Jager Foods, the business, was first created in 1995 by my parents, Pete & Sue Jager, for their Shiitake soup business. Growing up on a farm in central Minnesota offered many adventures and challenges for my family throughout the years. The diversity of opportunities while living on a farm were readily available, and if you were willing to work hard, they were rewarding.
My parents milked a herd of 40 dairy cows, raised pigs and chickens, had a large vegetable garden and field crops. Growing up in the country there were always chores for my five siblings and I to keep us busy. But more than busy work, living on a farm offered an unspoken discipline. If we all worked together, and shared ideas and information, we could persevere and prosper.
The milk cows were sold in the early 1990’s as part of the ‘Dairy Heard Buyout’ program and reinventing the purpose of the farm soon began to take shape. My dad, Pete Jager, attended an Alternative Agriculture class and soon learned about the benefits of Shiitake mushrooms.
Starting a home-based business
Although Shiitake is Japan’s largest agricultural export, the many health benefits of Shiitake mushrooms were not well known in Minnesota at the time. The benefits of Shiitake mushroom range from lowering Cholesterol to providing anti-inflammatory properties and supporting immune health. They are taken as a remedy for upper respiratory diseases, poor blood circulation, liver trouble, exhaustion, and to boost ‘chi’, or life energy.
My dad realized right away that not only could the Shiitake mushrooms be grown on the Jager farm, but they could be dehydrated and packaged into dry ingredient soups for consumer consumption. This was the beginning of Jager Foods!
With the help of a small business loan my parents were able to purchase the needed equipment. This included mushroom spores, storage vats, an industrial sized mixer, various dry soup ingredients such as dried chives, onions, vegetables, and spices. He also had to purchase an industrial dehydrator and packaging equipment like bag sealers and label makers. We offered four distinct soup varieties, Wild Rice, Vegetable, Onion, and Oriental soup mixes. I created the original red Jager Foods logo for the soup labels while I was going to school for graphic arts.
With the help of my grandma and four neighbor ladies as hired help, the little farm suddenly became a manufacturer of packaged foods. To supplement the family’s income, in the spring we tapped about fifty maple trees and collected the sap to produce maple syrup. In the fall we would harvest the crops and work the fields. Throughout the year my parents also sold eggs, garden fresh vegetables and home-made salsa.
We inoculated the Shiitake mushroom logs all year long and kept them in a dark and damp environment for optimum growth. By rotating the logs, we were able to maintain a steady supply of mushrooms for the soup business. The mushrooms were harvested on a regular basis and had to remain in the dehydrator for several days before they could be used in the soup packages.
Trying to break into the food industry
At one point we distributed Jager Foods soup products as far away as California. My dad had many hurdles to overcome trying to break into the food industry. The soup making kitchen had to be inspected regularly and had to be maintained so it was up to code. The dried soup ingredients had to be analyzed by a lab so the nutritional content could be displayed properly on all the soup labels. The mushroom logs had to be inspected to prevent the growth of mold spores and to curb insect infestations.
One of the hardest obstacles to overcome was getting the product on the store shelves. There is only a limited amount of shelf space in stores making it very competitive among the food distributors. My dad was expected to give away a large amount of his dried soup product for sampling. The insurance liability was getting higher, and he ended up spending a lot of time on the road, away from his family, trying to promote the products. The Jager Foods soup business was not able to stay profitable at this point and in 2000 my parents closed the soup kitchen.
To by-pass the distribution hurdle, we thought a different product delivery method might be helpful. So, in 2008 Silke and I thought we might be able to help revive the Jager Foods soup business with an internet presence.
The JagerFoods.com website was established and a whole new marketing campaign ensued.
We created business cards, new labels for the soup packets and a new way of packaging the dry ingredients. I found a list of old soup business contacts and started reaching out to distributors. We even created sample packs to hand out. Although we picked up a few soup orders, it still wasn’t enough to keep the business afloat and the Shiitake mushroom soup business was shelved permanently this time. However, the website was still up and running. Silke spent a lot of effort and time creating it, so rather than taking the website down it was revamped instead.
From soup selling website to lifestyle blog
Silke and I decided to turn the Jager Foods website into a food & travel blog to offer yet another opportunity to share information and resources that were relevant to everyday living. Our motto was: “…in the spirit of good food and the love to read, write and travel the website lives on.”
From product reviews, travel experiences to favorite recipes and entertaining stories. There was a newfound optimism. Instead of selling products, we would be able to share our own information. It created a community of likeminded people who wanted to exchange their life experiences and knowledge. By incorporating our readers feedback, we were able to grow a large global following.
Over the years the look of the Jager Foods blog has changed several times. The site has also gone dormant for periods of time when we were too busy with our day jobs or when family life took over. We also got discouraged a few times and were ready to give up. With millions of bloggers and website creators, it is not easy to establish yourself online, especially on a shoestring budget.
Silke is not a trained web designer but has self-taught the skills needed to create and update our blog and social media pages. This took a lot of time and dedication on her part and thanks to many of our Do It Yourself and money saving projects we have a large social media following on YouTube and Pinterest.
In hindsight, we should have narrowed our niche a long time ago. But we both have a wide array of interests and didn’t see the blog as a business for many years. We used our site for several years simply to share our travel experiences and pictures with friends and family. By incorporating affiliate links and ads Silke and I were able to make Jager Foods into a business entity once again. We have learned over time that by creating informative and engaging content, bloggers like us can provide valuable information to their readers and create a profitable business.
Our advice to you
If there is anything we learned over the years is that you need to have a willingness to re-invent yourself. As long as you monitor your growth, you will know whether something is working out or if you need to go back to the proverbial ‘drawing board’. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just need to come up with a new plan.
As a business, you want to be able to provide a service that is helpful to your customers or consumers. Your perspective of a specific circumstance is truly unique to you. By sharing that perspective, you will allow others to see things in a way that they may have never even considered before.
To achieve success in any business you need to be organized and keep detailed records. Analyze your competition as best you can, understand the risks and rewards involved and be committed. Stay as flexible as possible, remember that problems will happen, and keep going. But don’t forget to plan for contingencies.
Time is your biggest asset so use it wisely! When the right ingredients come together you can create a recipe for a productive, successful, and rewarding business.
It also helps to have someone in your life to tell you “You can do this!”. Silke is that person for me and although it often felt like Jager Foods was continuously morphing into something new, it can be said that it has persevered over time.
A look into the future shows the Jager Foods & Travel site as a lifestyle blog with helpful information for younger generations. Silke and I have a combined set of knowledge that includes many different subjects. We share everything from cooking to traveling, wellness, reviews, money saving tips and cost-effective home projects. With the help of our readers, we aim to continue to create an environment for learning and sharing. Jager Foods & Travel is a lifestyle blog to explore, savor and share!
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