Whether your food product is gluten free, loaf of bread made with organic wheat, or chocolate carefully crafted with organic cacao, more culinary entrepreneurs than ever before are launching their food product business from their home kitchens thanks to their state’s “cottage food law.” Forrager.com offers an easy-to-grasp snapshot of the movement, capturing both the laws passed and number of enterprises popping up across the United States.
As I wrote about in earlier posts about the opportunities possible with cottage food laws on the books in nearly every state in the country, depending on where you live, you might just be a farmers’ market away from testing out that recipe your friends or family say is the “best they’ve ever tasted.”
Farmers’ markets, as it turns out, are one of the primary direct-to-your-customer sales venues approved in every state and for good reason. You’ll learn quickly if you have a food product with wide market appeal.
This explosion of interest in launching food product enterprises from home kitchens is especially true in California, thanks, in part, to their unique two-tier cottage food law. During our recent visit to San Diego, we didn’t have to search very hard at the many farmers’ markets for thriving cottage food operators.
Officially called the California Homemade Food Act, California’s cottage food law is among the more progressive in the country in terms of encouraging entrepreneurs to get their business going. As explained previously, the cottage food laws only pertain to “non-potentially hazardous” food products. Currently, a “Class A” cottage food operation in California can only sell directly to consumers, but it has minimal regulations (completing a registration and self-certification checklist, plus food processor course) and no home kitchen inspection.
“Class B” operations can make both direct and indirect sales, meaning that food entrepreneurs can sell through third-party channels like retail stores or restaurants — Class B operations involve more regulations, cost and a home inspection.
Here’s a quick roundup of a few food entrepreneurs my wife and co-author, Lisa Kivirist, and I discovered while tasting our way around several markets.
“Made in a home kitchen.” There, it’s right on the front label of these delicious, 100-percent sprouted baked scones and cookies, sprouted baking mixes for pancakes and cookies, and sprouted flour and flour blends. They’re gluten-free, organic, nut- and soy-free, too. Although many national brands want to evoke the sense of “homemade goodness,” Tiffany’s Kitchen is the real deal, delivering both great taste and nutrition.
While Tiffany Collins is often cooking away in her kitchen, her husband covers many of the sales at eight farmers markets in the San Diego area.
This diversified farming operation does it all: pesticide-free produce, handmade woolens, handcrafted soaps, day-ranged chicken and eggs, and, thanks to California’s cottage food law: artisan breads, jams and jellies. Owners Sven Merten and Jessica Oakes take advantage of co-marketing opportunities, selling their breads alongside their jams and jellies, boosting sales of both.
“We started under Cottage Food Bill,” says Eve Himmelberg, founder of Yumeve, makers of handcrafted German cookies, jams, pastries and desserts. Their jams and cookies were first produced under the Class B license in California, before she moved into a commercial kitchen.
On the benefits of her state’s cottage food law, she replied: “You can start small without a lot of money and see if your idea is working or not with a minimum financial risk.” This is a main point in Homemade for Sale, one that co-author Lisa Kivirist and I come back to time and time again. With a cottage food enterprise just starting out, it’s practically impossible to fail in a traditional business sense.
“I’m German and was trained in Germany at a German patisserie owned by Matthias Ludwigs, one of the best pastry chefs in Germany right now,” explains Eve, regarding her natural decision to focus, in part, on German baked goods.
“Our two cookie bestsellers are based on very traditional German cookies. Nearly every household has its own version of it, as did I.” While the cookies are popular, the jams currently account for 70 percent of their sales.
“Since you are not allowed to mail deliver [under the cottage good law], we added the rental kitchen and a processed food license for these products after a few months,” explains Eve, on her company’s quick expansion into a commercial kitchen. “We are now completely in the rental kitchen and will not extend our cottage food license.” They also sell desserts that were required to be made in a commercial kitchen.
“Most of the American customers in our target group find our products less sweet — and like it,” Eve continues, noting that their cookies have less sugar than American cookies.
“Usually you will taste a lot more other flavors if the sugar is not so overpowering. Another aspect of our products is that we will not use any extracts or ready-mixed ingredients. We do everything from scratch. Many Germans cook or bake with the real vanilla bean and real cinnamon sticks, which gives the product a very intense and different flavor. In the old, traditional German kitchen there won’t be any artificial flavors or colors, so there will never be a green or red cookie if we need to use food color for it.”
Their tin packaging and cookie sizes, shapes and varieties are also unique. “German cookies are bite-sized,” explains Eve. “We also have a big variety of cookies in form and texture. They’re round, square, with different toppings, crunchy and soft.”
When you have a great product, you might find that keep up production out of a home kitchen no longer becomes practical. That’s what happened with Nibble Chocolate, manufacturer of vegan chocolate bars that are made with only two ingredients: cacao and a little sugar.
The cocoa beans are sourced from small, sustainable farms. We loved their booth display that helps reinforce their “chocolate without the unnecessary other ingredients” message. Of course, their samples were great, too.
“We started by going to the farmers’ markets and as we were selling more than we could produce at home we decided to look for our own [commercial] space,” says chocolatier Sandra Bedoya, who co-owns Nibble Chocolate with David Mejia. “Our first market was in June of 2014 and we moved into our own space in September of 2014.”
Having the cottage food law in California was very important to the successful launch of Nibble Chocolate. “It made the process much easier for us and decreased the risk of our investment,” explains Bedoya. “We were able to test the waters for a while to learn about the business and receive feedback from our customers to make our chocolate better.”
John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef 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. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko 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 John's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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