There’s no business like the food business, and Gaye Sandoz has been doing it for over 37 years. She is a chef by trade (and for Tony Chachere’s), took Cajun Injector on QVC, published her own cookbook, launched a kitchen product line, and kickstarted the first two food incubators in Louisiana (Edible Enterprises & LSU’s Food Incubator). If there’s anyone who knows how to get your food product on the shelf, it’s her. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet her and she has helped me get my salad dressing on the shelf in 30 days (your mileage may vary).
I had a chance to sit down with her at The Jambalaya Shoppe to talk about her story, how to get on the shelf, and how she manages it all. I also added a little lagniappe at the end.
Interview with Gaye Sandoz, The Shelf Jeannie
Richard: How did you wind up in the food industry anyway? Was it something you went to school for, how did you get started?
Gaye: When I was 5 I had this easy bake oven and I used to package and develop little small bags of easy bake oven size cakes of my own recipes. That’s how I started, and I never stopped. I’d sell it to all of my friends. I co-packed little easy bake oven recipes for them. I went to graduate school and studied Dietetics and Nutrition. But I got my start in retail with Cajun Injector and I was their research and development person. I just assisted them in new product development and their QVC account. Which was so much fun, it was like not even a job, it was so much fun.
Richard: What would you tell someone who has an idea about a food product, but isn’t sure?
Gaye: I would tell them to find someone that has been in the business and try to avoid all of the costly mistakes that new businesses make, especially in the food industry where you can’t get ahead before you sink under.
Richard: You’re all over the place. I know that you launched your food line: Clever Kitchens, all while having a 9-5 job. How is that possible?
Gaye: My work is my hobby, which I love it, so I’m very passionate about what I do. I always have plan B just in case plan A isn’t working, and it’s fun. It’s fun to see yourself do something besides your every day job. So I enjoy it, I really do. I love it.
Richard: Are there any resources you could recommend to get on the shelf quickly? Like any books, articles, or blogs?
Gaye: Well, the incubator source is a great source. The food incubators, usually they’ll have people who have been in the business and can help with marketing and sales, and that’s the key to anything. You can have a product that tastes delicious but if you don’t market it, it won’t go off the shelf. Coca-Cola spends more on their marketing than they do on their production. Marketing is just so important.
Richard: Is there something that you regret doing or wish you would have done differently when starting up?
Gaye: Not really, I’ve had awesome experiences in the food industry. I’ve been to China, I’ve made products for Wal-Mart, I’ve made products for QVC. I think the most important thing is just following your passion. If you’re passionate about something, you’ll end up doing what you want in the long run. I did many things I didn’t like before I got to this point.
Richard: What’s next for you and where can people find you?
Gaye: We’re going to startup this food incubator at LSU and make that successful, and I always have ideas, you know. You have to just get an idea that’s feasible and that you know will work, can’t do all your ideas, right?
Anyone interested in finding out more information about the AgCenter’s food incubator can contact Gaye at (225) 252-7162 or email@example.com.
Play the interview
This is an audio version of this interview. I’m taking these interviews and making a podcast, this is the very first episode — so it might be a little rough around the edges. DO enjoy :)
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A little lagniappe
Sell Your Specialty Food by Stephen F. Hall
This book will give you great insight on the food industry and the process of bringing your product to the market. Some areas drag out a little, but it’s worth the read. If you had to read just one chapter, make it #3 “Getting Ready for the Market” — great check lists and ideas for cash-flow.
View on Amazon
A food incubator is more than just a kitchen to rent, it’s a community. It’s a group of food entrepreneurs, like you, who are bringing their idea to life. Just talking to the other tenants and going to different events held by the incubator are worth the price alone. To find an incubator in your state, just google “food incubator [your state]”. Here’s a list for Louisiana:
Google: food incubator louisiana
Make 1,000 bottles first. You’ll know more about your process and the way you want to make your food product after making 1,000 bottles at a food incubator or commercial kitchen. I would have to say that is required before going to a co-packer. Once you’ve made it, it’s time to master it and you can only learn that from experience. Here’s a list of 700+ co-packers in America:
If you’re interested in making your own food product, I challenge you to call an incubator now and setup a free tour — it’s worth it.