Food trends come and go as fast as appetites. In the past few years, you may have seen trends like edible cookie dough, insanely garnished mega cocktails and cat cafes. Since these trends are often a flash in the pan, it isn’t always wise to build an entire business around them. However, there is one food trend that’s proved it’s longevity: artisan goods. Since it’s a broad term, there are a few things you should know before capitalizing on it.
What Does Artisanal Mean?
"Artisan" can mean many things, as the food industry has no fixed definition. In most cases, though, it means that the process or ingredients that go into the food involve careful craftsmanship, often including traditional methods and local or socially responsible ingredients. For instance, an artisanal ice cream shop might use only Jersey Cow Milk and a small-batch method that goes back 150 years.
"Artisanal" is just a label. To the consumer, it means the food is premium, unique, or high-value. More and more Canadians want to know about their food’s origin and heritage, which is why artisinal food products or menu offerings could be profitable for you. According to the Consumer Reports Food Labels Survey, 59% of consumers look for "natural" products on the label, and 66% look for "locally produced" items.
Your Marketing Must Match The Sale
Consumers are willing to pay more for better quality products, but you can’t just label food as "artisanal" as a marketing technique to sell more products. What you offer must represent what’s on the label, because it can hurt your business if your consumer discovers otherwise. For instance, in 2015, U.S.-based Mast Brothers chocolate company sold $10 "artisanal" chocolate bars but were exposed for melting and repackaging a mass-produced brand of chocolate. You can learn from their mistake by only labeling your food as artisan if it is made by hand from scratch, uses a traditional approach that might not be used anymore, requires an expert skill, or uses ingredients that are carefully or locally sourced. Be specific and transparent with consumers about what makes your product an "artisan good."
Stay Attune to Industry Trends
One way to determine how to begin incorporating artisanal goods or menu items into your line of products is to take inspiration from industry trends. Each year, brands like McCormick Spice Company and Whole Foods Market compile a list of what they consider the biggest food trends. In 2018, this included global heritage dishes, nostalgic food, house-made and ethnic-inspired condiments, and locally sourced proteins. Research these trends, and see what might translate the best for your establishment. For instance, you could serve your grandmother’s tamales recipe or opt to offer prohibition-style cocktails using the era’s traditional mixology methods.
Swap Generic Brands for the Local Version
If there’s a good or item you don’t make in-house, find someone that does. For instance, if you serve a generic brand of coffee, honey or beer in your establishment, you might consider switching it out for a locally made version. Visit your local farmers market and develop relationships with vendors to see if you can make cost-effective switches to what you currently offer. You could also consider partnering with another brand and cross-promoting each other’s artisanal goods.
Be Cognizant of What You Source
Another way to start small is by appealing to modern consumers’ love of organic, chemical-free, fair-trade, sustainable food, most of which align with what’s considered artisanal. "People are more and more concerned about the consequences of their choices and the impact on the environment when they buy their food," Paola Nano from Slow Food nonprofit organization told FoodIngredientsFirst. If you already offer products or ingredients that follow suit, be sure to highlight this aspect. Otherwise, when determining which products or food to source, do careful research on behalf of your consumers.
Tell the Food’s Origin Story
The most important aspect about "artisanal" offerings is being transparent. Your menu or packaging should include information about where the product or ingredients were sourced, and it should tell the story about where the food came from and who created it. Educating the consumer about the origin of the product helps explain the benefits and encourages a purchase. For instance, would you buy "Elderberry Syrup" at a farmer’s market? What if you knew it was handmade in small batches by a local certified clinical herbalist using organic ingredients that help boost your immune system naturally? Educate your sales representative or servers to tell the story behind the ingredients or products you sell. Redesign your menu to include the stories behind what you sell. Include small framed articles positioned next to the associated products on your shelves.
When and if you do make a significant number of changes to the ingredients and products you offer, then you might consider writing and releasing a press release to local news outlets. Consider the easiest ways for you to incorporate artisanal foods into your menu, and begin with small changes to test how the products do with your target market. As your sales increase, you can begin to increase production.