Photo: Bruce Lipsky/Florida Times-UnionMark Patterson's North Florida Food Alliance meets twice a month to exchange ideas.
Northeast Florida Roundup
The food network in Jacksonville
A group of Jacksonville businesspeople shares a common bond: Food and networking.
When Mark Patterson began his frozen dessert company, Naturally Smart, three years ago, he began looking for people who could help his fledgling business.
“I started networking, and there was really no one working on food,” he says.
Patterson started a network himself, bringing together small Jacksonvillearea businesses last year to form the North Florida Food Alliance.
The alliance, which includes a dozen food businesses, meets twice a month to exchange ideas and develop relationships with retailers and distributors who might carry their products.
“You have to show some kind of commitment,” says Patterson. “We expect you to show up for meetings.”
Besides attendance, the other requirements include having products that are “store ready” and don’t compete with those of other members.
The group is focused on Jacksonville area businesses now but is open to anyone in north Florida, and Patterson is hoping to expand with affiliates in other regions for networking opportunities.
Most of the products are for human consumption but membership includes the Pawfection Bakery, a home-based business that offers gourmet dog treats.
“I thought it would be a great fit for me and my company,” says Pawfection owner Amy Gorman.
“We’re all about networking and sharing ideas.” “We didn’t really know what the group was going to be except we knew we’re all like-minded companies,” says Jason McDonald, president of Fresh Jax, a food and healthy lifestyle business. “It’s really neat to just talk openly and confidentially with our peers.”
Tech + Food
“I’m a foodie and a techie,” says Jeff Charette, describing his inspiration for Menuat, a St. Augustine business that offers technology for electronic restaurant menus.
The electronic menu boards that Menuat provides in place of chalkboards allow restaurants to easily update menus daily.
After three years in business, Charette’s data show the electronic boards work. “We see traditionally a 7% increase in revenue as a result of using our menu boards,” he says.
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