Macon Ridge Foods
1203 N. 19th Street, Monroe, LA 71203
Established in 2009
Ben Erwin and Josh Raley
Macon Ridge Foods started as an idea pitched during the TOP DAWG Business Plan Competition at Louisiana Tech University. The idea involved a sweet potato muffin and biscuit recipe from Josh Raley’s grandmother, and they called it Dezzie Dough.
Both founders did not have much experience in the food market, but they took a leap of faith into the world of entrepreneurship. They saw the opportunity to break into the industry as the popularity of sweet potatoes was on the rise. But they also knew that they would need more than just a health conscious society to launch their product into the market. Early development discovered the need for great packaging especially when trying to introduce a new product into a grocery store.
So Macon Ridge Foods devoted much of its research into packaging in order to find the right design and look for their product. This research lead them to a packaging design highly utilized in Europe but virtually unknown in the United States. They discovered the “spout pouch” that is essentially a plastic bag with a plastic spout. This piping bag style of packaging offers great convenience for the consumers because now they do not have to deal with all the materials and time needed to prepare fresh baked items. Macon Ridge Foods could now offer this raw ready-to-bake dough in a package that would allow people to “Dollop, Squeeze, and Bake.” Taking this innovative package design, Macon Ridge Foods has expanded its product line deeper into the breakfast food market. They now offer 10 different products that include flavored pancakes, biscuits, and muffins.
The design became the selling point for Dezzie Dough when talking to the grocery stores. In the beginning, Macon Ridge Foods had their test markets in Louisiana and parts of Mississippi and Alabama. Now they have expanded across the Southeast to Virginia and north into Wisconsin and Chicago. The number of stores that carry their product has increased tenfold since the beginning. They hope to continue to further develop these regions while looking towards Texas and Oklahoma and even as far north as Canada.
Having a novel packaging concept does have its drawbacks as Macon Ridge Foods has learned. A unique product has limited manufacturers and suppliers, so now the challenge comes in finding partners to work with you for production. This setback simply added more to the traditional challenges faced when starting a business, but they have taken great strides in overcoming these obstacles.
In developing this business, Erwin has come to value patience. The retail food industry has not offered much instant gratification for this start-up, but success has come nonetheless for it. So he has learned how to set realistic timelines of success for the business. Erwin credits networking as his greatest resource in growing the business. He encourages young entrepreneurs to get to know people in your industry but also those who are familiar with starting a business. “Probably your most valuable resource is just having somebody you can pick up the phone and call… when you have a question.”
Finally Erwin counsels those who have the desire to be “master of their own destiny” or make a difference in your life or the life of others that they need to pursue those entrepreneurial hopes. “No amount of money, no amount of security is ever going to take that passion away from you.”
Written by Chris Tamez December 2011