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We’ve tailored Castiron to fit the needs of kitchen-based creators who are selling their products to family, friends, and followers through word-of-mouth and social media. After a super fast setup (if you can create a social media profile, you can set up a Castiron shop!), you’ll have a single place to sell, manage orders, and communicate with customers.
No code required. Add products, upload your logo, share your story, and link to your social profiles from your flexible store.
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You started baking for friends a couple years ago, and before you knew it, you were providing elaborate cakes, pies, and pastries for parties and special events all over town. Or maybe you’ve been into canning for decades, but recently you’ve opened a jams and jellies booth at your local farmer’s market and it’s starting to take off. Perhaps you make the most amazing gourmet popcorn, and you’re wondering what it would take to scale it into a small business.
Whatever the case, you’re not alone. Some of our country’s most recognizable food brands—from Mrs. Smith’s cookies to Coca-Cola—started as side projects in home kitchens. Now, the local food industry has grown exponentially, with homemade food sales soaring from $5 billion in 2008 to nearly $20 billion today, according to the Pew Research Center.
Of course, along with all this growth come some complications. How do you ensure food safety? What’s legal and what’s not? Is a cottage food license required?
Cottage food law refers to the regulation of home-based food businesses, whether you’re making sales through word of mouth, at another business you already own, at a farmer’s market, at community events, on social media, or on your own website.
In the United States, the rules and requirements for cottage food producers are handled entirely at the state level as long as the food itself is a non-potentially hazardous food or canned good. A cottage food business couldn’t sell hamburgers or smoked meats, for example, because these are potentially hazardous foods that are already regulated by the FDA.
Food freedom and local food movements have become increasingly popular in the United States, with every state except New Jersey allowing for home-based food businesses. As a state with a rich agricultural history, Minnesota has allowed some level of home-based food production to exist for centuries, but the current version of the Cottage Food Law was passed in 2015, and expanded in 2021 to increase the sales cap per registered individual from $18,000 to $78,000 per year and add pet treats as an allowed cottage food.
Overall, as with any business, there are nuances to consider and a learning curve when getting started in home-based food production. In MN, cottage food producers can check with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to make sure they’re abiding by all regulations.
Obtaining a food license in MN can cost quite a bit and may entail extensive facility inspections, require fully vetted retail food plans, and require both the MDA and the Minnesota Department of Health to approve licensing, depending on the nature of your food business and the market you’re selling in.
Fortunately, in Minnesota, home-based food businesses are not required to obtain a cottage food permit or submit a cottage food license application because of the Cottage Foods Expemption.
Keep reading to learn the ins-and-outs of legally operating a cottage food business in Minnesota.
No! A food license in MN is only required if you are operating a commercial kitchen, selling your food products to restaurants or other B2B customers, selling wholesale, or making a food that isn’t on the non-potentially hazardous foods list.
However, as the owner of a home-based food business, you do have to register with the MDA instead of applying for an MN cottage food license. This is great news for cottage food producers, because this registration is a much simpler and much more cost-effective process than getting a food license.
The annual registration for a home-based food business is free if you have less than $5,000 of food sales each year and costs just $50 if your sales are $5,001 to $78,000 (the sales cap for cottage food businesses.)
More importantly, the process is straightforward and doesn’t require any inspections. If you operate a Tier 1 business selling less than $5,000 a year, you have to complete an online food safety course and exam annually before you’re allowed to register for the first time or renew your registration. If you operate a Tier 2 business selling over $5,000 a year, you have to take a more extensive approved food safety course every three years. That’s it!
Sometimes, even if your business doesn’t require any special permits or licenses, you still need a business license to operate.
In Minnesota, business licenses are handled at the city or community level, so you’ll need to check with your own county or city government page to learn what the requirements are and if there are any zoning issues or sales prohibitions.
On a state level, there is no business license required for a cottage food operation in Minnesota.
Just be sure to track your sales and pay your sales tax!
If you plan to start selling food in Minnesota, a good place to start is with the Minnesota Cottage Food Producers Association and the Minnesota Farmer’s Market Association. Both organizations’ websites are full of helpful resources for growing your business, from templates for cottage food product labels to YouTube training videos and sales tax guidance.
Before you begin selling food from home in Minnesota, it’s a good idea to explore both of these sites and learn as much as you can.
Yes! You’ll need to check with your HOA or neighborhood covenants, of course. But as long as you aren’t inhibiting other people’s ability to enjoy peace and quiet at home, you can sell directly from your home-based business.
You can also sell in direct-to-consumer markets, such as farmer’s markets and other community events. You can even sell on social media platforms like Facebook Marketplace, Instagram, and Next Door or through your own website, as long as your products are pickup or delivery only. No shipping without a commercial food license!
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is the best place to start learning about the Cottage Foods Exemption and what requirements home-based food businesses have to meet to stay in good standing with the state of Minnesota.
Some of the key elements of the law include:
No, you don’t need a temporary or seasonal food permit to sell cottage foods, as long as you’re following all the guidelines and using the proper labeling and signage.
Temporary food permits are administered by the Department of Health and are only required for seasonal food stands and mobile food units. For example, if you wanted to open a food truck or have a stand at the county fair to sell corn dogs, you would need to obtain a seasonal food license.
But if you’re selling baked goods and sweets at the farmer’s market or a church fair, you’re covered by the Cottage Foods Exemption.
According to MN cottage food law, a food qualifies for the Cottage Foods Exemption only if it is:
“A non-potentially hazardous food (such as baked goods, certain jams and jellies) and/or home canned pickles, vegetables, or fruits with a pH of 4.6 or lower and a water activity of 0.85 or less.”
To put it in layman’s terms, a cottage food can be anything that has minimal risk for foodborne illness. Baked cupcakes? Yes! Homemade sushi? Negative.
Fortunately, there is an extensive list of cottage foods that you can consult before you begin your home-based business.
Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive and is meant only as a guideline. If the food you want to make isn’t on the current MN cottage food list and you think it should be, you can call or email the Minnesota Department of Agriculture: MDA.CottageFood@state.mn.us or 651-201-6081.
Certain organizations also compile lists of approved and lab-tested MN cottage food recipes. So if you want to start a home-based food operation but aren’t sure what you want to make, be sure to check these out.
Between the government and local organizations and associations, there's a lot of community support for cottage food producers in Minnesota. With the new Cottage Foods Exemption that was passed in 2015 and expanded in 2021 to raise the annual sales cap to $78,000, opening a home-based food business has become easier and more lucrative than ever.
There’s never been a better time to turn your baking hobby or pickling side hustle into a full-scale business, and we’re here to help.
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