We asked two home-based culinary artisans to share their tips for packing and shipping homemade food — in a way that makes it to your customers in one piece. Lisa Gaub is a cottage baker based in Narberth, Pennsylvania, where she runs Lisa Fay Bakes. Kristen Dion of Sweet Nell’s Cookies is a Warfordsburg, Pennsylvania-based home baker.
Both Lisa and Kristen have shipped hundreds of dozens of cookies across the country. Keep reading to get their tips for shipping success.
When you open a package from a big box store or a mega retailer, what do you expect?
Likely not much beyond the item that you ordered in a brown cardboard box.
For small businesses — especially small cottage food businesses that ship — this is an opportunity to remind your customers why they’re buying from you (and why they’re paying a little more for much higher quality products). When they open a package from your business, customers should be wowed, and they should immediately know that it’s from you.
You can customize your packaging in a number of ways:
You don’t have to limit yourself to one of these options, either — the more “oomph” you can include (while sticking to a reasonable shipping budget), the more memorable the experience will be for the customer.
“Everything I include has my logo and/or business name. I have a thank you card, business card, and a care card on how to handle their order properly,” Kristen said.
Lisa uses Amazon as a resource for stickers and packaging materials. She adorns both her cookie boxes and her shipping boxes with a custom logo stamp that her husband gifted her. Using Canva and a Cricut machine, she makes stickers that she uses to decorate her boxes for holidays or special occasions.
“I always include a sticker in the box, my business card, a thank you card with a note, my menu with contact info, and information on how to store the cookies,” Lisa said.
“I did a ton of research for packing and boxing,” Kristen said. “I tried several brands — most box companies have a sample pack you can purchase. I use Uline for shipping boxes and Big River Packaging for my cookie boxes. They are all durable, have great customer service, and ship fast.”
Lisa started with the boxes she wanted to present her cookies in before selecting a shipping box.
“First, I figured out which boxes I wanted to put my product in. I started with 8x8x2” boxes, and then I tried 9x9” boxes, and some other rectangular ones. I found a shipping box that accommodates all of my cookie box sizes, so I can ship from 6-40 cookies in the same outer box without a ton of excess space. Right now, I use a 12x9x6” box for shipping. Having one shipping box size makes things easier for me when shipping, because when I’m buying postage through Shippo, I only have to change the weight based on the number of cookies and I’ve got my cost instantly,” Lisa said.
To protect your products from the elements — whether you’re shipping cookies, bread, granola, jam, or something else entirely — Lisa recommends using packing tape on every seam of the box to seal the box completely.
Let a shipping platform do the price comparison leg work for you. You can save serious money by shopping around for the best shipping rates. Shippo and Shipstation come highly recommended, allowing artisans to compare rates across a number of shipping providers all at once. Both Kristen and Lisa use shipping aggregators to find the best deals and best delivery times for their packages.
“Probably 99% of the time, I use UPS — they’ve proven to be the most reliable in terms of shipping estimates and quality of service. I was shipping over Christmas when there were tons of delays due to Covid, and I had no delays with UPS,” Lisa said. “I can’t have delays — I have a food product. UPS typically takes between one and five days depending on where in the U.S. I’m shipping. Because I heat seal my cookies, they can last for a few days without worries, but if I ship, say, to California, I try to ship on a Monday so it doesn’t sit in a warehouse over the weekend.”
“Shippo makes labels very easily. I can connect to my business account, buy a label, and print it on my thermal printer. It’s super quick and easy,” Lisa said.
Kristen also uses UPS to ship her packages.
“I only use UPS because I know that I can get orders delivered within a few days for under $10. Also, in my experience, USPS has a ton of delays and issues,” Kristen said.
“You should always charge more than what you pay for shipping. I know a ton of bakers who only charge the customer what they are charged,” Kristen said. “It can cost a couple of dollars just in packaging to get a package shipped.”
Your customers don’t want to open their package to find crumbs — and you don’t want that for them either!
As you pack your boxes for shipment, it’s important to make sure that nothing is going to move around in the box. If you get to the end of the packing process and you can hear things moving around when you shake the box, there’s a good chance that your products will arrive broken.
Lisa recommends finding a shipping box that isn’t too much bigger than the presentation box that you package your cookies in.
“Your shipping box needs to be big enough to have some sort of cushion material on all sides, just in case it’s tossed around a little bit,” Lisa said. “Initially when I just had small orders, I actually used popcorn that I would put in a bag as a cushion. Now, though, I have so many orders that I can’t do it. People loved the popcorn, though, because they could eat it and it was environmentally friendly. I’ve also used newspapers in the past, and now I use big rolls of brown kraft paper. You can buy it in huge quantities. It’s very firm and holds up well, and it doesn’t take a ton to fill up your box and provide insulation from bumps.”
“In your packaging box (not the shipping box), you need to make sure that the product can’t move around much,” Lisa said. “I stack my cookies and layer in tissue paper so the cookies are tightly packed. Then I put a poly plastic bag around that box as extra protection. I don’t think enough people pack their actual packaging box tight enough to ship — you have to assume the box is going to get thrown at some point.”
Kristen uses bubble wrap pouches to secure her cookies before shipping. She places each cookie, which is individually heat sealed, in its own bubble wrap pouch. Then she surrounds the top and bottom of the cookie box with shredded crinkle paper to fill up the rest of the box and provide cushion.
“My shipping readiness test is shaking the box,” Kristen said. “If you don’t hear anything move, it is ready to ship. I have shipped about 50 times using this method, and I have only once had some fine line icing work break.”
To test whether your packages will stand up to shipping stress, try packaging an order the way you would for a customer, then ship it to yourself or a friend who will share feedback and photos with you. You’ll get an idea of how your orders might look when they arrive at customers’ doorsteps.
“Packaging shouldn’t be an afterthought,” Lisa said. It’s important to make customers feel like they’re receiving something special — something that’s different from their usual Amazon delivery or grocery store bakery experience.
“People aren’t buying necessities, they’re buying our products as treats and gifts, so it needs to feel special,” Lisa said.
Working as a home-based food artisan can feel like you’re working on an island, with no coworkers to work through tough days or celebrate wins with. Although you’re not working in the same room with other bakers, you still have opportunities to connect with them.
Kristen recommends tapping into Facebook groups for feedback and advice on how to package products, marketing, and much more.
Ready for more advice from independent culinary artisans? Share your shipping questions and packaging inspiration photos in our Facebook group.