The Main Ingredient of Hillsborough County
“I said, why can’t you just get a cup of this or a teaspoon of that?” Sweet said. “I was complaining to my husband about it and he turned to me and said, ‘Well, why don’t you do something about it?’” Following that conversation, Sweet decided to be the solution to her own frustration and The Main Ingredient was born.
In 2018, The Main Ingredient opened its first location in Lutz. The vision of the business is to cater to people with specific dietary needs. Everything sold at The Main Ingredient is sold by the ounce to eliminate the costliness of healthy eating. The store features a variety of flours, balsamic vinegars and oils, as well as specially blended teas, spices, salad dressings, and more. Sweet takes the store one step further by researching every product carried in the store and serving as an expert on the health benefits of many of the products.
Sweet had been an entrepreneur in the past and was very knowledgeable in her industry but, she knew that she needed a little extra help on the business side of things. She reached out to the Florida SBDC at Hillsborough County and was matched with business consultant Janette Blanco.
Blanco assisted Sweet in the beginning stages of opening her store and they have been a successful duo ever since. “We started at about $100 a month when we first opened,” Sweet said. “Now we’re up to about $20,000 in our fourth year of business and that number is rapidly climbing. We brought it [sales] from $72,000 for our first six or seven months that we were open, all the way to just about a quarter of a million dollars,” she said.
During the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sweet opened a second location at Sparkman’s Wharf in downtown Tampa. “We’re really welcomed in the community here and we’ve been open since September of 2020,” she said.
Similar to many other small businesses, The Main Ingredient was forced to pivot their business plan during the pandemic. “We sat there [in the store] looking at nothing on the streets and there wasn’t a car in sight,” Sweet said. “We were just trying to figure out how we could save ourselves.”
With the help of Blanco and the Florida SBDC at Hillsborough County, Sweet decided to focus on how she could help local small businesses that don’t have brick and mortar stores. She decided to give those businesses shelf space in the store and promote that. This idea brought in more customers and in-store traffic during the pandemic.
Another way in which the business pivoted was by delivering products to customers that couldn’t come out of their homes. “People became really aware of the fact that we were open and we were a grocery store and not only that, we were a health food store so keeping your immune system up and keeping your health up was and still is a very big issue,” she said.
In the future, Sweet hopes to continue with the expansion of her business and possibly begin the franchising process. Regardless of what the future holds for The Main Ingredient, Sweet says she will continue to lean on the Florida SBDC at Hillsborough County and Blanco.
“Everybody wants to do a million things for your business,” she said. “and you don’t know who to trust but you can trust everybody inside that office and they set you in the right direction and they steer you in a successful direction.”