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Entrepreneur, 23, putting his own brand of cereal on local breakfast tabl

By WILL ASTOR - 5/20/2011

Was this how John Harvey Kellogg got started?
 
Like Kellogg, the physician who invented a process for making grains into flakes, Ian Szalinski has come up with a breakfast cereal recipe. And like the inventor of cornflakes, Szalinski offers a health-conscious take on breakfast.
 
Szalinski's company, Muesli Fusion Inc., is less than a year old. Szalinski, 23, started it in November, six months after he graduated from SUNY College at Geneseo.
 
An aficionado of the fiber-rich granola-like breakfast treat, Szalinski was not satisfied with commercially available muesli. Like many muesli fanciers, he created his own cereal, mixing grains, nuts, fruit and other ingredients.
 
"I've had muesli for breakfast every day for the past five or six years," Szalinski says. "I eat it with two eggs. I've tried a lot of different mixtures."
 
To get Muesli Fusion going, he did his own market research, conducting focus groups of sorts by collaring friends, acquaintances and relatives. Before getting started, Szalinski put together a five-year plan. Using his own money and funds borrowed from friends and family, he rented space in an Atlantic Avenue warehouse, bought ingredients and started mixing, bagging and selling pre-mixed muesli in 14 different combinations.
 
Szalinski mixes the cereal himself in a drum, packs it into 11-serving plastic bags and pastes on labels of his own design, which he turns out himself on a printer. Grains, fruits and nuts come from U.S. and Canadian suppliers. More exotic ingredients such as coconut and goji berries come from farther away.
 
The business got off to a somewhat slower start than he initially projected but has done well.
 
"I projected gross revenue of $85,000 in 2011," Szalinski says. "It's been a little slower. Now I'm thinking more like $60,000."
 
His estimate of how long it would take to get approvals from regulators such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the state Department of Health was overly optimistic, Szalinski says. But once he started producing products, things began to move.
 
In addition to selling directly to consumers at the Rochester Public Market on Saturdays, Szalinski has placed his products in several health food outlets and cooperative markets regionally. He also sells through a website.
 
As Muesli Fusion's sole employee, Szalinski so far has done his own sales and marketing as well as production, delivery and virtually every other job in the infant firm. He currently is advertising for interns and plans to hire sales and production staff in years two and three. He also plans to seek investors or equity partners eventually, to fund equipment he would need to add sales staff and expand production.
 
Still on a shoestring budget, Szalinski is investigating marketing strategies that could yield a good return on not very much investment. He has placed the product on Amazon.com and plans soon to use ads in health food publications to promote the cereal. As Szalinski develops regional online business, he will use online sales to help persuade retailers and distributors to carry Muesli Fusion.
 
Szalinski is talking with an environmental group that is considering marketing a Muesli Fusion line under its own brand. He would make and distribute the product but donate all proceeds to the group, Szalinski says. Exposure and promotion of the brand would make the donation worthwhile, he believes. He also is in talks with a distributor that could place Muesli Fusion in supermarket chains.
 
An early lesson in his brief career as an entrepreneur, Szalinski says, has been to not get too attached to a blueprint but rather to keep an eye on emerging opportunities and see where they lead.
 
"When I started out, I had a pretty detailed five-year plan," he says. "I've had to deviate from it a lot. But that hasn't been a bad thing."
 
Small Business is a weekly feature focusing on entrepreneurs. Send suggestions for future Small Business stories to Associate Editor Smriti Jacob at sjacob@rbj.net.5/20/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail service@rbj.net.