Clare selling nut treats by Kurt Jacobson
With so many farmers markets, local grocery stores, and distributors looking for new food products, now is a great time to start selling your home-based foods. The question is how to bring your special homemade food to the market? Few know about or understand cottage food laws or what it takes to bring your product to the market, but it's not that difficult to learn the ropes.
Throughout my food travels, I find plenty of home-based food startups doing well. When I wrote about Michelle's Granola, readers got a picture of how an exceptional product can go from a home kitchen to farmers' markets and on to a large part of the U.S. market. When I came across Clare's Nutty Concoctions at a small farmer's market on Maryland's Eastern Shore, I once again saw and tasted the future of home-based food products.
Nutty treats in a bag by Kurt Jacobson
Clare Shockley launched her nut brittle business in July 2020, focusing on over-the-top delicious Golden Brittle. After just two months, feedback from sales at farmers markets and her boyfriend's restaurant, led her to add the best cashew brittle I've ever tasted. Clare has a background in the food service business from working at restaurants, Sysco Foods, and as a beer, wine, and alcohol sales rep. She longed for a business of her own that would allow her to work the hours she chose, not her employer's schedule.
Work from Home or Find a Commercial Kitchen
Working out of the home appeals to many entrepreneurs. The challenge is to make it profitable enough to stand the test of time. Clare told me she had an edge in starting her business by using her boyfriend's restaurant kitchen instead of relying on her home kitchen or renting commercial kitchen space. While it's great to start out in your home kitchen, to make a food business thrive, you will probably need a commercial kitchen space eventually.
It's not that hard to find such commercial space with restaurants looking to add income by renting out their kitchen when they are closed or underutilized. Find a restaurant that's regularly closed a day or two and negotiate the use of their kitchen. You can produce way more products in a commercial kitchen than in most homes and be in compliance with local food production laws.
Or better yet, find one of many businesses that exist mainly to provide flexible commercial kitchen space. I wrote about the Artisan's Exchange to help Mother Earth News readers learn how to locate commercial kitchen space rentals, get product creation support, and marketing support. These types of commercial kitchen rentals are gaining in popularity, and you might have one close to you.
Formulate a Business Plan
If you have an outrageously delicious product, it's time to start putting together a plan for your success. Start by doing research and develop a business plan. Clare told me, "I didn't use a formal business plan, but did plan on seeding my business with $5,000 and see if I'd make it through the first year without adding more cash." By January 2020 she was able to start paying herself a salary due to her business expansion. After a humble start, Clare is in seven farmers markets now and two other businesses sell her brittle as well. This progress was accomplished in under eight months!
Take a clue from Clare and Michele's Granola, that to succeed, you must have the best product your customers have ever tasted. Don't rely on friends and family for quality feedback that don't want to hurt your feelings. A farmers market is one of the best places to judge the public's opinion of your product. Engage with your customers and adjust your recipe, packaging, or price if needed.
After starting in farmers markets and her boyfriend's restaurant, Clare has added special events at wineries, breweries, and other gatherings to her sales venues. Customers from all of these venues have helped spread the word. She has slowly added more products like chocolate-covered almond brittle and granola to her lineup, waiting to judge her customer's reactions.
It's important not to expand too fast in the early going, but it is okay to dream of hitting the big time. If you plan well, work hard, and have great products, it's not hard to imagine success like Michele's Granola has had. Clare told me "There's a million things I can do with nuts." If those other things taste as great as her first three products that I've tried, you might see Clare's Nutty Concoctions coming to a store near you in the future.
Resources for Home Food Businesses
An excellent resource to help launch your business is Lisa Kivirist’s writing about Cottage Food Laws and how to learn the ropes of a home-based food business.
You can also check out score.org to find free support in planning your business.
Rutgers University has its Food Innovation Center that offers an online webinar, two-day class, teaching just about everything you need to launch a food product business. Check out their success stories page to get you jazzed up about how far you can go.
So what are you waiting for? Now is the time to launch your home-based food product and find the joy of working for yourself. Here's to good taste on your path to success.
Kurt Jacobson writes about travel, food, wine, organic gardening, and most anything else from his varied professional life. His articles appear in Alaska magazine, Fish Alaska magazine, Metropolis Japan magazine, Edible Delmarva magazine, North West Travel and Life magazine, and MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Kurt lives in the Baltimore, Md., area with his wife, dog and cats. Kurt’s articles also appear on several websites like: GoNomad.com, Trip101.com, MotherEarthNews.com, Adventuresstraveler.com, and several others. Kurt is a regular contributor to GoNomad.com writing about Alaska, Colorado, New Zealand, Japan, and the Mid-Atlantic areas. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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