There is no better time than now to launch an organic or sustainable product. The number of farmers markets in the US has almost tripled in signifying an increased interest in sustainable foods. Many of these farmers sell natural products locally, or find a broader market at retailers like Whole Foods. The problem is, Whole Foods doesn’t sell online.
My co-founder Jon Polin and I started AbesMarket.com to open up the playing field for organic brands and offer a growing consumer base a place to shop. In less than two years we built an inventory of more than 13,000 products by working with more than 1,000 sellers twice as many non-perishable products than most Whole Foods locations. Our buyers receive more than 40 applications per week from companies looking to sell on Abe’s.
I’m not going to promise you can make a product and it will sell. Entrepreneurship is a roller coaster ride and requires passion and sweat. But here are some reasons why launching natural, organic or sustainable products in today’s market have real profitability and impact as our society shifts toward preferring local.
Entrepreneurs have highs and lows, so builds a product you’re proud to share with your family and friends, the feeling that you are doing something good for the world; those points matter a lot. They will get you through the dips. Worst-case scenario: It doesn’t work out, but you have amassed experience that will benefit you for life.
There has never been more demand for natural and organic products. Natural Food Merchandiser opens their 2011 overview with this line: "From $1.9 billion in 1980 to $36 billion in 2010, sales in the natural products retail channels have come a long way." People are looking for your product.
You have been asked by countless friends to ‘like’ their Facebook pages and follow them on Twitter. Now it’s their chance to return the favor. With the penetration of social networks, you now have the chance to reach potential customers faster and cheaper than any time in history. Ask friends who have experience growing a brand via Facebook and Twitter for advice.
Your ability to find raw ingredients for natural and organic products is just a few clicks or conversations away. Start by joining these LinkedIn groups (LOHAS, Greenbiz.com, Organic Food Industry) and asking questions. Join Quora as well. Find a product that has similar raw ingredients or materials in a non-competitive space and ask them directly. I am always amazed by how open and friendly entrepreneurs are to each other.
Even amidst a rocky economy, the options for finding funding have improved. Check out how companies are leveraging Kickstarte, say, or Indiegogo. Not only can you secure startup cash, but you have the opportunity to reach fans who will become brand evangelists. Research the Social Venture Network, local business plan competitions, and don’t be shy about speaking to friends and family who are passionate about your idea. Remember the old adage "Ask for money and you get advice, ask for advice and you may get money." I have yet to hear of a startup that was able to secure bank financing. Please do comment below if you have heard of success stories with banks.
Design is a critical piece of any new brand, and it has never been easier to tap into. You can start with sites like 99designs and CrowdSpring that give you affordable access to graphic artists for your logo, website and packaging. The designers submit drawings based on the descriptions you shared and you can work with them to refine their work. These should be enough to get the ball rolling. You can and should spend more on design as you grow. Small but important note: Find a photographer to take eye-popping photos of your products. Don’t settle on mediocre photos, ever.
With the increased demand for natural there are many more channels to start selling your line. At our site, products must pass an application process, but once you are approved we offer several ways to promote your line to the organic consumer. Locally, farmers markets are the perfect place to engage with your customers, get their feedback and nurture your first group of loyal buyers. There are 7,175 farmers markets in the U.S. today; there were only 2,000 ten years ago. Find a few and set up shop. The Expo East and West shows give access to small and large retail buyers. You’ll invest a minimum of a few thousand dollars to set up a booth in either Baltimore or Anaheim. But once you have confidence in your product, Expo is the perfect venue to spur national retail growth.
There are more reasons to start now, a few are tactical but the best are emotional. Every business owner rightfully feels proud of their accomplishments, but growing an organic/sustainable business that is making the world better gives you a sense of purpose. Those long nights and weekends you invest in your business will not be easy, but advancing a value you hold dear makes it all worthwhile. It is your stamp on the world that unparalleled pride in what you build when you help people do and feel better. Make it happen, it’s the hardest work you’ll love to do.