AUBURN, Ala.–Last year, more than 40 aspiring and up-and-coming food entrepreneurs attended the Food Entrepreneur Conference in Auburn to learn more about starting their own food business. Patricia Barnes, or “Sister Schubert,” shared the story of how she got her Parker House-style yeast rolls – a family recipe – into grocery stores nationwide, and marketing guru John Marsh talked about what it took to transform downtown Opelika into one of the area’s most popular eating locales.
This year’s conference is shaping up to be even more successful, with a list of speakers from all over the food business spectrum and panel topics that hit key points of food entrepreneurship. The fourth annual event will be held April 27-28 at the Center for Advanced Science, Innovation and Commerce in the Auburn Research Park.
Sponsored by the Auburn University Food Systems Institute (AUFSI) and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, the conference is ideal for anyone with a “famous” recipe they want to take to the next level, as well as current small-business owners and farmers.
“Auburn University offers a lot of resources for aspiring entrepreneurs and small producers, but until now there hasn’t been a central source to get guidance. That is the main reason for this conference,” said Pat Curtis, director of AUFSI.
Attendees will receive expert advice on topics such as getting a food product to market, labeling and testing regulations, finances and product marketing. Alabama Extension will offer help with Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) training, which is required of farmers who sell to big-box stores such as Wal-Mart, as well as guidance about county, state and federal regulations.
Real world advice from a panel of successful food entrepreneur guests is a conference highlight each year.
This year’s keynote speaker will be Chuck Caraway, owner of Southern Classic Food Group in Brundidge, Alabama, which produces a variety of sauces, dressings and marinades. Caraway began the company about 15 years ago in an old Piggly Wiggly with just seven people, and now he’s in the middle of a multimillion dollar expansion and as well as creating a subsidiary, Magnolia Vegetable Producers, to help separate the handling of produce from his current product lines.
Without giving too much away, Caraway says that one of his take-home messages for aspiring entrepreneurs will be to “have a plan … and be prepared to change that plan.”
“The definition of ‘experience’ that I go by is ‘knowing a lot of things not to do again,” he added. “Most every successful person I know has experience by that definition. In other words, they did not always succeed – but they learned.”
In addition, Danny Fox of Tanner’s Pecans & Candies will speak during Thursday’s lunch about his experience managing the Mobile-based candy and confection company.
Like Caraway, Fox says that if there’s anything he’s learned from his own experience it’s that change is inevitable. “You must be able to shift your business model,” he says.
Other scheduled guests include, among others, Danny Butler, marketing professor from the AU College of Business; Ellie Taylor from the Alabama Grocer’s Association; and Tiffany Denson from T. Lish, a line of all-natural dressings, marinades and sauces.
Cost to attend the conference is $150 before April 15 and $200 after that. For more information, a continuously updated program agenda and registration, visit www.aufsi.auburn.edu.