The Milk Crate Farm

Restaurants across America have hit on a novel idea. Instead of buying in their vegetables from local farms, they’re growing their own on roof top gardens and bits of waste land near to their premises. How do they do that? By planting in old milk crates? As you might imagine, I know nothing about growing vegetables at all, let alone the process of growing them in milk crates,  but if it can be done in a busy city centre like New York or Los Angeles, it can surely be done pretty much anywhere.

Would it be possible for UK restaurant owners to ‘grow their own’ in this manner? I don’t see why not. Might it be possible for an entrepreneur without land or experience to set up a milk crate farm supplying local restaurants? Very possibly.

This would take a bit more research, but it sounds an interesting idea.

Food Preparation Profits

Go to Marks & Spencer food hall and for a premium price, you can have your vegetables prepared to within an inch of their lives. In fact, all there’s left to do is cut open the packaging and throw them straight in the pan.  Produce tends to be a lot cheaper in other outlets, but you have to wash, peel, cut and whatever else you do with veggies. You can probably tell that I don’t cook!

Anyway, what if (say) there was a stall in your local market which sold nothing. Instead, it took the fresh vegetables that market customers had just bought, and pre-prepared them to the customers instructions? M&S presentation, but at a little over market prices. Might such a stall prove popular by combining low prices with convenience? I’m not sure really, you’d need to try it to find out.

S**t Coffee!

I’m conscious of the fact that several ideas we’ve covered in the past few weeks have involved some sort of faeces. It’s not an obsession, honestly. We just bring you what we find.

BlackIvorycoffee.com produce coffee from beans that have been ingested and excreted by Thai Elephants. The company claim that the elephants stomach juices give the beans (which are picked out of the droppings – now there’s a poor job!) their unique flavour. At $500 a pound it’s one of the world’s most expensive coffees.

The key point here is the PR value of the production process, and the curiosity it engenders. Couple that up with a high price and you have something which many will be unable to resist trying – at least once.

Give some thought to your product or service. Is there some newsworthy aspect to the production process, or could you engineer one? Could you produce a special edition, blend or version at a premium price which utilises this newsworthy aspect in the production process. If you can, it could be a licence to print money.

The Same…But Smaller

When the TSA ban on carrying liquids on planes in bottles of more than 100ml (3 oz) came into force, it opened up an opportunity which  New York company 3floz jumped in to fill. They started putting high end skin and hair care products in airline-friendly 3 fluid ounce bottles. These weren’t just marketed to travellers though.  They were also promoted to people who wanted to try out a product without going to the risk and expense of  buying the full sized version.

With a little lateral thinking, this concept has to have much wider applications.  What other expensive product or service could you re-package into smaller quantities, enabling the consumer to try it out without spending a fortune? And  when you’ve done that, how can  you position yourself to cash in if they decide to go for the full blown version?

In The Soup

I like businesses that are simple, and it’s for that reason that I like SoupCycle.

This Portland, Oregon based business has one basic product – soup. Each week it delivers one of three pre-selected soups (plus bread and salad) to 150 subscribers. The subscribers select which soup they’d like in the following week on the previous Friday, and then the company purchase the required ingredients over the weekend, cook up the soup on Mondays and commence deliveries on Tuesday’s. Simple.

So far the company has delivered over 10,000 orders for soup at around $18 per order. From the customers perspective, they get a freshly made top quality product delivered to their door. From the company’s perspective, they are able to benefit from economies of scale by keeping their product range to a minimum.

Is this something you could copy or take inspiration from? Perhaps you could duplicate the business wholesale in your area, or maybe there’s some other food product for which you could build up a subscription base for locally. Many businesses fail because they try to be too complicated or clever. Sometimes, less is more.

Heating Checks

The AA has offered some advice on household heating off the back of the report from the AA Home Emergency Response Service that between September 2011 and November 2011, the number of customers with boiler problems more than doubled.

If you haven’t already done so, turn your heating on for a few minutes each week to check it’s working properly.

Make sure that your pipes are properly insulated – this will help protect them from freezing in the winter.

If your pipes do freeze, thaw them out gently using hot water bottles or a hairdryer.

Keeping your heating on a constant, low heat throughout the day could reduce the chance of a breakdown and help maintain a consistent temperature.

Leave your loft hatch open slightly to allow warm air to circulate if you’re away.

Locate your main internal stopcock so you can switch it off in the event of an emergency. It is usually under the kitchen sink or where the service pipe enters the building.