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box-lunch2.jpgAs an aspiring food entrepreneur, you may offer the best food products on the market, but have you drafted an adequate business plan?

This question will serve as one of the main themes of the second annual Food Entrepreneur Conference, scheduled Thursday and Friday, Feb. 27-28, at Prattville Marriott in Prattville.

"The success – or, for that matter, the failure – of a business enterprise often depends not only on the quality of the food product but also on how well an aspiring entrepreneur develops a business plan, markets the enterprise and navigates through the maze of federal, state and local regulations,” says Dr. Patricia Curtis, director of the Auburn University Food Systems Institute, which is sponsoring the conference.

"The main focus of this year’s conference will be guiding aspiring food entrepreneurs through these critical business, marketing and regulatory steps,” she says.

The first day of the session will introduce participants to the basic steps of financing and selling their products, starting with a presentation by experts from the Auburn University Small Business Development Center, followed by a panel discussion featuring a food-service broker, a distributor, and buyers from several big-box retailers.

John Marsh, CEO of jMarsh Advertising of Opelika, will cap off the afternoon session with a discussion of how to market a business enterprise, with a special emphasis on marketing via the Internet.

One of the biggest challenges new entrepreneurs often face is learning how to connect with the right people at the right time. With that in mind, a reception will be held at 5:30 p.m. to allow entrepreneurs to network with other aspiring business operators and representatives of the retail food industry.

Dinner along with a panel discussion of entrepreneurs sharing real-life stories will follow the reception.

The first session on Friday will address regulations, labeling and testing.

"It’s important for any aspiring entrepreneur to gain a good working knowledge of the regulatory agencies that affect the operations of their businesses,” Curtis says.

For that reason, the first part of this day’s instruction will focus on an overview of these agencies, what permits must be obtained, and where business operators can turn when they’re looking for answers to their questions.

The early morning session will also cover the types of labeling required of food entrepreneurs as well as the types of product testing they must undergo and why this testing is necessary.

The issue of organic products will also be covered during the morning session.

Participants will also be acquainted with the resources available to aspiring food business operators through the Food Systems Institute and Auburn University.

Later in the morning, participants will break into small groups based on their specific areas of interest. There will be four groups, each led by experts in the field of interest.

The first group will be led by Matt Wilson, a consultant with the Small Business Development Center, will discuss the challenges of creating a business plan.

Christy Bratcher, an associate professor in Auburn University’s Department of Animal Science, and Barney Wilborn, manager of the Lambert-Powell Meats Laboratory, will discuss meat production and processing options for small business owners in the second group.

The third group will be led by Dr. Jean Weese, Auburn professor of poultry science and Alabama Extension’s food safety team coordinator, and other experts who will outline the challenges of developing a food processing and catering enterprise.

Those interested in aquaculture can participate in the group led by faculty members from the Fisheries Business Institute. They will discuss aquaculture-related small business opportunities as well as the marketing and legal implications associated with them.

A keynote speaker from a successful food-related business will be featured during lunch.

Conference registration is $150 before and $200 after Feb. 15.

For more information or to register, contact Regina Crapps at (334) 844-7456. For speaker updates, visit the Auburn University Food Systems Website at www.aufsi.auburn.edu.


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