Bar codes. Or barcodes. Whatever.

Barcodes_hangman

Good day, readers. This post should excite any newbie food manufacturer, even if as sends my hot-sauce consumer readers immediately into a deep slumber.

Bar codes. I bet you never gave them much of a thought. But if you want to sell a product in a store, you’ll need to know how to create and use them. I had no idea. I’ll walk you through the process I stumbled through so you can learn from my research, and also from my hideous mistakes.

Of course you require a barcode on your product if you want a store to carry it. They need to be able to scan the thing in order to sell it and stocktake. The store will scan the bar code, then attach a product description to that code within their system. The bar code itself does not contain information about your product. So, how do you go about producing these things?

In Australia, there are basically two solutions. Number one is the Global Standards Body or GS1 bar code, and is required if your products are going to be sold by Coles, Woolworths, or Supercheap Auto (and probably a couple of others). For a small business, requiring five or less bar codes, you will pay (before GST):

  • A one-off joining fee of $120
  • An annual fee of $120 for the first bar code
  • $60 annually for each subsequent bar code

You can purchase these barcodes at http://www.gs1express.com.au

If you wish to avoid paying those annual fees, and/or don’t think your product will be sold in the aforementioned stores, then the cheaper option is to go to http://www.australianbarcodes.com.au where they will create a bar code for you for $50 each, or cheaper, depending on how many you buy. Five bar codes are $40, for instance.

A couple of things to remember… You need a unique bar code for each product you are making. For instance, if you make jam, and have a strawberry, a fig and a raspberry jam, you need a bar code for each of the three items.

Printing the bar codes is, I found, a bit of a black art. The codes will be supplied to you in .tiff and .eps files, which should then be inserted into your product label art. Importantly, the image print size needs to be strictly adhered to, with 100% and 80% of the original image size being the only acceptable sizes for printing. If your graphics application alters the dimensions of the image at all, or if the printing process results in a lower than acceptable resolution print, then the bar code may be unreadable. If printing labels from home, there is a higher chance of failure than on labels professionally printed. If you are at all unsure, it may well be a good idea to have the bar codes printed onto stickers, which can then be applied to your labels once they are on the packaging.

At the very least, you ought to have your printer produce a proof of the finished product label, which you can take to a store to see if the bar code scans successfully.

I sure wish someone had shared this advice with me before I printed my labels! I am still a relative newcomer to the food manufacturing business. What I have shared here is pretty much all I know about bar codes, which is to say, not a lot. Hopefully it’s enough to get you started, and to help avoid some of the potential pitfalls encountered by newbie product label designers.

 

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Great success at Old Bus Depot Markets

Market_Lethal

Hello readers. I have neglected you of late, for which I apologise. However, this lack of blogging indicates I have been terribly busy, mostly selling sauce. With some success!

There is much to report: Product development, the online store, adventures with video and music production… But this post concentrates on the market stall.

Canberra has a large range of successful farmers and weekend markets, thanks to a relatively wealthy population eager to enjoy a shopping experience beyond the supermarkets chains. “Locally produced” is a bigger buzz-phrase here than “organic” or “natural”. The weekly Capital Region Farmers Market, the Northside and Southside Farmers Markets, the Handmade Market, the monthly Hall Produce Market (just north of Canberra) and the Old Bus Depot Markets in Kingston all encourage, sometimes even demand, that stallholders sell products only produced, grown, or manufactured in the local region. Add to these the hugely successful Belconnen and Fyshwick fresh food markets, and you can see that this little city has completely embraced the “buy local” mindset, with fierce regional pride and a desire to purchase anything with “Made in Canberra” printed on the packaging. We don’t live in Canberra, we reside in “The Mighty ‘Berra”. We drink wine from Eden Road, Helm and Mount Majura, we buy bacon and olives from Pialligo Estate.

And who is making hot sauce here? Me, that’s who.  I just had to get in on this market scene.

I had already managed to get the first sauce, the Hangman’s Habanero, on to the shelves of several stores, yet the initial sales were not strong. With no marketing campaign, I was relying on the branding with the Parliament House flag motif, and the Made In Canberra prominent on the bottle, to do the trick.  Also counting on the natural curiosity of the hot-sauce fanatics, who are always up for a new challenge. As a consumer myself, I am always thrilled to discover a new brand of spicy condiment.

The stock did not initially fly off the shelves. Stores reported single-digit sales in the first few weeks. Coming from a musical background, the only products I know how to sell are records (CDs, downloads, call them what you will) and tour t-shirts. To sell records, you need to get a tune on radio and music TV, you need people to hear it, and music journalists to write positive reviews. You can’t broadcast flavour, so I need people to taste my sauce somehow. If I just set up a “merch desk” at one of these markets, and offer my sauces for people to taste, surely they will buy the stuff?

I checked out the range of markets around town and weighed up the pros and cons of each one… site fees, arse-ache factor with paperwork and bureaucracy, foot-traffic, location and so forth. Old Bus Depot Markets ticked all the boxes, so I called them. To my astonishment, they accepted me as an exhibitor straight away, so I rapidly got my other two sauces produced in quantity, prepared some artwork for the stall, and set out early the next Sunday morning to set up with the other stallholders at 8am.

What I discovered there was a diverse community of very friendly, artistic people, who each had a similar desire to unleash the product of their creative passions on to the general public. A cornucopia of comestible delights. Dom’s woodfired bread, Rad Museli, Jeera chutneys and pickles, Frujii ice cream, RJ terry Oysters (hells yes!),  chocolate truffles from Patisserie Valerie, and some excellent competition from The Chilli Factory and Disaster Bay Chillies, with their uniquely delectable chilli wine. Flavour-bombs detonating on every stall.

I set up between The Fudge People and Wagonga Coffee, and started selling sauce. By the end of the day, I had sold thirty one bottles. For the first time out, and on a day (not long after the budget announcements and consumer confidence crisis) described by other stallholders as “the worst in years”, I had to admit it was a pretty good start.

Two weeks later I was back. This time I sold thirty one bottles again. Not bad.  And I had a couple of return customers. That was my biggest thrill, to be honest. It’s one thing to sell someone a bottle of sauce, but when they come back for more, you know you have a fan. A repeat customer! To imagine someone using a bottle at home, running out of it and returning for more, is akin to a musician selling tunes for the first time, with members of the public listening to your tunes on their hi-fi at home. Killer.

Two weeks later, I was back, selling, you guessed it, thirty one bottles. And just last Sunday, I returned to the market, selling an unprecedented thirty three bottles. It may still be small-fry, but people are buying this stuff, and coming back for more. I had a couple of customers telling me their friend had shared Lethal Injection sauce with them, and now they had to get a bottle themselves. People were buying the sauces as gifts for relatives. Teenage boys were approaching the stall, daring each other to try the hottest sauce. This was becoming a thing.

And to their credit, the people of Canberra have gone for the hottest, most badass sauce, the Lethal Injection, above the others. It was my best seller each time. Time to go buy a bunch more Bhut Jolokia peppers, my friends, and get cooking.

I’ll be back at the market on Sunday July 27.

Fresh Fruit

Image

Hello readers. Two weeks went past without a blog post. This is an indication of how busy it has been here at Capital Punishment. In this time, we have bottled the first batch of Hangman’s Habanero (which included identifying a sizeable list of required efficiencies!), created a webstore (still tweaking that), created a twitter account at https://twitter.com/cpHotSauce and hooked up with some suppliers who can find produce at a better price than the usual channels.

We now have an account with Costco, and with Bidvest Foodservice in Canberra (Thank you, Alex). Antony at Trugolds in Fyshwick has been very helpful in sourcing red jalapeño peppers in Sydney for me

One problem we have when working with fresh fruit is those pesky seasons. Unfortunately we are beginning production as winter comes on, and a lot of fruit will be unavailable. There is NO WAY we will ever use tinned or preserved fruit, so it will be necessary to find frozen fresh fruit or produce imported from the northern hemisphere.

In anticipation of the coming winter, we purchased a large freezer and spent hours peeling fresh fruit to stockpile for lean times. Boxes and boxes of mango were bought, peeled, frozen in the Capital Punishment kitchen for a future life as part of the Burnin’ Bird’s Eye sauce. Thankfully we have also found a supplier in Sydney (berryman.com.au) who has kilos of frozen, pure mango pulp from North Queensland, throughout the year. We took a sample home and it is absolutely delicious, as good as or better than any of the mango already chopped and stored. They also have frozen peach, which may get us out of trouble if the supply of peach in the freezer runs out before summer.

Similarly we have chopped and frozen heaps of delicious, ripe red papaya, yet this is a fruit mostly available year round so there is no worry about that. The papaya is a crucial ingredient in the Lethal Injection sauce. Another major ingredient in that sauce is garlic, and we really would love to use Australian garlic, however the season is ending, and garlic does not store well, particularly if frozen or pre-chopped… it just loses it’s potency. So the initial few batches of Lethal will be made with Mexican purple garlic (never, ever the dodgy, flavourless, bleached Chinese stuff), until the Aussie stuff becomes available again in the summer.

Habaneros, jalapeños, bird’s eye chillies, are all easily found fresh in Australia. We are sure to eventually find a good source of dried Bhut Jolokia peppers here as well, but so far had to use some (really amazing) dried ghost peppers imported from Nagaland, India.

So there we have it, with regards to fresh fruit, we can say that all the mango, papaya, fresh chilli peppers, tomato, carrot, onion, sugar, vinegar, sea salt and most of the garlic and peach we use will be Australian, and in the future we hope to source supply entirely from local farmers (some how!), in order for the bottle labels to read “Made in Australia from local ingredients” rather than “Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients”.

This week we’re mostly cooking, waiting for bottle labels to be printed and tweaking the webstore so that we can start selling by May 5. Aaaaeeeerrgh! We’re almost there.

Kitchen approved

Our first delivery of bottles.
Our first delivery of bottles.

Two fairly significant milestones for CP this week: Firstly, the inspection of the home kitchen went as planned, and the premises is now licensed to produce food for commercial sale. This was a weight off my mind as I do not have to invest in renting a commercial kitchen.

It was essential that we displayed a clear boundary between utensils and equipment for domestic use, and those used to make the products. Similarly a strict demarcation was required for storage and refrigeration of goods. A couple of weeks ago, nearing the end of the stone fruit season, CP invested in an upright freezer, and began purchasing commercial quantities of mango and peaches, in order to be in good supply through the winter. Many a night was spent peeling, chopping and bagging up delicious summer fruit, destined for cryogenic storage and ultimately, hot-sauce mayhem. We would not have passed inspection without this separate storage area for frozen ingredients.

Other boxes to be ticked were the more obvious requirements: No swarms of vermin infesting the kitchen, safe hand washing facilities, that sort of thing. I also had to display a thorough knowledge of the labelling requirements, with regard to nutrition information and setting a best-before date.

The other milestone this week was the arrival of 2,400 bottles from the good people at Plasdene in Sydney. When the truck showed up outside CP HQ to unload a pallet of glass packaging, it was a signal that we are well and truly underway.

Time to start cooking.

Knockin’ out a few bottles

Good day, readers. The first chapter in the story of a fledgling food enterprise begins here.

When a person loves to cook, they love to share, to host a barbecue, make all the cocktails at the party. So I figure, next batch of chilli I knock up, how about making a few extra bottles and flog them at the school fete or the markets? Just slap a label on them. “Clem’s Hot Sauce” or  “Aussie Chilli Jam”. How hard can it be?

Anyone already working in the food business will be face-palming already. As I found out, it’s not quite that simple (nothing is). Of course I need to cook in a professional or certified kitchen before I can sell product. I need labels with a use-by date and nutritional information. I need to complete a food safety course. No problem, I can do all that. What could go wrong?

Having a background in audio and music was no preparation.  But I had watched a couple of episodes of Masterchef and The Apprentice, and felt this was a solid enough education in both food and business, almost as good as a Masters Degree. I made a few calls. My mate, Morgs, she knows everything, so I called her. Morgs put me onto a fellow called Damian. He knew a bit about food safety, professional kitchens and so forth, and was very helpful. On his instruction I called the ACT Health Protection Service – they told me which forms to fill in. I drew up floor plans of my kitchen, submitted a “Food Business New Registration Application”, completed the “I’m Alert” food safety training. I am now awaiting a visit from the health department to inspect my kitchen. I asked a friend to draw up some rough sketches for a bottle label, based on an idea I conceived with a chilli pepper happily submitting to state-sanctioned murder. I registered the business name, a domain name and applied for a trade mark on the business name. Wherever I turned, people would shake their heads slowly and proffer ominous advice: “If you don’t keep your costs down, you’ll be paying people to eat your sauce”, they would say. “You’ll never be allowed to cook in your home kitchen”, they grimly warned. “You’ll go broke before you sell a bottle”.

Pretty soon, I was learning what it would take to run a small-scale food manufacturing business, yet the more I learned, the more I realised I didn’t know. I found a website in the US that had great advice on cottage-industry budgeting. I learned how to get my head out of the clouds and make a realistic budget.

A pressing concern here is that my recipes call for fresh, expensive ingredients. Looking at the recipe for a mango chilli sauce I had created, I figured out how much mango flesh I could get from a tray of mangoes from the market, came up with a per-kilo price, added the costs of the other ingredients (sugar, rice vinegar, chilli peppers), and realised pretty quick I had to go back to the drawing board. How about my very spicy Bhut Jolokia sauce? Uh-oh, this recipe calls for quite a few very rare and expensive Naga Bhut Jolokia chilli peppers, Australian garlic (I will certainly not using that bleached, flavourless Chinese stuff), and a lot of fresh papaya. That little spreadsheet I was working on did not make for a pleasant bedtime story, unless I sell bottles for $15 a pop! The whole project now appeared unrealistic, however, I pressed on. I’ll have to go back to the markets and see if I can get a better price on larger quantities of ingredients. Find a wholesaler to get me bulk sugar for under $1 per kilo, and the same for vinegar, garlic…

Suddenly this “knock up a few bottles to sell at the fete” thing had evolved, on paper, into a full-scale industrial production. How did that happen? I really love hot sauce. It makes you sweat, sends you on an endorphin rush, makes you feel alive. Does this justify risking everything? Just as the spectre of doubt began to cast it’s shadow on the flower of ambition, an email arrived from my artistically gifted pal, Mike Foxall of X-Ray Studios. His preliminary mock-ups exceeded my expectations by a wide margin. They were thrillingly sublime. They were hillarious. I could clearly envisage this artwork on the shelf in a store. Would I be able to walk past this product without a second glance?  No way. Would I want to try a bottle of Capital Punishment “Hangman’s Habanero”, resplendent with a bug-eyed chilli pepper hanging from a rope? Hells yes. Emboldened by a .jpeg image of a cartoon hot-pepper, I chose to press on.

One other thing kept me going. As I refined them, the recipes were getting pretty good.

I’m sharing all this on the off chance that others who have already travelled this path may find the blog and offer advice, and also that similar clueless start-ups will find something to learn from my success, or at least learn not what to do from my failures.

(With apologies to Catherine Aird) If I can’t be a good example, then I’ll just have to be a horrible warning.

Thanks for reading. I’ll let you know how the rest of it goes.

 

Links

If you are embarking on a small food business venture yourself, you will probably benefit from clicking these links

 

ACT Government Health Service  http://health.act.gov.au/health-services/population-health/health-protection-service/food-safety/

Small Food Business Advice  http://www.smallfoodbiz.com

Everything you need to know about food labelling in Australia and NZ:  http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/industry/labelling/Pages/default.aspx

The essential Australian Nutrition Panel Calculator  http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/industry/npc/Pages/Nutrition-Panel-Calculator-introduction.aspx

The USDA nutrient database (same thing, but for US peeps)  http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list

Shelf-life, use-by dates and best-before dates, Australia: http://www.foodauthority.nsw.gov.au/science/risk-framework-and-studies/food-risk-studies/food-risk-studies-shelf-life/#.Uz39SBbfJtM

Registering a trade mark in Australia  http://www.ipaustralia.gov.au

X-Ray Studios artwork  http://www.xraystudios.com

Punishing hot sauce, made in the nation's capital.