Friday, July 30, 2010

Fast food vs "food fast": What is the difference?

Upon hearing the terms "fast food" and "food fast", most people think they are the same thing. According to an article posted on, the two can be different. describes fast food as quick-service, drive thru restaurants and convenience stores while "food fast" is food served quickly with a greater focus on ambiance. In the article, "food fast" is described as an emerging trend. Consumers are looking for the convenience of a fast food restaurant with the menu options of a casual restaurant.

Technomic, a food industry research firm, explored this emerging trend in their "Status and Future of Fast Foods: Consumer Trend Report". Some of the things consumers are looking for include:
-the "upscaling" of limited-service restaurant formats
-the introduction of price-driven value elements into fast-casual restaurant menus
-the broadening of full-service restaurants' service formats to include convenience-oriented platforms like call-ahead and text/online ordering, home delivery, and curbside pickup.

An example of the of the "food fast" trend is the recent addition of "curbside pickup" at many big name casual restaurants. TGI Friday's, Applebee's, and Chili's all offer a program where diners can call ahead with their order and when they get to the restaurant, a server will bring the food to the diner's car. This service gives the quickness and ease of a traditional drive-thru restaurant, while still offering the menu selection of a sit-down restaurant.

As an ag entrepreneur, have you thought about adding any of the "food fast" elements to your establishment? Have your customers been asking for "food fast" options? If you already offer "food fast" options, how successful have these options been? Can you post some local examples of "food fast"?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Lessons Learned on Sabbatical Leave: Cash is King

I am (sort of) on sabbatical leave from my regular gig at Penn State.  I am working half-time at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Penn State.  (So, I went all the way to the other side of campus.)  My goal is to enhance my educational programs with the experience of working closely with entrepreneurs on a regular basis.  I am keeping a journal of my activities/experiences many of which are simply empirical applications of what has been theory to this point.  (That is, I have taught it but haven't experienced as much of it as I'd like.)

Yesterday, I met with a business owner who has a great product that could be widely adopted within a certain industry. (All details must be withheld to maintain confidentiality.)  The business has received lots of funds from goverment and non-government agencies/organizations because the product has a strong probability of succeeding.  Lenders have also supported the business because there is a good probability of a large payout in the not too distant future, but all of that might go unrealized if they can't cash flow the operation.

This particular business, like many others, operates on tight timelines with respect to managing cash flow.  Expense payments are scheduled around expcted receipt of funds from invoices, operating loans, etc.  If those funds come in late, then expenses (including payroll) might be late.  While some employees might be willing to wait a day or two for a paycheck, they probably won't be happy about doing that on a regular basis.  Suppliers might choose to reduce credit availability if there is a history of late payment.  Overall, it's just bad for business to get out of whack on cash flow.

Entrepreneurs MUST plan and manage their cash flows closely.  As the gas that keeps the engine running, you don't want to run out of cash before you reach that profitable destination.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Selling your ag products to the Muslim market

As an ag entrepreneur, there are many, many different niche markets to explore. Religious beliefs can play a big part in product choices for many Americans, and you as an entrepreneur may see this as an opportunity to market your product. According to the article "Tapping the Growing Muslim-American Market", Muslim-Americans are an under-served audience.

There are an estimated 6 to 8 million Muslims in America with an estimated market value of about $200 billion. When purchasing products, a major concern for Muslims is Halal certification. Halal means "what is permitted" in Arabic and can include food as well cosmetics,personal care, and cleaning products. Muslims may only consume goods and services which are Halal. Some estimates show that 70% of all Muslims worldwide follow Halal principles. To learn more about what Halal means and how to obtain Halal certification, please download this publication.

Lisa Mabe, principal of Hewar Social Communications, a digital marketing agency in Washington D.C., describes marketing to Muslim-Americans. "When companies target the Muslim community in their marketing communications, we see them flock to engage with that brand -- not only to purchase its products, but to become loyal brand advocates."

As an ag entrepreneur, are you looking for new niche markets? Have you explored marketing your products to Muslims? If you currently market to Muslims, how would you describe the Halal certification process? Has Halal certification grown your customer base?