grandmother's spaghetti sauce should be bottled and sold? Or have a passion for putting your pastries on every store shelf this side of the Mississippi?
Thousands of people across the nation share this dream and many of them seek out companies like the one in our own backyard, the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen.
The mission behind the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen is to help existing food businesses, including family farms and new food entrepreneurs, develop and grow exciting and profitable food businesses that showcase the benefits of local and regional foods and food systems.
Started in 2010 and owned and operated by Hodan Community Services, the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen has seen a tremendous amount of growth over the past two years, with no end in sight.
Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen begins
It was a combination of business acumen, automation and operational skill that has helped to fuel this growth.
Back in 2010, Rick Terrien, who at the time was the founding director of the Iowa County Economic Development Corporation, set up shop in the newly constructed Wisconsin Innovative Kitchen in Mineral Point.
Not only did Terrien see the growth potential, but he also saw that many customers, while very passionate about their product, had little experience on how to market and expand their business. Developing a model that would help these food entrepreneurs grow their business, would also create more growth and opportunities for the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen. He saw this need and started Innovation Kitchens, LLC. This business, while complimentary, is completely separate from Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen.
The business of food entrepreneurship
The focus of Innovation Kitchens, LLC, is to provide start-up management and entrepreneurship development to food and farm entrepreneurs that wish to utilize the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen to launch or grow their food businesses. Innovation Kitchens, LLC creates recipe plans, cost estimates, marketing and sales support for new products and brands that come into the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen.
Barry Hottmann, who joined Innovation Kitchens, LLC in 2014, said that by offering these additional services, something they call the continuum of care, they are able to garner a lot of interest from food entrepreneurs that are looking to grow their business but are unable to do it all themselves, or are unsure of what to do next.
"Many people come to us with a lot of knowledge in cooking," said Hottmann. "They know how to cook and have made a phenomenal product. However, they get to a place where they want to grow their business but they can't do it all themselves and that's where we can help." Hottmann shared that their team works with the customer on marketing and distribution plans, as well as helping them navigate through all of the legalities involved with producing a food product.
Another attraction for these early entrepreneurs are the minimums. Their minimum order is 360 units, or 30 cases. Many other facilities would require a commitment of at least a half a semi load. As Hottman stated, this is extremely beneficial in situatios where the product doesn't work out and instead of losing their life savings, they are essentially left with a lot of Christmas gifts to give family and friends.
The ability to automate production has also been a significant reason for the growth. Through donations and grants, they were able to bring a production engineer onboard to make the necessary upgrades to production processes and equipment. Hottmann shared that until recently that they were hand pouring product into containers and jars. And if you're a fan of Bob's Bitchin' BBQ Sauce - which is manufactured at the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen - you know that's a lot of bottles to fill!
Once Innovation Kitchens, LLC finalizes the business plans, the customer is sent to Kent Genthe's team at the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen to start production.
Genthe, who is the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen's Food Services Director, takes the customer's recipe and begins to run test batches, working on scaling it so that it can be produced in larger batches. "It's not always an exact science when you scale it up, a lot of work goes into making sure the recipe translates well into large scale batches," said Genthe. "At home you are making it in a two quarter pot and now you need to make it in a 60 gallon kettle."
Genthe also works with the customer on packaging as this will impact the way the product is prepared.
The sky's the limit
From his travels to various trade shows, Hottmann said that several business and organizations have approached him about producing their products. He shared there are ten new products coming in the door, with some of them already in the Chicago market, but in order to expand, these entrepreneurs needed help producing larger quantities and getting their product to store shelves in different markets.
Hottmann also shared that because of the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen's work in creating applesauce cups for Second Harvest (see sidebar), other businesses and organizations are looking at them to mass-produce applesauce cups, which could equate to over a million cups.
What truly makes the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen unique is that all of the profits go directly to Hodan Community Services. The production team also consists of anywhere from 10-20 Hodan client-employees per day. Genthe shared that the overall size of the production team could increase as he sees the need in adding a second shift in the near future.
"There are approximately 70 organizations in Wisconsin like Hodan Community Services, so for them to have the ability to create revenue is huge," said Hottmann. "Our goal is to expand the business and create awareness of this golden opportunity here in southwestern Wisconsin."
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