What Do I Need to Sell Food From Home?
Several of America's best-known food entrepreneurs, including Martha Stewart, Paul Newman, and Debbie Fields (better known as Mrs. Fields), got their start selling home-cooked food to the public. If you are skilled in cooking and baking, it is only natural to wonder about how to make money selling food from home.
After all, you already have the equipment you need, you are familiar with the ingredients, and you won't need to make the $50,000 to $500,000 investment needed to open even a small cafe. But you need to know the rules on selling food from home, the various legal requirements and costs, before you can know whether selling homemade food in person and selling homemade food online are worth it.
Key Considerations for Selling Food You Make at Home
Here are the most important considerations for deciding whether you want to start a home food business:
- Get to know your state's requirements for a cottage food permit, and your state's rules for food operations that do not need permits. The penalty for selling food without a permit can range from $100 to $1000 per incident per day.
- In almost all states, one of the rules on selling food from home is a limit on your income for the year. Keep that annual limit of $5,000 to $50,000 in mind before making expensive changes to your kitchen or committing to high-end website design or a custom app for selling home-cooked food. If you go over the income limit for selling home cooked food, you will have to register your business as a commercial kitchen, with many more rules and regulations.
- Plan on getting a food handler's certificate. This may require nothing more than an online food safety course.
- Keep in mind that you will not be able to offer anything that requires refrigeration. States have this rule to prevent food-borne illness.
- Have labels made up for the products you plan to sell. Labels list ingredients and whether there is a possibility the product contains eggs, dairy, nuts, or gluten. Your state may also require you to label your food to say it was made at home and has not been inspected.
Cottage Food Laws
Most states have enacted cottage food laws to cut through the red tape involved in licensing large commercial kitchens. These laws are enacted by state legislatures and enforced by local health departments.
It is always important to know your state's cottage food laws before you start your home food business. These laws limit what you can sell and how much you can earn, but they also protect you and the public from unfortunate incidents in the production of food.
Ten Secrets for a Successful Home Food Business
Once you have made sure you understand your local cottage food laws and you have all your required licenses and permits, it's time to get started! Here are some ideas for getting your business off the ground quickly.
- Direct all your customer inquiries to one place. Don't take orders from your Facebook page and by email and by Tweet and by phone. Pick one way for your customers to order your delicious homemade food and stick to it.
- Have business cards printed with your name, specialty, and preferred contact point. Give them to customers, who may pass them on to their friends.
- If you fill custom orders, for instance, baking cupcakes and cookies for parties or decorating wedding cakes, ask your customers what they don't want as well as what they do. This keeps you from showing lots of pictures and computing lots of price quotes.
- Make your website very easy to use. Feature the products you most want to sell prominently on your landing page.
- If your website has a contact form, make sure you have a field for future customers to give you their telephone number.
- It's fine to sell to friends and family, but keep in mind that you will have to recruit new customers to stay in business. And be careful about "friends with benefits" who want your food for a low price or for free. You don't want your friends telling their friends that you sell bargain food.
- Stick to your own ideas for recipes and artistic designs. Don't copy your competitors. You want to be the leader in your niche.
- Always be honest with your clients about your priorities and what you will and won't do, even if that means you can't give them what they want. You don't want to make compromises that you will have to repeat again and again to keep the customer.
- Go to live events, like baking competitions, cooking demonstrations, and community meetings. They are a great place to share your wares and get to know people.
- Reach out to experts in your field of cooking, but not in a "Tell me all your secrets kind of way." Be open to new ideas for improving your products and running your business more efficiently.
Now that you've got an answer to "What do I need to sell food from home?", open your homemade food business' online storefront today.