Starting an online food business? Experts share tips

Lives and livelihoods were lost due to the pandemic. But despite the damages and disruptions, many Filipinos are finding ways to survive. 

MAKE IT ENTICING. 22 Grams Patisserie’s bestselling Loca Banana Cookies presented in a creative way. (Photo from @22grams.mnl/Instagram)
Taking advantage of the increased demand for food delivery, celebrities, flight attendants, chefs, and even ordinary Filipinos with or without background in food, have ventured into online food enterprise. 

“Before lockdown, I had my kiosks and Sunday bazaars. Sadly, when quarantine started, all was closed so I focused on home-based business instead,” shared Chef John Joseph “JJ” Viel during the online talk “Mortar and Pestle: Pivot to the Online Food Business” hosted by San Miguel Foods Culinary Center. 

He quickly established Commissario by Chef Joseph Viel to offer his bestselling Osso Buco, Chicken Parmigiana, and Cerveza Negra Beef Pot Roast, among others, in party tray format to his loyal patrons and those looking for authentic Italian cuisine. 

Pastry chef Dave Cervantes was affected by the pandemic as well, but he did what many Filipinos do best, he adapted to the situation and founded 22 Grams Patisserie where he offers the now cult-favorite Loca Banana Cookies among other desserts. 

“When I started 22 Grams, it was a one-man team,” he recalled. “I did everything: cook,  deliver, and take photos of the products and post them on social media.” 

Take advantage of social media

Without a physical store to speak of, both chefs took advantage of the reach of social media. One of the things, they said, aspiring food entrepreneurs must focus on.

Chef John Joseph Viel established his home-based business to offer authentic Italian cuisine.
“Like everyone during the initial lockdown, we all felt its effects. But thanks to social media, I was able to boost my brand,” said Chef Viel, who regularly posts free recipes on TikTok. “It’s my dream to teach, but since we’re in pandemic, the next best thing [I can do] is these one-minute cooking videos—entertaining and digestible.”

Chef Cervantes, seconded, sharing how he uses Facebook and Instagram while offering tips on how to best endorse products on social media that will translate to sales. 

“Social media is visual, so it’s very effective if you post something creative, highlighting your products,” he advised, adding that sharing the story behind each product is also an effective way to attract and interact with clients. 

Endorse your products through testimonials 

Word-of-mouth is an effective strategy to promote any business. Its online version? Screenshots of customers’ glowing reviews—after all, any customer would be more inclined to purchase from someone who has had satisfied buyers. 

“The moment you start garnering your followers, use the power of testimonials,” said Chef Viel. “When I was starting, I would ask my customers if I could screenshot and post their testimonials.”

“Testimonials are effective; whenever they give positive reviews, post that on social media. That’s the new ‘word-of-mouth’,” he added. 

But what if customers give negative feedback?

Don’t be discouraged

Starting a food business is not as easy as one might think. And part of the challenges is not being able to meet your customers’ expectations. 

Chef Dave Cervantes started his online food business with a one-man team.
Should there be any criticisms, Chef Viel said, “Understand where they’re coming from. Understand the market and understand what they like. Don’t take it personally.”

 “You can’t please everyone,” emphasized Chef Cervantes. “But understand what they’re saying and apply it to your products, learn something from what they’re saying.”

“Before, I would react aggressively to their criticisms,” admitted Chef Cervantes. “But now we’re more open because it’s what makes your products good.”

Focus on your products and adapt to the market

While it’s easy to be swayed by feedback and trends, say, trendy food items like ube cheese pandesal and baked sushi—which many are now selling online, both chefs suggest that, while riding on a trend is not bad, it’s better to focus on what you can do best and improve it. 

Commissario by Chef Joseph Viel’s Tiramisu packaged in reusable container. 
(Photo from @chefjosephviel/Instagram)
“If it’s trendy already, you can join them but make sure your product is different or better than them because you have a lot of competition. In order for you to penetrate a saturated market, make something unique, be the trendsetter,” said Chef Cervantes, who focuses on creating something new or tweaking well-loved food items to make them stand out. 

“Focus on your products and make them easily accessible to people. Adapt to what they like.”

Chef Viel, meanwhile, suggested establishing what your product is. “Don’t forget the concept of your products,” while making sure “you know what market you’re trying to win, what market you’re trying to sell your products.”

Develop the right strategy for your business

As with all kinds of business, an effective strategy is vital to make sure quality is maintained, customers are satisfied, and profits trickle in. 

“Be strict with your finances. Make sure you’re still making a profit from what you’re selling,” reminded Chef Viel. 

He advised to keep home-based business manageable. “Invest in manpower if you want to scale up. But it’s better to keep everything small, don’t make your business big yet. Keep it simple first.”

“The nice thing about home-based business is you can do it in the comforts of your home. [But should you decide to scale up] you might have to trim down your menu based on the products that you’re selling. Because the bigger the menu, the more equipment you’ll need,” explained Chef Viel. 

Chef Cervantes agreed, and instead suggested making an effective plan on how to conduct your business. For instance, he has a shipping schedule so as not to compromise the quality of his food items. 

“Since most of my products are scheduled, all items are made a day before or on the day of delivery. Since the orders are consolidated, quality is consistent.” 

Meanwhile, Chef Viel said he changed his menu to make them travel-friendly. He also uses the right packaging and ensures the delivery rider has insulated box to maintain the food’s temperature. 

“Temperature is a very tricky thing, that’s why I always serve my products in aluminum trays or microwavable containers.”

Topics: John Joseph “JJ” Viel , Dave Cervantes , Mortar and Pestle: Pivot to the Online Food Business , Online Business , San Miguel Foods Culinary Center

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