Food for thought?
If you’re thinking of launching your own start-up once you leave behind your uniform, the billion-pound business of street food has much to recommend it. Anna Oliver of X-Forces Enterprise pitches up with facts – and plenty of inspiration – for you to chew over …
There was a time when the firm British favourite, fish and chips served in newspaper, was a rare on-the-go treat, but the emergence of the street food trend over the past decade has turned the British food industry on its head. Research by caterer.com shows that one in four people in the UK eat street food at least once a month, and estimates the value of UK street food markets to have reached a staggering £1.2 billion.
As a nation, the Brits are big foodies. The popularity of TV shows like MasterChef and The Great British Bake Off is testament to our love of good food. Street food is not only a huge hit among customers looking for a more fun and convenient way of dining, but it is also a great way for budding chefs to take a lower-risk leap into entrepreneurship.
A total of 10% of start-up businesses supported by X-Forces Enterprise (XFE) are in the food and drink sector, making it one of the most popular industries for former military personnel. While the booming British street food market shows no sign of slowing, we consider why a scrumptious start-up can be the perfect blend of freedom and income for the Service leaver.
Advantages to starting a street food business
- Lower start-up costs: Unlike those requiring fixed premises, the start-up costs involved in a street food business will be lower, without high initial deposits, fixed ongoing rents, long lease terms, and the estate agent and solicitor fees associated with leases. What’s more, business rates rarely apply and many operators stay under the VAT threshold.
- Market responsiveness: If you are unsure about giving up the day job and fully committing from the outset, a part-time street food business will enable you to gauge demand for your particular cuisine or chosen location, and refine these details before making the increased time commitment.
- Flexibility of location: If a particular location isn’t drawing the custom you want then you’re free to move to another. Similarly, you can make the most of the high passing trades at seasonal festivals, shows and events without worrying about who will take care of the restaurant.
- Increased profit margins: With lower costs, the business has the potential to reap higher profits from converting raw resources into cooked meals. But beware – profits come only with sales; fresh food businesses carry a higher risk of wastage through spoiling if sales are not made.
Top tips to turn a profit from your passion
- Do your sums: Do the resources and the pitch fees equate to a sensible break-even, not forgetting any equipment and set-up costs? Get it on paper and make sure it makes sense before investing any money. Your business plan should comprise all costs and possible risks with a 12-month cash flow forecast.
- Know your market: Who are your customers, where will you find them, how much would they pay and who is your competition? These are the key questions to differentiate your product and establish your niche.
- Perfect your recipes: Practice makes perfect when it comes to food and drink. Trial your recipes on family and friends, and polish the delivery well ahead of the pressure of your first sales opportunity.
- Get certified: Get in touch with your local Council’s Trading Standards and Food Hygiene teams to be sure you are adhering to all requirements. They are there to help and early consultation can avoid costly mistakes with labelling or signage. Food allergies can potentially be fatal, so being prepared and informed makes great business sense.
- Build your tribe: Networking for a new food brand is vital. Tempt potential customers with mouth-watering photos via social media, and invite them to engage by sharing their own photos and reviews.
Jamie Savage – Savages Mussels
Jamie served as a chef in the Royal Navy and, when he was offered the opportunity to leave the Service, he took the positive step to consider new culinary challenges. He followed his passion for seafood and started out doing pop-up events before taking a pitch in Altrincham Market. Jamie combines mussels with modern flavours and is attracting quite a following from food lovers. With a Start Up Loan, facilitated by XFE, Jamie has doubled his turnover in two years and is making the move into permanent premises in Macclesfield this autumn.
Jamie offers this advice: ’Being adaptable is key, and not being afraid to promote your product on social media to create a buzz – good photos can whet the appetite and entice new customers. Market trading has allowed me to build my following and it has been great fun, but I’m looking forward to the next chapter, which will allow me to be more creative and employ more staff in my own premises.’
Malcolm Moore and Thomas Trinder – Burnout BBQ
Serving BBQ food from a 1950s Ford pickup truck was the unique vision of ex-RAF bomb disposal technician Malcolm and his business partner Thomas. Having launched in spring this year, the business has already held pitches at dozens of events around the UK, including Reading Festival (where they won a trader’s award), serving American-themed ribs, burgers and tacos en masse.
Malcolm explains how the idea came about: ’We love food and cars, and we thought there would be nothing better than combining a BBQ and a hot rod. We bought the truck four years ago and undertook all the modifications ourselves. There is a huge amount of competition in street food now, and it is vital to stand out. We certainly attract a lot of attention but ultimately it is vital that the food is good.’
Robb Fulton – Ultra Kitchen
Robb’s Army career in the Adjutant General’s Corps may have had little to do with food, however his management experience has proved instrumental in starting his prep kitchen-café in spring 2019, serving meals for power lifters and bodybuilders. Having identified a gap in the market for healthy prepared meals, and finding the ideal location inside the Ultra Flex gym in Rotherham, Ultra Kitchen has attracted serious athletes including Olympic boxer Nicola Adams, with whom he has a contract to supply all meals while in training. Robb is now planning expansion to a second pop-up location.
Robb explains his outlook: ‘After 32 years in the Army, I was medically discharged in 2017 – for me that wasn’t a negative time, but an exciting opportunity to combine my passion for healthy eating and strength training into a business. I attended one of X-Forces’ courses, which got me started with the business plan, and I haven’t looked back. Just six months in, I can see the opportunity for expansion, and I hope to employ fellow veterans and establish a supportive community.’
Phil and Irene Smith – Pothead and Panface
After leaving the Army, Phil met Irene in 2012 and the couple quickly realised they were kindred entrepreneurs. Being keen foodies, they decided the logical step for a joint venture lay in the food industry and, with the help of Irene’s daughters, Pothead and Panface was born. The family started out in a gazebo before progressing to their first restaurant in the military town of Tidworth, funded with the help of a Start Up Loan.
Irene says: ‘As a family, we have always had a passion for food and cooking. We felt a sense of freedom and the excitement of being masters of our own destiny together. During the first quarter of being open, our turnover increased consistently each month and we have now developed quite a following in the town, with many families that visit regularly. We have extended our reach to offer event catering for weddings and parties, and are considering opening a second bistro.’
Joe Poole – KaffeKop
Former Air Crewman Joe started an independent café car, serving speciality coffee from a permanent pitch at Keynsham Train Station and pop-up events around the country. Driven by a passion for coffee, Joe accessed a Start Up Loan through XFE to procure a Nissan Cube vehicle and, within three weeks, it had been converted by a specialist.
Joe recounts his journey: ‘I’ve always wanted to set something up on my own and have had plenty of business ideas but none of them passed the validation stage until KaffeKop. I took a barista course, sourced the highest-grade coffee I could, achieved my hygiene certificate and I was ready. Business is good; customers like the coffee and convenient positioning and I have plans to grow the business to include a number of vehicles.’
Ready to get started?
Once you have thought of your great foodie business idea, the Business Advisors at X-Forces Enterprise are available to guide you through the regulations and business planning process to be ready to begin trading. Free training workshops to learn business skills among like-minded people from the military community are delivered at locations around the UK.
If you need investment to get started, X-Forces Enterprise can help you to access a low-interest government-backed Start Up Loan of up to £25,000 per applicant, which comes with ongoing mentoring support. If you have already begun trading, as long as it’s been under two years, then XFE can still provide assistance.
Register your interest at www.x-forces.com and take the first step towards becoming your own boss.
ABOUT X-FORCES ENTERPRISE (XFE)
XFE is an award-winning Community Interest Company that nurtures entrepreneurial ambition in the UK military community, and is the official delivery partner to the government’s Start Up Loans scheme and the Career Transition Partnership (CTP). XFE has supported more than 1,500 entrepreneurs to start their own businesses, and has helped many more through training, events and mentoring.
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