Brothee Dishes on How to Start Your Own Food Business
by Theresa Christine Johnson on 02/07/2017 | 9 Minute Read
You may be surprised to learn all of licenses that Brothee requires to cook, package, and sell their simply delicious organic broths. “To name a few we currently have public health permits, inedible permit/transporter of inedible materials permit (for composting), processed food registration, business license, sellers permit, reseller’s permit, among others,” Rhys Cazenove, Founder & CEO and Tricia Rosensohn, COO & Creative Director of Brothee mentioned. These are all in compliance with the commercial kitchen space they use, LA Prep, as well as the farmer’s markets in Los Angeles County where they sell. Additionally, not only do they need individual permits for each city the markets are based, but many of them require annual and even quarterly renewal.
This can come as somewhat intimidating news for aspiring entrepreneurs interested in turning some of their mouthwatering recipes into a full-fledged business. But while it can be confusing at first, it’s certainly not impossible, as Brothee and the number of other food businesses cropping up have proven. We asked Rhys and Tricia of Brothee their advice on how to start your own food business, how to locate the perfect commercial kitchen space, and using the right packaging language.
How do regulations for food products work in the United States?
Brothee: Unsurprisingly, regulations in the US depend largely on the type of product being sold. For a product like ours, which includes beef, poultry or vegan ingredients, we work with a number of agencies with varying regulations. For our beef product we work with the USDA, and for poultry and vegan products we work with the FDA for approvals. Along with that, we are certified Organic, so for all our certified products we work with both the USDA and an organic certifier, Oregon Tilth, to gain approval and ensure we are compliant. Wholesale regulations can be very strict in the US requiring Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans that must be reviewed and approved by all agencies involved, which includes ongoing site visits by the USDA and FDA to ensure we are upholding our plans. For example, as part of our beef broth production, we must have a USDA agent on site at all time while making and packaging our beef broth because of US regulations.
Depending on the distribution model, most rules apply nationwide if you want to share your product across the country. If you plan to sell your product in state only, then some federal regulations will apply but all depends on the type of food you’re producing/manufacturing.
Since you’re based in California, what can you tell me about the California Homemade Food Act (AB 1616)?
Brothee: This is a new regulation introduced in 2013 that makes it much, much easier for new food producers to get started without a huge investment up front. For certain types of food (no dairy or meat, and only products that do not need refrigeration), new businesses can use their home kitchen as a manufacturing space. This is perfect for baked goods, jams and confectionery. As you can imagine, we learned early on that Brothee would not be able to take advantage of this regulation.
It took less than a year for Brothee to get set up preparing at LA Prep. What was the process for preparing it before then?
Brothee: Lots of research and tenacity! At the beginning, when Brothee was first conceived, Rhys (Founder and CEO) was living in Santa Cruz studying to become a Nutritional Consultant. Only after several months researching various cities, including San Francisco, New York, London, and Berlin, was Los Angeles chosen as the best city to launch Brothee.
Within LA, we looked at all the options—do we rent a restaurant or cafe, convert a warehouse space, or do something like a food truck? We looked into renting a commercial kitchen by the hour, as some other companies do, but as we dived deeper into the regulations, requirements and financial forecast, it became clear that we needed our own commercial kitchen. The cost of a commercial kitchen really limited our other strategic options, so we settled on finding or building a kitchen. It was at this time that we became aware of LA Prep, thanks to a feature in LA Times. We immediately got in touch and were very fortunate that their timing and our timing worked out.
From his time at nutrition school, Rhys had a strong sense of what qualities the broths should have, which ingredients should be used or avoided, and other parameters in the cooking process, such as avoiding aluminum. He wrote a recipe brief containing all these guidelines, and then went out in search of an experienced chef who could execute his vision. Three months later—and many, many tastings of broth—the recipes were complete and production began.
What should other entrepreneurs look for in a commercial kitchen space?
Brothee: The first step is to find someone who has set up a commercial kitchen, similar to the one you need or think you need. We came from zero background in setting up kitchens, and food manufacturing so unless you have this background, find experts who can help guide your research. Find some viable options that not only satisfy present needs, but are scalable. Sketch out scenarios where you can feasibly grow in the space for 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, etc. depending on your business planning. If this isn’t critical to your strategy, it’s still important to consider, because good space is limited and co-packing is a whole other ballpark.
When it comes to packaging, what rules outlined in the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act must you follow?
Brothee: All of them! The guidelines help you provide and organize information largely based on what consumers are accustomed to when reviewing labels. The only time we really struggled with the requirements were when we had to label our broth as less than the actual measure of weight to safeguard the company and consumer in the instance what was poured from the jar resulted in less than what it is labeled as.
Brothee has words like “organic,” “non-GMO,” “Paleo,” “gluten free,” and “grass-fed beef” on the label. What must you do to ensure that you can correctly include these on food packaging?
Brothee: At this point we only use “organic,” “made with organic,” “grass-fed beef,” “pasture-raised,” and “contains non-gmo ingredients” across our labels. To use “Paleo” and “gluten free” would require certification we have yet to obtain. That said, we are able to use those terms on our site and in branding materials as long as it does not state we are certified.
All language on our labels must be approved by the USDA and/or FDA. Once the labels are designed we submit them to either or both agencies and typically wait anywhere between 1-3 months for approval. After labels are approved an inspection of our kitchen takes place, which includes a USDA and FDA agent reviewing the labels in person, along with any required supportive documentation as the agent does not participate in the reviewal process until final inspections.
What is your process for cooking Brothee and then packaging it up in its individual jars?
Brothee: We use glass for all our packaging, and are very pleased to get over 4 months (refrigerated) shelf life from our products. We get this by “hot-filling.” This is when we pour hot broth at 212° F into sanitized jars, attach the lid, and then rapidly cool the jars down to 40° F very quickly, using a combination of water and ice baths. The hot filling and rapid cooling of a sealed glass jar means that we get this incredible life without preservatives, shelf stabilisers, or plastics.
For someone interested in producing and selling their own food products, what would you recommend as the next best steps?
Brothee: Reach out to experts and do your homework. Food manufacturing is a really big field, and there are a number of ways by which to enter the sector. Find companies you admire, research their business practices, background, and trajectory and see if you can speak to someone within the company. Put together a list of your competitors, analyze them to understand their strengths and weakness, and define the white space your company could fulfill. Consider B Corp certification from day one. It’s a great guiding principle for companies who want to ensure that no harm is done to the planet, their employees and insist they work with vetted vendors who share the same ideals. We are working on our certification, and with all the models out there, following B Corp is the best company structure to consider for companies with commercial and social/environmental performance bottom lines.