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Food conference to bring experts, entrepreneurs together

Submitted by Ginny Schlichting
Phone: (907) 474-5211

04/24/07

A conference highlighting Alaska homegrown specialty and gourmet foods will take place in Fairbanks May 4-5 at the Hutchison Institute of Technology's culinary arts facility. Sponsored by Cooperative Extension Service, the event is specially designed for Alaskans interested in the specialty food business.

The conference aims to provide resources to guide small business owners through the food product development process and features keynote speaker Stephen Hall, author of "From Kitchen to Market." Hall is president of Food Marketing International, a company that coaches specialty food firms who would like to expand their businesses.

"We hope participants will not only be able to take something away from the nationally-recognized speaker, but be able to network with each other," explained Coral Howe, Extension small business development specialist.

One of the challenges for small businesses in Alaska is the geography, said Howe. "Alaska can be a tough place for small industry," "It's often difficult to work with peers. We've scheduled some time to allow participants to visit with each other." The first day of the conference features a trade-show, which includes taste-testing participants' products giving attendees a chance to explore business partnerships.

"Almost all jam and jelly makers buy their supplies from the same suppliers, but they usually buy in small quantities and end up paying more. If producers could network and buy these products as a unit, this could make a huge difference in their profit margin," Howe said. "This conference will help lay the groundwork for these types of partnerships."

The second day consists of roundtable discussions moderated by small-business professionals on business-related topics such as brand design, website development and customer service. The sessions will focus on experiences of industry professionals, business experts and Alaska's own successful specialty food entrepreneurs.

Many producers of food products work fulltime in addition to producing their goods.

"The expense of getting products to market, can be enormous," said Howe, "Hopefully through brainstorming, education and cooperation we can put people in a situation where business is profitable."

Although many small food producers do very well regionally, there is potential for branding Alaska products in a larger market.

"The conference will provide a venue for producers to come to terms with how to brand Alaska products and how to create an Alaska image," said Howe. "Alaska products just may fill a niche market for fresh, organic and unprocessed products." The event is also geared toward individuals interested in starting product production, restaurateurs interested in carrying local products and others in the food business. Although the event is tailored to the food industry, organizers say the concepts of networking and overcoming geography apply to many Alaska small businesses.

CONTACT: Small Business Development Specialist Coral Howe at (907) 474-1512 or coral.howe@uaf.edu. Health, Home and Family Development Agent Roxie Rodgers Dinstel at (907) 474-2426 or fnrrd@uaf.edu or Extension Foods Specialist Kristy Long at (907) 474-7974 or ffkal@uaf.edu.

Visit www.uaf.edu/ces for registration information.