It's one thing to create a tasty new product, another to become a licensed food handler. And that's just the beginning, what with renting a commercial kitchen and determining the packaging, pricing and distribution.
But there's something even more daunting for the entrepreneur: getting the word out about a new product. That's where Nearest You comes in.
Nearest You is an innovative start-up website (nearestyou.com) that works for both the start-up and the consumer. Its purpose is to showcase where to find certain types of artisan products. Looking for local coffee? The website will show you where to find nearby roasters; ditto with chocolate and other natural products.
Ryan Furness, co-founder of Nearest You, is a multi-tasking business innovator himself. A faculty member at the University of Minnesota, Rochester, he's helped develop mobile technology for faculty members and students. He is a founding partner of InveniDev, a boutique digital marketing and website design agency for small food and beverage companies. Nearest You is the latest in InveniDev's social media tool kit.
"InveniDev will provide anything a small business needs to take it to the next step, including strategies for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., as well as recipe cards and promotion materials. All of this is time-consuming and can be distracting from doing what a food producer does best," Furness said.
Nearest You currently hosts 125 different brands and shows where to find them across the country; 25 of them are Twin Cities-based, including Gray Duck Chai, Kul Chocolate, Sara's Tipsy Pies, St. Paul Switchel, Superior Switchel, Creature Comfort Hot Sauce, Shamin's Pantry, Brine and Barrel, and Twisted Shrub.
Nearest You's current categories are "chocolate," "roaster," "natural snacks," "tea," and "caffeine crawl" for coffee shops. "As we develop, we're creating more categories — hot sauce, honey, kombucha," Furness said.
The pricing model for Nearest You is designed so that the smallest companies pay the least with a graduated increase as they expand.
"We want to grow with these companies," Furness said. One unforeseen benefit of all this digital socializing has been creating connections between vendors themselves.
"One of our switchel [a beverage] companies found a maple syrup supplier she's now working with through our site," said Furness. "It's the water cooler effect."