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6 tips to move food manufacturing from hobby to business

3.5 min read

The path to turning a food product from a hobby into a business varies for each entrepreneur, but some basics are shared by most who make the journey. 

Like many food processors, Caramel Fait Avec Amour (French only) started at home, in a kitchen where the recipe was created to meet personal needs. 

Childhood friends Sonia Robitaille-Jacob and Marie-Pier Moreau got together every year for a weekend of Christmas cooking, including caramel sauce. The much-loved gift received rave reviews from friends and families, so the pair decided to commercialize it. 

Michelle Leclair’s start of Wolseley Kombucha is similar. She began by dabbling with kombucha in her home kitchen in 2016, and when she shared her passion project on social media, she saw potential for more.  

She spent those early years juggling her full-time job as an MRI technician with her hobby but increasingly devoted more time to Wolseley Kombucha. After moving to a shared kitchen for three years, she opened Manitoba’s first “kombuchery” in January 2020. Now, she runs a solid business with a full-time staff of four.  

However, starting a company from scratch has inherent challenges, particularly for people without business experience. Here are six tips the owners of Caramel Fait Avec Amour and Wolseley Kombucha say are essential to keep in mind when transitioning from a hobby to a business: 

1. Find your experts 

“It’s really important to surround yourself with people who have the expertise in terms of employees, partners, financial partners and suppliers,” says Robitaille-Jacob and Moreau.  

Mentors and business experts helped the pair solidify their plans from business development to commercialization. 

2. Seek out government grants 

Leclair says government funding has been crucial to establishing Wolseley Kombucha’s business. She estimates she’s received thousands of dollars in government funding, mostly provincial programs. 

“People don’t realize how much money is out there for young entrepreneurs,” Leclair says, adding that digging for grants has become a hobby.  

3. Listen and learn 

Leclair describes networking as a “super-strong” way to help build your business. 

She is a member of several professional networks, such as Food and Beverage Manitoba and Winnipeg’s West End BIZ, which have helped direct her toward grants and put her in contact with like-minded people who understand the challenges of building a business. 

“If you want to be an entrepreneur, put yourself in a room full of aspiring entrepreneurs,” she says. 

At the same time, continue to nurture your connection with your original business partner. Robitaille-Jacob and Moreau put great importance on communicating with each other.  

“In high-stress moments, it's all about communication,” they say. Let's face it: Having the shared goal of propelling the company forward means that everyone will have a different idea or opinion on how we should get there, but the main goal remains to shine a light on our product and drive it forward.” Remembering the shared goal and communicating with each other on how to achieve the goal is critical. 

4. Take time for yourself 

Entrepreneurship is notorious for its burnout rates, with many small business owners tending to work—or at least think about work—around the clock. 

According to a 2023 report from BDC, 45% of Canadian business owners felt mental health challenges last year, while more than half identified work/life balance as a concern, up from 45% in the year before. 

“It only took me four years to do that, but I think setting boundaries around how much people can reach you and just shutting your brain off [is important],” says Leclair. 

5. Celebrate all the wins 

Noting and celebrating achievements, no matter how small, can be enough to provide momentum and motivation, says Leclair. “Even if we just got a second walk-in cooler, that’s worth celebrating because it’s a goal we’ve accomplished, and it just adds motivation to keep up the good work. You have to celebrate those wins.” 

Marking those accomplishments can be as simple as informing employees or joining groups where having the ability to share business achievements is a regular part of the curriculum. 

6. Do it! 

“Don’t wait for the best moment,” say Robitaille-Jacob and Moreau. When you have an entrepreneurial fire within you, you go for it, and you listen to it. Go for it headfirst, don’t hesitate, and take the necessary risks to get there.”