10 steps when launching a food product

Karen Kilkenny, owner and founder of the Pickly Pig, a gourmet foor company based in Oakland, CA.

It all started with a pork sandwich.

When foodie Karen Kilkenny, owner of the award-winning Prickly Pig gourmet food company, hosted the first barbecue for her friends at her apartment in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, the end-result was a promising beginning. Thirteen pounds of pork BBQ and sides left her friends licking their fingers and asking, “Will you make food for my party?”

Soon every special occasion became a good time to sample Karen’s BBQ, which in turn led to more catering opportunities and pork sandwich samplings at pop-ups, markets, and events in San Francisco and Oakland.

We want the sauce! - Karen's fans

"You need to bottle that sauce!" became the mantra of Karen's friends and family. In 2014, Karen decided to really get saucy. She began bottling the specialty crafted North/South Carolina blend with special ingredients and a spicy goodness that works not only with pork, but with many other foods as well. (Karen likes to use her rubs on biscuits as well as in soups, potato salad, burgers, and vegan recipes.)

Karen worked with a graphic designer to create a signature Prickly Pig logo: a composite of an angry pig with her dog's face. She also formlated a salt-based dry rub with a garlic flair and has gone on to add two more dry rubs to her product offerings.

A Kiva loan takes Prickly Pig to the next level ...

Karen began bottling sauce by hand but eventually found it too labor-intensive. She funded a $5,000 Kiva loan and purchased a machine that automatically fills bottles to make them shelf-stable. With her new machine, she found she could fill twice as many jars in one fourth the amount of time. With that extra time, she marketed her sauce and got placements in 17 Northern California retailers.

There have been many things I didn't know, so I asked friends in the food industry for help.

"There's a lot that goes into starting a food business," says Karen. "Filing for state business and health department permits...learning how to bottle sauce...whittling down the process...researching co-packers...finding out how to sell into a grocery store. It takes time. Sometimes I didn't know where to start so I asked friends and anyone else I knew in the food industry for advice."

Karen knew that if she was going to scale her business production for national distribution, she was going to need a plan.

I had a clear idea of my go-forward plan.

Her sights were set on walking into a major grocery store and seeing her sauce on the shelf. So she did what a good organizer and planner does -- she made a list and did her homework:

  1. Manufacture sauces and rubs that are shelf-stable, meaning they can be safely stored at room temperature.

  2. Build the recipe for scale and ensure the products still taste the same as they do when prepared in smaller batches.

  3. Package the products in ways that meet all regulations as well as keep branding consistent.

  4. Apply for an FDA exemption from putting nutritional values on labels -- available to businesses based criteria like annual sales volume, or number of employees, or units sold.

  5. Design labels for when the FDA exemption can no longer be met.

  6. Purchase UPC codes --  expensive!

  7. Apply for a California state food license. Find out all the on-site food facility inspection criteria ahead of time to be ready for inspection day when the state evaluator will visit the prep kitchen.

  8. Figure out the projected financial revenue and costs to ensure sure the scaled recipes are cost effective.

  9. Find a co-packer to mass produce sauce and rubs. There are many different pricing options to evaluate. Make sure the co-packer has a good reputation, follows all laws and regulations, and has transparent pricing.

  10. Determine your shipping options. Also expensive. Make sure to budget adequately these costs!

Karen has lots more advice for food entrepreneurs. Stay tuned for the sequel: “Co-packing it up: Prickly Pig brings sauce to a nation of BBQ’ers”.


Get some Prickly Pig sauce and you'll be oinking at a #pricklypigout soon!

Learn more about Prickly Pig, and their versatile, yummy product line! Check out Karen's website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


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About the author

Kathy Gledhill

Kathy is an volunteer on the Kiva U.S. marketing team and is excited to help Kiva promote their mission of connecting entrepreneurs with a community of lenders who provide interest-free loans and become champions of the entrepreneurs they support.  Kathy has spent over 25 years assisting small and medium sized businesses as a CFO or consultant, helping them to grow their offerings, obtain funding, and manage working capital.  Kathy has an MBA from New York University and a BA from Swarthmore College.