Growing up in the 60’s, my idea of the perfect lunch was a bologna sandwich, Drake’s Yodels and an apple packed inside a brown paper bag. My husband’s favorite meal was equally gourmet: Chef Boyardee Ravioli — a “real” Italian treat.
Of course, looking back on this now, we chuckle (and our twentysomething food-loving daughters roll their eyes). Like most of our boomer friends, my husband and I have since developed a greater appreciation for fresh, healthy and interesting food. These days, we love spending our weekends trying new recipes, watching cooking shows and shopping at ethnic markets.
(MORE: How to Earn Cash From Your Kitchen)
Full-Time and Semi-Retirement Jobs
If, like us, you love all things food-related, you might want to consider a second-act career in the food world, either as a full-time job or a semi-retirement option.
And I’m not talking about being a cook or a waiter. As the demand for quality food products and services has grown, mouth-watering career options for foodies have diversified, too.
To help you learn more about potential second-act foodie careers, I interviewed Dorothy Williams-Neagle, co-founder of Goodfoodjobs.com, a site that lists full-time and flexible jobs, as well as internship opportunities, in a variety of food-related fields. Williams-Neagle, who’s based in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., recommends four types of jobs:
4 Second-Act Ideas for Foodies
1. Food blogger or freelance food writer It might surprise you to learn that Rae Drummond, host of The Pioneer Woman on the Food Network, got her start as a food blogger documenting her cooking adventures as a ranch wife and mother. Admittedly, it takes a generous sprinkling of luck to convert a blog into a multimedia empire, like Drummond. But if you’re a foodie with strong photography skills, a flair for writing and a willingness to put in the work, it is possible to whip up a part-time — and sometimes even a full-time — income from a food blog.
These types of blogs cover a wide variety of topics, including cooking tips; product and restaurant reviews; food trends and advice on dealing with everything from food allergies to picky eaters.
Food bloggers generally earn money in one of two ways — either through advertising, sponsorships and affiliate (referral) revenues or by using their blogs as platforms to promote their own products and services (such as catering and cooking classes).
It’s impossible to predict exactly how much money you’d make as a food blogger. But here’s one real-life example: Lindsay Ostrom, who writes the Pinch of Yum blog with her husband Bjork, has recently had monthly profits ranging from $10,813 to $15,049 (but she earned just $3,291 in April).
Keep your expectations in check, since it takes time to build a following. And be prepared to blog consistently — generally at least twice a week or more — over at least six months to a year before you’ll start monetizing your site. “Be prepared to do something else while you build up your site,” says Williams-Neagle.
Many bloggers find it helpful to attend blogging conferences, where they can learn the tricks of the trade and network with other bloggers, cookbook authors and potential sponsors. The mother of all food blogging conferences is the BlogHer Food Conference, scheduled for May 16-17, 2014 in Miami. (Although the conference name suggests the event is just for women, men are welcome as well!)
(MORE: 25 Best Food Blogs for Boomers)
2. Gourmet food sales Cheese stores, gourmet shops and retailers such as Williams-Sonoma look for energetic salespeople to sell their wares. Some higher-end markets, like Whole Foods, also hire salespeople for their cheese and specialty-foods areas. So if you’re someone who enjoys schmoozing with the public as well as learning and talking about food products, this could be a fun second-act option.
While a sales background is helpful, it’s not always required; for these jobs, enthusiasm and a strong work ethic typically matter more than experience. Many retailers offer flexible hours, but you’ll likely be expected to work weekends and/or evenings, especially around the holidays.
Starting salaries tend to be on the low side, generally in the $10- to $15-an-hour range. Some larger retailers, like Whole Foods, offer part-time and full-time employees benefits that can significantly enhance your total compensation package, though.
And as Saul Cohen, 70, who’s now a cheesemonger for Whole Foods Market in Darien, Conn told me in a previous blog, “Semi-Retirement Jobs With Great Benefits,” these types of jobs can be a lot of fun. “I have friends who’ve become customers and customers who’ve become friends,” Cohen said. “I absolutely love it.”
3. Artisanal food production Are you known for making specialty salts, fruit-infused beers or the perfect toffee out of your kitchen? If so, you might be able to turn your winning recipes into cash by selling your specialty products online, at farmers markets and through larger retailers.
“There’s a huge appetite for all types of artisanal food products,” says Williams-Neagle. “There seems to be no saturation point for it.”
Selling food is often more complicated than it sounds, however. You need to follow local and federal regulations and food safety laws, even if you just plan to sell your canned jams at the local farmer’s market. And, as I pointed out in “How to Make Cash From Your Kitchen,” becoming a successful food entrepreneur involves learning about the non-food elements of running the business such as marketing, social media, sales techniques and inventory control. So get knowledgeable about the ingredients needed for success before you start peddling your wares.
4. Web and graphic design What if you love food, but would prefer to work in an office environment or from your home office? If you have strong design and technical skills, you may be in luck.
Williams-Neagle says restaurants, food producers, bloggers and others often need web and graphic design assistance. So you might be able to create a niche as a designer specializing in the food industry. If you’d prefer to work from home, on a project or freelance basis, approach local restaurants and food-related companies directly; they may need design assistance with their logos, e-mail newsletters and menus.
How to Get Inspired
In case you need inspiration to launch your second-act foodie career, check out the profiles on Goodfoodjobs.com of others who are already doing it. Two of my favorites: Classie Parker, who teaches canning and Andrea Beaman, a chef, holistic health coach and natural foods advocate.
Reading their recipes for success is sure to stimulate your imagination as you explore the smorgasbord of possibilities. Enjoy, and best wishes for a tasty new career in the year ahead!