Boost sales of your homemade food products with attractive labels and packaging that communicates the hand-crafted quality of your value-added items. The fact that you made that jar of pickles by hand — crafted in small batches by you in your farmhouse or homestead kitchen perhaps with your own organic produce — should be a key selling point. This differentiates your product from the mass-produced, commercial jars found on the shelves of a supermarket.
But don’t lose sales with products that look too homespun. Ditch the hand-written labels affixed with packing tape. Instead, create packaging with a more professional look that communicates the hand-crafted nature of your product while helping increase sales and diversify the revenue generated by your homestead enterprise.
Do your friends and family tell you that your strawberry jam is so good you should sell it? How about making some money off your pickles or salsa? Thanks to expanding cottage food laws across the country, depending on where you live, you now have an open sales opportunity to create such “non-hazardous food products” in your home kitchen for public sale. Just about every state in the country has a variation of what’s called a “cottage food law” that allows us to create specific, non-hazardous food products made in home kitchens to sell at certain direct-to-the-consumer venues such as farmers’ markets.
In most cases, your state’s cottage food law covers high-acid food products, canned items with an equilibrium pH value of 4.6 or lower, such as salsas, pickles, jams and jellies. Remember each state law is different. Connect with and read your state’s specific regulation and requirements, usually via your state’s department of agriculture, which will include gross sales limits (if any), labeling requirements, plus an explanation of where you can sell your products and what you can produce. Our book, Homemade for Sale, goes into more detail on everything from business structure to kitchen organization to marketing for someone just starting out.
We produce small batches of sauerkraut, bread and butter pickles and pickled pumpkin in our home kitchen for sale at public venues such as farmers’ markets and community events. We quickly learned that while it’s important to have a quality, tasty product, it’s what is on the outside of the jar — how our product looks — that often closes a sale at market.
To help support you in your jar sales appeal, we put together a free 16-page downloadable “Labeling Guide and Toolkit for Creating Canned Food Products that Sell” that covers step-by-step instructions on improved labels, creative packaging and farmers' market displays.
Your state’s cottage food law will give you the exact verbiage required on your label that clearly communicates that your product was produced in a home kitchen and, depending on your state, may not be subject to inspection. In Wisconsin, the line reads: “This product was made in a home not subject to state licensing or inspection.” Additionally, the label must include the name and address of the person who did the canning, date of the canning and Ingredients in descending amount by weight.
Despite these legal requirements, you can still craft attractive packaging. Most often, state requirements, like Wisconsin’s, will specify what needs to be included but not dictate the font size or how it specifically must appear on the package. This opens an opportunity to get creative and have some fun.
For example, we use Avery Print-to-the-Edge Glossy Oval Labels, the larger 2 inch by 3 1/3-inch size that fits nicely on both half pint and pint sized jars. Then, we add the required state verbiage “around” the perimeter of the label (something you can readily do with the Avery template) which meets the state requirement. Doing it this way satisfies our legal requirements while allowing us to focus more on the actual product. Another option may be to place the legally required wording on the bottom of the jar so you don't cover up the appealing product inside.
Your jar label and other design elements should celebrate the fact these products were personally made by you in your home kitchen. Be careful not to have your label look too professional and overly slick.
We print crisp, attractive labels off from our computer for time efficiency. However, we also add in a hand-written note on each label of the jar number within the batch: "Jar 10 of 14." This personal touch adds instant value to our product, perhaps in the same way that an artist signs and numbers each of their prints. We endeavor to let our customers know what we make is limited, of high quality and unique.
If every label isn’t perfectly straight on the jar, that’s okay. It communicates the “made by the food artisan” message. It also gives you a story to tell your potential customers; maybe your kids help package your jars or it’s a fun activity you do with elderly relatives. Get personal and authentic in why your product is different and special.
Adding a pop of color and texture to your jars differentiates your product at market and enables you to communicate your brand. What message, what story, do you want to share about your farm and how can that play out in the packaging of your product? Are you more minimalist and modern, or playful and informal? Additional elements like ribbon or fabric communicate to potential customers what you are all about.
Our new free Label Guide and Toolkit covers step-by-step processes for adding easy decorative elements to your jars such as:
• Fabric toppers
• Paper toppers
• Washi tape
• Seasonal elements
The fact that we produce small batches of these high-acid products works to our advantage. We can experiment with different packaging and see what sells as well as adapt elements to different times of year. For example, you could use a holiday-inspired topper print for winter markets. And of course, if a certain packaging scheme isn’t working, you’re never at a loss — because you can always eat and savor the product yourself!
Lisa Kivirist, with her husband, John D. Ivanko, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef cookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. Kivirist also authored Soil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine. Read all of Lisa's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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