Need tips for pitching a food concept to investors? Here’s some advice from two people who have been on both sides of the table.
Robert Earl and Freya Estreller appeared on a recent episode of Food Network’s Food Fortunes. Earl served as a potential investor while Esteller pitched her product, Ludlows Jelly Shots.
Earl has a long list of investments in the food business. In 1991, he founded the entertainment-focused restaurant concept Planet Hollywood along with original partners and celebrity stockholders Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone. Today, he’s also dabbling in the world of casual dining, as owner of Italian chain Buca di Beppo and sandwich chain Earl of Sandwich. In front of the camera, he’s made a name for himself not only as an investor on Food Fortunes, but also as the host of the Cooking Channel series Robert Earl’s Be My Guest.
Estreller also has a history in the food business, having opened the architecturally savvy food truck Coolhaus in 2009 with her co-founder, Natasha Case. Since then, the pair have turned the concept into a frozen treat empire, selling at markets across the U.S. and publishing a Coolhaus cookbook. However, now Estreller is focused on trying to attract investors to Ludlows Jelly Shots, her all-natural, ready-to-drink jellified cocktail concept.
Estreller walked away from Food Fortunes with an offer for $133,000 for 20 percent of Ludlows Jelly Shots. Here’s a look at what she learned from her experience on the show and years of pitching food concepts, as well as Earl’s take on what he looks for when investing.
Bring something new and exciting.
When Robert Earl invests, it’s because he believes the concept is something that can become huge. The best way to make it big is to develop something original, not a copycat concept.
Estreller’s Ludlows Jelly Shots are a perfect example of a fresh, mostly untested idea. Estreller and co-founder Ethan Feirstein teamed up to create a high-brow take of the low-brow college staple Jello shots, mixing up all-natural jellified cocktails in flavors like Moscow Mule and Old Fashioned.
“I want to be disruptive,” says Estreller. “We had to pick a niche we could dominate.”
When Estreller started shopping the Jelly Shots to distributors, most turned up their noses at the idea of ready-to-drink beverages. This, says Estreller, just helped convinced her there was a gap in the market, waiting to be filled.
Tap into trends.
Bringing something new to the table is great. However, when searching for an investor, you need to demonstrate that there is a growing market for your product. This is when highlighting trends becomes a key business move. For example, Earl says his current focus when looking for investments is the fast-casual industry.
“The biggest buzzword in the restaurant industry, bar none, at the moment are two words: fast casual,” he says. “That is what everyone is talking about, what everyone is salivating about.”
Ludlows Jelly Shots is in no way related to the fast casual market, but it was able to latch on to some other key trends in the food world right now. The shots are “all-natural” and made with “premium” ingredients – other buzzwords that make investors pay attention.
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In the age of Shark Tank, any entrepreneur knows the number one rule of pitching is to come with your financial figures ready. “I definitely rehearsed and timed myself and got feedback,” says Estreller.
Even if you aren’t planning on going on Food Fortunes, you can learn a thing or two from the show on how to stay calm while talking with investors. Estreller warns that investors may say things that are meant to rattle you or go against your beliefs. “Don’t take it personally,” she says.
Make your pitch engaging.
“I’ve pitched a lot, but obviously not in this competition format,” says Estreller. “I really made sure to get the audience engaged and involved immediately.”
Estreller says her pitch on Food Fortunes wasn’t like other pitches she’s given. Instead, it was a mix of American Idol, with the audience watching, and Shark Tank, with potential investors asking sharp questions.
The need to engage your investors in your business applies whether you’re pitching on a TV show or not. Food entrepreneurs have an edge here, as they can bring samples to pitches and offer them to anyone who will bite. If the product is good, even investors can’t resist nibbling.
Harness the momentum.
Prior to turning to Food Fortunes or other investors outside of friends and family, Estreller created a Kickstarter page to build awareness about her product while raising money.
“It’s easy these days to get money, but it’s harder and better to get smart money,” she says.
Estreller wants Ludlows to become much more than a gourmet Jello shot company, with plans to release a line of cocktails later this year. But by starting with a completely unique concept and building a crowdfunding campaign around it, the hope is that the business will gain name recognition before launching other products that would face more direct competition.