Are you featuring locally grown ingredients in your food business’ products? Whether you’re an Indiana-based cottage food business using local corn in your muffins or an Oregon-based food entrepreneur using local berries, local ingredients can set your products apart from others. Even better, locally-made and locally-grown are built-in marketing support for your products.
In her presentation at the national cottage food conference, Lisa Kivirist discussed ways that food artisans can champion local food and local economies with local ingredients. By baking more seasonally and using what’s fresh and available, not only do artisans offer their customers value-added baked goods, but they also support local farms. Keep reading to learn how you can use local grains and produce to create tasty products, and creative ways to package them.
It’s important that cottage cooks and home-based food artisans learn the difference between hazardous and non-hazardous products. Typically, an item’s food safety hazard status revolves around its water activity level. Most states require .85 or less water activity in cottage foods.
Water activity and pH can be measured via a lab test, which Lisa recommends all bakers and makers purchase. “It’s an investment that helps you make sure your recipes are safe and legal,” Lisa said. Your state or local department of agriculture can direct you to trustworthy labs that can help you test your products, a process that usually costs about $35.
When you’re recipe testing, it’s important to think about things like water content. By squeezing a little extra water out of your ingredients, like the zucchini in a zucchini nut loaf, you can decrease that product’s water content.
“Adding dry ingredients like chocolate chips can also reduce water percentage,” Lisa said. “Most traditional fruit pies, pecan pie, lemon bars, and chocolate ganache are acceptable because high sugar items tend to be non-hazardous. Although the sugar can make things less hazardous, it’s a good idea to have a lab verify your products’ water and pH content.”
“Your state will have straightforward guidelines for must-haves,” Lisa said. “You’ll usually need to include home kitchen-related verbiage, as well as the product’s processing date, producer contact information, and an ingredient list.”
Make sure your packaging meets your state’s specific cottage food labeling guidelines. Not only does it let customers know what they’re receiving, your packaging can also help ensure that the product stays safe and complete when delivering it or transporting it to the farmers market.
“Packaging can encourage repeat customers. It makes a product seem like a gift instead of just a food product. Add ribbons or special flourishes to make it seem extra special. Showcase your product and add a pop of color.”
“Your product should make it clear what you’re selling. Communicate your product and authenticity with your labels,” Lisa said. “Strike a balance between fun and professional.”
Packaging can communicate that your products are handmade and authentic, but it can also be used as an opportunity to communicate who you are as a business owner.
“Think about including things like a handwritten processing date or the number it is in the batch — for example, let your customer know that their item is number one of a batch of twelve. Use the small batch aspect of your product to remind customers that what you’re doing is handmade and unique,” Lisa said.
“Don’t forget to tap into free label templates from places like Avery, too,” Lisa said.
When you have lots of different items or SKUs, managing labels can seem overwhelming. You’ll still need to include legally required information, but that doesn’t need to impact your packaging aesthetics. Consider using a branded, blank label with space for you to handwrite the product’s name.
Finally, Lisa recommends reimagining the quantities of products you’re selling. Do your customers want to purchase single muffins, or would a four-pack or twelve-pack be more popular?
Creative product displays can help you communicate your product’s unique value. “At your table or booth, use risers to make things higher or lower, and to increase visual interest. Have a distinct look for your stand if you’re at a market so that people recognize your booth and come back,” Lisa said.
“Inspire impulse purchases by making things look fun, engaging, pretty, and unique,” Lisa said. “Come up with a theme for your display — what theme or image do you want your brand to portray? For example, if you want to give off a farm stand vibe, consider adding gingham fabric and wooden crates to your display.”
One major display tip? Make sure your display is easily transported from place to place.
What local ingredient is really worth the money?
Economically, it’s whatever is abundant around you. If appearance doesn’t matter, like in baked goods that are made with fresh produce, if an ingredient is imperfect or blemished, it could also be discounted.
“Think about using local grains as well — this is still a unique value add in baked goods. It makes things more local and adds a unique differentiator between you and the rest of the marketplace,” Lisa said.