Terry and Dawn Hall are both well-travelled with a wealth of experience in the hospitality sector. During their travels, the Halls identified three patterns that informed their belief that they could venture into the fresh and healthy foods segment. First, the demand for fresh, natural food far exceeded the supply. Second, the viability of small businesses was waning. Third, there was an inverse correlation between the supply of healthy food and the prevalence of obesity. From these patterns, especially the first one, the Halls determined that there was a gap – business opportunity – in the market that they could occupy by starting a business that not only sold fresh, natural foods to clients but also took healthy servings to customers. Still on the first trend, the Halls were also motivated by their own firsthand experience of the inaccessibility of fresh, healthy foods. When they had a daughter, they resolved that they preferred her diet to consist of healthy, fresh foods. Nevertheless, they were disappointed to find that such options were hard to find at the restaurants they visited. Their frustrations informed the assumption that there were probably many parents and individuals who had similar experiences and who would be delighted at the prospect of having a ready supply of fresh, healthy foods. As working parents, the Halls desired flexibility; this inspired the idea of selling fresh, healthy servings from a mobile rather than static restaurant. Many employees are usually compelled to eat unhealthy foods because that is what is easily accessible; the Halls felt they could tap into this market by bringing fresh, healthy foods closer to clients.
The Halls had formal education in the hospitality segment; this armed them with the theoretical knowledge and skills that is needed to run a food and catering business. On top of this, they had both worked in the hospitality industry for over 30 years. It is safe to assume that during this period they acquired the necessary insights, experience, abilities, and skills to establish, operate, and grow a food business. It is worth noting that experience also opens a person’s eyes to the important dynamics of a particular industry, such as competition, market share, legal and regulatory aspects, entry and trends, among others. The Halls had probably studied and understood how the businesses in the hospitality sector operate and the factors that determine failure or success. Finally, the Halls had traveled widely throughout the United States courtesy of their careers; this, it should be presumed, exposed them to different aspects of the hospitality, catering, and food businesses and prepared them for what lay ahead in their own startup.
First, Happy Belly’s menu was based on what was fresh rather than what it could sell. This mantra ensured that at any one time, customers bought the healthiest instead of the most popular foods, straight from the restaurant’s fresh inventory. Happy Belly tried as much as possible to buy produce locally. The benefit of this approach is that supplies travel a short distance from the source to the kitchens where they are prepared for retail, minimizing the likelihood of contamination or staling. The business adopted a philosophy called farm to street that involved partnering with local farmers to access only the freshest produce available.
From the beginning, the Halls made supporting the community part of their business objectives. As has already been mentioned, one of the patterns they noticed during their travels was that the extent of obesity was inversely linked to the abundance of healthy food. By establishing a business that sold fresh, healthy servings, the Halls ensured that all members of their community could eat healthy and therefore reduce susceptibility to and level of obesity amongst them. Second, the Halls promoted local farmers by contracting them to supply produce. Empowering local producers ensured that money flowed in the community as farmers spent what they earned from the business locally. The Halls strove to plough back and invest their earnings into the local community. For instance, 5 percent of Happy Belly’s profits went to the local chapter of Boys and Girls Club.
The four critical resources for Happy Belly included startup capital, a food truck, a commercial kitchen, and labor. Startup capital was hard to come by despite the partners’ combined savings, zero debt, work experience, and excellent credit. Eventually, a community development financial institution came to their rescue by providing the credit required to make the business a reality. The loan, together with the duo’s savings, financed the acquisition of the other three critical resources. For instance, although the Halls had a commercial kitchen, it required remodeling. The business also needed to recruit about twelve more employees, all of whom would be salaried.
As a new entrant in the food business, Happy Belly has differentiated itself by focusing on fresh, healthy foods. Having earned recognition from Shape magazine, the business should exploit the positive publicity to market itself in Atlanta and the country at large. Happy Belly should also work on increasing the accessibility of its products to customers as this is one of its biggest selling points. A good way would be acquiring more trucks to give it greater reach on the ground so that customers do not have to strain to eat healthy. Finally, the business should expand its menu to include more variety of fresh, healthy foods. This may involve strengthening partnerships with local farmers to ensure it always has a constant supply of healthy servings by, for instance, supporting them to farm marketable organic produce.
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