Many states have rules and regulations that govern the sale of foods produced in a residential kitchen. While many of the states' laws and regulations cap the amount a food producer may sell in a year, the earnings from homemade goodies can finance a larger business operation. In-home food producers must understand local laws to determine the best way to market their products.
Cottage Food Laws
Cottage food laws are the regulations that states use to control the production and sale of foods in home kitchens. Some states allow home cooks to sell their products in restaurants and grocery stores or online; others limit sales to direct consumer transactions within the state. The laws also regulate the types of foods that producers may offer for sale from a home kitchen. States usually allow baked goods, jams, jellies and confections. The laws maintain food safety while eliminating a significant obstacle for food producers entering the market. State laws also limit the amount of sales a cottage food supplier may make in a year and require a label on the product with an ingredients list and a statement that the food was made in a home kitchen. In some states, farms are the only location allowed for in-home food production.
Selling in Retail Grocery Stores
According to the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, the cottage food laws in California, Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania specifically state that in-home food producers can sell products indirectly to the consumer through retail markets. Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina and Utah have no requirements in the cottage food laws regarding where the products are sold. Home food producers in these states can take their products to small gourmet, specialty or grocery shops. Some shops may want to see evidence that the product will sell before giving it space on the shelf.
Selling Your Food in Restaurants
In the states that allow indirect sales to consumers, in-home food producers should approach restaurants that serve foods that complement their products. For example, homemade chocolate chip cookies would probably sell better in a pizza restaurant than a gourmet establishment. Ask the restaurant manager or owner if you can place a basket or a display by the register for customers to purchase on their way out. When selling food items to a small restaurant, ask what their billing schedule is with other vendors before leaving items.
Internet and Mail Order Food Businesses
States that allow in-home food processors to sell their food online also restrict the sales to consumers who are in the same state where the food was made. For example, Georgia allows Internet sales of cottage foods as long as the end consumer also is located in Georgia. Online classified advertisements can be a source of additional sales for a budding food business and help to attract a local following for the products. Food producers also can sell their products within the state through a website or social media, but the advertisements should make it clear that only in-state customers can order the food.
Farmers Markets, Craft and Food Fairs
Freshly made preserves, jellies, baked goods and candies are perfect for sale at a farmers or flea market. Craft fairs also draw a crowd of consumers who are shopping for homemade products. The cost to put up a table of goods at a craft fair or flea market is a relatively inexpensive method for aspiring food producers to assess the public’s interest in their product.
Home bakers specializing in wedding cakes can network with professionals in the wedding industry such as dressmakers, photographers and wedding planners to sell their products. Wedding cake designers often create a catalog of their designs that include pictures, flavor options and a price list for wedding planners to offer to clients. Bakers should be prepared to create samples for couples to taste.