Developing a Food Product
Interview with Alicia Sable-Hunt, Founder of Sable's Foods
This entrepreneur's story is the perfect example of hard work paying off. Alicia Sable-Hunt wanted to help the cancer patients she worked with by developing a nutritional food bar. Today, Sable's Food is a successful business.
Alicia Sable Hunt founded Sable's Foods in 2006 in Westport, Connecticut.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
Sable's Foods is a line of wholesome and delicious nutrition bars designed by the cancer community for the cancer community. Sable's Foods Nutritional Empowerment Bars were born from firsthand knowledge developed over many years caring for cancer patients. As a long-serving oncology nurse, I understood the immense struggle of those fighting cancer and what I term cancer's "nutritional challenge"--the crucial need for proper nutrition during treatment coupled with the loss of appetite and digestive issues that often prevent patients from receiving the nourishment they need.
How did you come up with your business idea?
After years of working with cancer patients I noticed a trend in nutritional intake, or the lack thereof, and the few resources we had to offer them. A few years ago, a young woman with terminal cancer was sitting before me telling me of her eating difficulties, and said quite emphatically, "I will not walk around with a can of Ensure in hand!" At that moment, I knew what I was supposed to do - create a line of food products designed specifically for the cancer community.
In case you or a loved one has never been touched by cancer, let me explain further. I was so discontent with patients' lack of flavorful yet nutritionally balanced options, I felt compelled to direct my experience and empathy toward a solution. I knew that cancer patients needed foods that would meet their specific nutritional requirements while offering flavors and textures that would taste great and be easily digestible. I also wanted to offer them something portable, as I strongly believe that patients should be able to thrive while continuing with their daily lives during treatment and recovery.
So I pulled in the experts. Developed with the input of nutritionists, cancer specialists, and most importantly, with patients themselves, I have created a line of bars that are baked like a brownie, bursting with flavor and offer a nutritional value enjoyed by the cancer community.
When did you start the business?
In 2006, I stepped into the kitchen and baked my first batch of bars which by the way, stuck to the baking tray. I had to throw out the bars and the baking dish! It took years to perfect the recipes.
I formally launched Sable's Foods in April, 2009 and I am proud to say that not only have the bars been well received by the cancer community but I have a growing number of busy moms and dads, teenagers, and athletes enjoying them. Who knew we were all so desperate for a better tasting nutrition bar?
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
I spent years as a bedside nurse, oncology research nurse and program manager for an orphan-cancer research consortium. I was working full-time for the consortium when I decided to leave in order to spend all of my energy on Sable's Foods. But, here's the kicker. I am a single woman with no other source of income. So, when I left the consortium, I opened a life-science consulting firm to support me as I brought Sable's Foods to market. So I own and still run 2 businesses: Sable's Foods and the Edwards-Hunt Group.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
The food product industry is far more complex and difficult to penetrate than I ever imagined. It's not enough to have a good tasting product.
I highly recommend engaging an expert food product consultant with experience in your specialty (e.g. baked goods, drinks, frozen foods, etc.) before spending any money or time building the business. I am fortunate to have created a product in a niche market however that is not true for the general food product industry. The competition for market space, cost to build a brand and purchase shelf space is enormous. You need the guidance of someone with experience in food product development, marketing and distribution in your specialty. Please note not all consultants are the same. Do your homework; interview numerous consultants, check their references and then do it all over again before you engage anyone.
Did you write a business plan? Was it an effective tool for you?
Absolutely, is my answer to both questions. The business plan was my way to articulate my ideas and lay a foundation for my business. I review it quarterly to ensure I am on track and meeting my business objectives. It was also necessary to create a business plan with financials to entice investors into my company.
Who did you hire to help you? Bookkeeper, Accountants, Lawyers ...? Would you suggest others do the same?
It is critically important to acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses. Then hire the appropriate resources to support your business. It is unrealistic to believe that you can be the founder, the sales person, the marketer, the bookkeeper, the attorney, etc., etc. I hired a business attorney with experience in venture capital negotiations. I hired an accountant to prepare tax documents. I hired a part-time bookkeeper to help with invoicing, etc. I hired food product consultants and marketing expertise. I recommend every entrepreneur perform an honest assessment of their skills, prioritize the tasks before them and outsource where necessary.
Have you outsourced any portion of your business? Has that worked for your business?
I have developed a business model that is 100% outsourced. I believe in working with the best in each field however, it would cost a tremendous amount of money to hire such senior talent. Therefore, I utilize expert consultants on an as needed basis. This gives me the expertise I need. It allows the resource to remain fully engaged in their domain space and to remain an expert. I also don't need to deal with any staff issues.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
This is a great question. I have a nursing background not a business background so I didn't know what to expect when I created the business. I will say that I knew it would be hard to create a product and the business. I even knew that it would be really hard to create this particular product for this particular population. I did not know it would be so lonely.
When you bring your vision to life, in my case Sable's Foods to market, it requires a level of dedication that far surpasses anything else in your life. I don't have children but I imagine it is much like having a child. For the first few years, and perhaps longer, you are the business. It doesn't exist unless you breathe life into it. Your vision is your own and only you can execute it. It requires time, energy and perseverance. You also need to be willing to bear the burden of everyone's expectations: your customers, your employees/consultants, your investors and your own expectations. But ultimately, you need to believe in yourself when no one else is around to say "you can do it."
Inspirational story, Alicia! Thank you for taking the time to share your valuable business advice with our readers at Gaebler.com.
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