How to Sell Precooked Food From Your Business
Precooked food, or "prepared food," is a convenience for customers and an adaptable business model for an entrepreneur who likes to cook. Precooked meals can be as varied as the impressive range of international cooking traditions and as simple or sophisticated as you like. Successful prepared food products offer the customer something he is unlikely to provide for himself, such as an innovative recipe or a portable serving. Precooked food is rarely as appealing as fresh food, so a precooked food product must overcome the challenges posed by packaging and shelf life.
To sell precooked food from your business, you must obtain permits from your local health department and possibly from state and national health agencies, as well. If you are selling directly to customers, contact your county health department. If you will be selling to local stores, contact your state's department of agriculture, which regulates wholesale food production. If you will be wholesaling your cooked food product in multiple states, contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Outfit a commercial kitchen that meets the requirements of the appropriate regulatory agency.
Design a prepared food product that will be appealing even if it isn't optimally fresh. In general, dishes such as lasagna or shepherd's pie, which are baked, are more successful as precooked foods than stovetop dishes such as vegetable stir fries, which are easy to overcook. Experiment with different recipes and different degrees of doneness. For example, it is best to slightly undercook a dish that a customer will reheat because it will receive additional cooking when she prepares it at home.
Develop packaging that will showcase your precooked food and keep it as fresh as possible. If the customer will be reheating the product in its packaging, choose materials that will be sturdy and safe. If he will be transferring the food to another baking dish before reheating this, include detailed preparation instructions. Create a label that is colorful and informative, with a list of ingredients and nutritional information. Indicate whether your product should be held in a refrigerator or freezer, and include room for a "sell by" date if it will be refrigerated.
If you will be selling your precooked food product out of your own retail store, invest in the refrigerators or freezers necessary to hold and display it. Glass door coolers can be less energy efficient than models with insulated doors, but they make your product more visible, encouraging customers to buy. If you will be distributing your precooked food, then your business will need a delivery vehicle as well as a strategy for keeping food cold, such as ice chests with refreezable ice or a refrigerated truck.