When Kayla Yang-Best launched her line of DIY pho kits, she found it difficult to get her products placed in stores. And when she finally did, her profit margin dwindled.
Now, she helps other Minnesotan food makers display, market, and sell their wares in a more financially sustainable way at Seasoned Specialty Foods, an artisanal grocery store on Grand Avenue in St. Paul. The shop opened in March and offers everything from locally grown kale, broccoli, and cauliflower to ready-to-make meals and Banh Mi, while simultaneously providing makers and growers higher profits.
The concept is called “co-retailing.” Think co-working spaces, but… with retail.
“You don’t have to be here to sell your product. You don’t have to market it.” Yang-Best says. “We will do all of that. We have staffing. We are open all year round.”
Food makers on shelves at Seasoned pay an annual or biannual fee that averages out to between $40 and $60 per month; that money goes into an administrative pool for costs associated with selling their products. The maker sets their own price—coaching is available for those who don’t how to do it—and the store gives 100 percent of profit from each sale back to the entrepreneur. Seasoned doesn’t mark up products or take a percentage out of the price. The only requirements other than the fee are a license from the appropriate governing state agency (often the Minnesota Department of Agriculture) and that packaging standards are met.
The model has an edge on both the wholesale system and farmers markets. In wholesale systems, prices are often reduced to appeal to shoppers, so makers take home minimal profits (if they turn a profit at all). In Yang-Best’s case, she barely breaks even when she sells her pho kits wholesale.
Profits are higher for food makers at farmers markets, but selling there requires a lot of labor: gathering a team to pack a truck, driving to the market, setting up a booth, and selling all day. The co-retailing option allows for a focus on what they love to do: making food.
Yang-Best’s long-term plan? To open a half-dozen similar stores throughout the state.
She hasn’t always been in the food business herself. She trained as a lawyer, worked overseas at a non-governmental organization, and spent 20 years in philanthropy doing grant-making. But she’s always loved all things culinary.
“Food, I think, is the heart of culture. More so than ever before, we need to bring different people to the table and I think food does that very well,” she says. “Food is very personal. It is based on individual health needs. It may be based on religious needs. It may be based on what comforted you when you were growing up. I think people understand that. We all need to eat. We all need to live. Food fuels that from inside. I think it can connect people.”
It’s that love that motivates her to shepherd these brands into the marketplace and ensure local food makers persevere. “I am part of that local food community,” she says, “and I want to help keep that thriving.”
Seasoned Specialty Foods
1136 Grand Ave., St. Paul