On Saturday, March 24, Southern Kitchen is partnering with Georgia Grown, Atlanta retail center Emory Point and High Road Craft Ice Cream for the Georgia Craft Food Makers Market.
The event will include a private symposium for food entrepreneurs the day before and a large public market featuring specialty foods from Georgia-based small-batch food-makers. It is the brainchild of Keith Schroeder, founder of High Road Craft Ice Cream in Marietta, Georgia, who gave us plenty of food for thought on what it takes to succeed.
Keith Schroeder clearly is a fan of sweets. But having done the hard and dirty work of running a brand that’s grown rapidly and weathered a few early storms, he knows dealing with the craft food industry is tough, and can leave small business entrepreneurs with a salty aftertaste from the experience.
“If you are a great pastry chef and fall in love with the idea of making your own artisanal puff pastries, the act of buying the appropriate equipment and leasing a space is challenging enough,” he said while getting ready for the market. “Then you start laying on regulatory challenges with distribution, retailer slotting fees, promotional strategies, packaging and branding.” This, he said, is where things get trickier.
“It’s scarier now. It was invigorating in the early days, and now it’s become a game of business acumen and strategy, maybe more so than it is of craftsmanship and product development.”
Schroeder believes High Road survived not simply because of the quality of the product — small-batch ice cream in amazing handcrafted flavors like Kentucky Bourbon Sugar, Cinnamon Crumble and Malt Shop Sundae — but also because he had sufficient investment to make mistakes he called “mandatory,” and he made decisions that limited High Road’s exposure to market conditions and unplanned negative circumstances.
He saw others working through the same challenges, and wanted to give back, so he reached out to The Georgia Department of Agriculture and joined forces with Georgia Grown to plan the two-day symposium and market.
The goal of the symposium is to explore issues and opportunities start-up specialty food and beverage brands face today by facilitating the sharing of ideas and strategies between those who have experienced success and those still looking for ways to sustain and grow. The intent is to inspire, educate and support small brands by sharing valuable insights and advice on distribution, marketing and financing big culinary ideas that start from the bottom.
A recent bit of news among Georgia food entrepreneurs drove Schroeder’s urgency to spread such information with his contemporaries: “On the heels of watching Ron Martin close up shop at Atlanta Fresh Artisan Creamery [whose Greek yogurt and other products were sold at Whole Foods], it’s fresh in my mind that a craft person could find themselves overconcentrated in their revenue streams with a single retailer, such that they lose that retailer and they’re out of business. I believe that’s a moral imperative, for departments of economic development, agriculture and successful entrepreneurs to come together to help their best and brightest. It seems to make sense for all of us to pool our resources,” he said.
There’s definitely potential for collaboration between the 20 specialty food brands participating over the weekend. These include well-known regional businesses like TGM Bread, PeachDish meal delivery kits, and smaller brands Schroeder expects to become household names in the near future, including Banjo Cold Brew Coffee, Calyroad Creamery, Montane Sparkling Spring Water, dog treats from Big Daddy Biscuits and others.
“There are folks here who have taken plunges that are high-degree of difficulty, such as Pine Street Market," he said. "Being USDA-certified and overseen is no small feat.”
Schroeder recognizes in these brands the gamble he took building the multi-million dollar plant to make High Road. “We went way over our original capacity and sales level in 2014, and placed a massive bet that we’d be able to become a 20-plus million dollar company.”
And it worked. Schroeder said he doesn’t want to see fellow food entrepreneurs have to navigate in the dark, so he’s giving back by sharing what he’s learned. “There are some very easy ways for us to come together as a broader community," he said. "That includes bankers, private equity funds and retailers. If we could concentrate those resources in an easy-to-access fashion, then I think Georgia ends up being a pioneer in the food manufacturing space.”
Regardless of immediate effects, Schroeder is excited to get the information out there. “There are a lot of good lessons that will percolate naturally in the course of conversation,” he said. “All of this was born of me just ranting and writing about stuff.”
If you’re in Atlanta on Saturday, March 24, be sure to stop by the market from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., at Emory Point. The event is free and open to the public and will feature live music, the opportunity to meet the makers behind the brands, and plenty of samples of all sorts of new and seasonal food, beverages and products from the Peach State.
Visit Georgia Grown for more event details