Sialic acid is the terminal sugar found on most glycoproteins and is crucial in determining serum half-life and immunogenicity of glycoproteins. Sialic acid analogs are antiviral therapeutics as well as crucial tools in bacterial pathogenesis research, immunobiology and development of cancer diagnostic imaging. The scarce supply of sialic acid hinders production of these materials. We have developed an efficient, rapid and cost effective fermentation route to access sialic acid. Our approach uses low cost feedstock, produces an industrially relevant amount of sialic acid and is scalable to manufacturing levels. We have also shown that precursor directed biosynthesis can be used to produce a N-acyl sialic acid analog. This work demonstrates the feasibility of engineering manufacturing-friendly bacteria to produce complex, unavailable small molecules.