How to Sell Food in a Retail Store

by Michael Elkins; Updated September 26, 2017
Young man looking at bottles of oil in market, rear view, close-up

Selling food products in retails stores has become an increasingly successful business for specialty cooks, artisan bakers, farmers, and people who simply enjoy creating their own signature brands. The popularity of sustainable foods and local sourcing has made small brands, local produce and proprietary condiments in high demand at restaurants, shops and supermarkets, but it takes more than great products to build a food business. You can succeed with the right food product and an organized marketing and distribution strategy.

Get a Commercially Approved Kitchen

You can sell farm products directly, but you must cook or prepare food in an approved kitchen that meets health and sanitation standards. You must rent, lease or install a commercial kitchen that passes sanitary standards, has proper ventilation, keeps foods at safe temperatures, and has adequate cleaning and sterilizing capabilities. You can share a kitchen with a restaurant, bakery or licensed food facility, but you will need to take a course in food safety, get a food handlers' permit, receive regular inspections, and apply for all applicable licenses and permits. Schools, churches and local civic groups might let you use their inspected and certified kitchens where you can prepare food safely legally.

Study Applicable Federal and State Regulations

Dairy products and cheeses fall under stringent federal regulations, so you need to register with the Food and Drug Administration and follow guidelines established by the Food Safety Modernization Act. You will need a wholesaler business license and must comply with any local registering and production guidelines. If you cook foods, you must chill them rapidly and store them safely at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below within six hours. Check your local business licensing office and health department to get a complete list of rules and procedures for the type of foods you plan to sell.

Design Attractive Packaging

You will need to find stores and markets that are willing to sell your products, and they will require proof that you are complying with accepted procedures and laws. Attractive packaging is essential to attract customers and make your products appear safe and professional. Supermarkets will probably require a UPC or PLU code for register scanning, which you can get independently or through a reseller. Design a shelf-stable, biodegradable package that appeals to customers and showcases your food in the best manner. You should include ingredients and nutritional information, heating instructions, and product information on the package for consumers. Some products are sold by weight, so you need reliable scales with label printers, which are inspected by local bureaus of weights and measurements.

Position Your Products Competitively

Create a marketing campaign by networking with friends, associates, social media contacts, local restaurants, and city newspapers and magazines. You can send samples to local food critics and writers, promote your food at festivals and fairs, and sell products at farmers markets. Try to land wholesale accounts that match your product image. If selling healthy foods or vegetarian items, try health food stores, artisan bakeries, natural food cooperatives, and vegetarian restaurants. Give each wholesale client your personal attention, and always rotate stock on shelves and remove products before they expire or become unappetizing. Ask managers if you can set up a table to provide samples and market your foods occasionally. If the job becomes too difficult to handle, suspend adding new clients until you hire help or expand production capacity.

About the Author

Michael Elkins has worked in writing, advertising and publishing jobs for more than 40 years. Elkins has published several tabloid newspapers, sold advertising for metropolitan yellow page organizations and worked with state officials to promote tourism in Virginia. In addition to advertising experience, Elkins owned and operated a full-service restaurant for many years.

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