3 Stars of Summer Fancy Food Give Their Advice to New Makers

Between brands and buyers, industry veterans and service providers, there’s a lot of talent at Summer Fancy Food. We couldn’t resist getting some of that knowledge for ourselves, so we asked three stars of the show about their experiences exhibiting and their advice for emerging makers. Read on for wise words!

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Lisa Curtis, Kuli Kuli

Do you remember your first trade show experience?

We launched at the Fancy Food Winter Show 5 years ago. We had just a tiny booth, with a little stand up banner, and I had no idea what to expect. I was pretty nervous, wondering “is anyone going to like this, will people come by our booth,” but we had a lot of interest and made connections that got us into new retailers and got us to where we are today. I tell people when they’re starting out to try a trade show – it’s the best way to get in front of buyers and distributors and get your name out there.

How have you changed as an entrepreneur since then?

It’s hard to quantify! You change and grow every day. I’ve become a better manager. It’s been interesting how my role has changed in the past 5 years. You go from being the only one doing everything, and I have some amazing co-founders, but for a while I was the only one who had quit my day job, and I was trying to pull together all the pieces. It helped a lot when they came on full-time. And when we had other people come on. We’re still relatively small – an 11 person team – but it’s meant that I’m able to specialize a little bit more. I’ve tried to be reflective and understand what the areas are that I’m really good at, what are the areas that I can improve.

In areas where I’m not as strong, I look to hire someone where that’s their strength. For example, I’m best at sales, fundraising and marketing and so early on I found an amazing person to lead our operations so I didn’t have to be in the details of manufacturing everyday.

Do you have advice for up-and-coming makers?

One thing I regret a bit is that when we were small, I just wanted to be big. And I was so focused on how to grow big, that I didn’t really recognize the value of starting small and the iterations you can make. Do a lot of consumer testing, a lot of product innovation, in those early days when you’re controlling the product. You can do something in a commercial kitchen one day and another thing the next day. It’s so much easier to make changes than when you’re a a factory level with packaging runs of 100,000 or more. Making those changes early and often is an amazing thing to do when you’re small.

Yemisi Awosan, Egunsi Foods

Is this your first Summer Fancy Food?

This is my first time exhibiting by myself. Last year I was in the Incubator Village exhibiting with Hot Bread Kitchen. This time I’m here by myself!

What are you excited about?

I’m excited to meet a lot of people, and see people’s reactions to the product, and meet people who actually know about the product, too. We are getting some brand recognition already, we’ve been launched for 2 years, so people come by and say ‘I love your brand, I just came to see if you have any new flavors,’ so we’re getting brand recognition.

Do you have any advice for up-and-coming food entrepreneurs?

It’s about pace. You have dreams and goals, but sometimes you might have to take two steps forward and one step backward. You’re still going to get to where you need to go! Just give yourself patience to go through the process. I know there’s frustrating moments, but there’s a lot of learning along the way.

Ayeshah Abuelhiga, Mason Dixie Biscuits

How did you get started?

I started in 2014 with the goal of cleaning up Southern food. I was actually one of the first Kickstarter brands that was a food concept. I did it on purpose, because I was entering on the market when salad and Mediterranean food was in style, all this health food. But in my opinion health is what you make it, it’s about better quality, better ingredients, being knowledgeable about sourcing, and emotional wellness. Humans are emotional eaters, we crave what’s familiar, so I think it’s important that we have alternatives to junk food.

What is being a Chobani incubator member like?

It’s incredible. The amount of resources that come into play, the access to the best of the best people. We never feel like we have a question that can’t be answered by someone they could help us find. And honestly, it’s really amazing to be part of a group where the founder is so strong and committed. It’s not a falsehood.

Do you have any advice for those starting out?

Don’t listen to naysayers. It’s really important. One of the things we always battled was people saying, “If it’s not gluten-free, it won’t work.” But you know what? Not everyone has to be gluten-free. And one day, we will hopefully have a gluten-free biscuit. But at the end of the day, look at whitespace the way that you need to. If you found an opportunity and customers are latching on, don’t let the naysayers – there’s so many out there – stop you from doing what you think is right. I also think more than ever right now, women and minorities and small business owners have the biggest opportunities to shine, so don’t let people bring you down.

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