French macarons by Zam Artisan Chocolates and Confections.
Photos courtesy of Zam Artisan Chocolates and Confections
Jodie Stefonek of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, bakes from-scratch cinnamon rolls, cookies, cakes, and breads and sells them online.
“I have always loved to cook and bake, but really got into serious baking after being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis over 10 years ago,” she says. “I was told I needed to avoid soy, which is in every commercially-processed baked item.”
When her husband was diagnosed with cancer she needed a flexible job that would allow her to be there for his treatments and doctor appointments. In 2014, they bought a house with enough space to install a commercial kitchen and started Nana’s Northwoods Kitchen.
After selling her baked goods locally for four years, she opened Nana’s Northwoods Kitchen on Etsy and has had 800 sales since. “Our business has increased due to Etsy, enough so that we have hired another baker’s apprentice to help out in the shop.”
Stefonek is one of thousands of Etsy sellers with shops that stock baked goods. A recent search for “homemade cookies” on the marketplace brought up more than 4,000 listings. But what are the considerations of selling an edible product online? “It’s important to know and consult all local, national, and international laws regarding your business,” says a company spokesperson at Etsy. Though Etsy allows the sale of edibles, it’s on the seller to make sure they are conducting a legal and safe business.
State and Federal Regulations
Indeed, there are rules that govern who can make, package, and sell food. Etsy sellers based in the U.S. can consult the Food and Drug Administration website for starters. But much of the regulations happen at the state level, where Cottage Food laws determine what you can serve from your home kitchen to sell.
In other words, it matters a great deal where your kitchen is located. You can research your state’s regulations at CottageFoods.org. Cottage Food law refers to edibles created in someone’s home kitchen, with an operation that’s too small to afford licensing. Each state’s regulations are very different. For instance, because I live in Indiana, I can sell food online with the caveat that I only sell it to someone else in my state, or they pick it up in Indiana. This includes farmer’s markets and roadside stands. Selling edibles to someone in another state from Indiana is prohibited under Cottage Food laws. Also, I can sell baked goods, but not fermented products or salsas.
However, I can sell food and ship across state lines if I register as a facility with the FDA, which requires an annual kitchen inspection from the health department, local government permits, a state business license, a pet-free kitchen environment, and proper storage for both cold and dry ingredients. Some states require a food handler’s license for each person making or packaging your shop’s food. If you’ll sell at a fair or flea market, you might need a temporary food service establishment permit. Basic liability insurance is another consideration.
For many hobbyist food preparers, the steps required by their state to sell food across state lines is too daunting, which is why selling locally at farmer’s markets can be an attractive option. It’s a good idea to consult an attorney or qualified legal expert about the particulars of your state before investing money into your food business. Outside the U.S., regulations are different, so always consult with your country’s food laws and regulations.
Nana’s Cinnamon Swirl Pound Cake and Buttery Pound Cake.
Photos courtesy of Nana’s Northwoods Kitchen
Figuring out the best way to market your baked goods on Etsy can be tricky. As with any listings, you should take advantage of SEO keywords and proper tags. But once a shopper finds you, it’s important to make sure your product looks professional and your storefront as a whole looks polished.
“Good photography stands out,” says Chef Jafer, whose chocolate macarons are photographed beside a bar of dark chocolate and carefully placed almonds. Another photo shows the French cookies gift wrapped in pretty packaging. Jafer has found success using Etsy’s promoted listings.
Growing up in the Beaujolais region of France, Jafer started cooking at an early age. “My love for everything sweet goes back to childhood, when highlights of the day would be stopping at the local boulangerie for candies, caramels, Pate de fruits, and nougats,” he says. “As a professional chef in New York City and San Francisco, I found myself drifting to the pastry station and nibbling on chocolates to relieve the stress of the busy night at the restaurant.”
Jafer trained with top chocolatiers in both Lyon, France and San Francisco, where he now resides. Since 2015, he’s sold sweets exclusively through an Etsy shop, Zam Artisan Chocolates and Confections, though he’s now starting to launch in select retailers in the Bay Area.
“We made a sale on the first day of opening our shop,” he says. “A few followed, and it has been a steady increase of sales year after year. Our products are well-received, judging from reviews and repeat customers.”
According to the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, all food products should be labeled with ingredients, quantity, and weight of ingredients, as well as the name and place of the person or business that makes and packages these goods.
Suzanne Loving operated a storefront in Nashville, Tennessee, where she sold homemade pies. For five years, she also sold pies and pie mixes in jars and shipped them. “I labeled everything with an ingredients list but didn’t have to include nutritional information because I was a single storefront and didn’t have multiple locations,” she says. “Most cottage food operations do not need to list nutrition facts if they meet the requirements and apply annually for the FDA exemption.”
When selling your edible items online, always put ingredients on your listing so there are no surprises. Make buyers aware if your food contains any of the common allergens like dairy or nuts, or if they are made in a facility that processes these items.
Shipping and Packaging
For people selling frozen or refrigerated food, Uline sells insulated shipping kits, as well as bubble wrap and various food containers to keep edibles fresh and safe in the mail.
Suzanne Loving operated a storefront in Nashville, Tennessee, where she sold homemade pies.
Photo courtesy of @GreenDoorGourmet
The USPS, UPS, and FedEx have their own restrictions regarding the mailing of food, so check with your carrier to make sure your product is allowed. Consult the Food and Drug Administration before you ship a food product internationally.
“It’s way cheaper to ship using ugly packaging, but you’ll get more social media posts if everything is pretty,” Loving says. She admits that custom packaging gets very expensive, but including a card with information about tagging her business online helped boost posts and sales.
For shipping his artisan chocolates, Jafer prefers to ship via USPS Priority Mail, which delivers in 2 to 3 days. Using an insulated pouch with an ice brick, Jafer first wraps the chocolates in French-motif tissue paper, then rests the package in packing paper, using bubble wrap to secure the goods. “When the customer opens the box it’s the beginning of the experience,” he says. “The double colorful tissue paper, carefully folded, and paper wrappers worth keeping…secured and fresh chocolates or candy that smell when the pouch is opened.”
Stefonek sends her baked goods via USPS Priority Mail, and says only one in a hundred packages goes missing or is damaged in transit. “They’re quick to resolve damage claims and lost package claims,” she says. Depending on the item, she packages baked goods in a cellophane bakery bag, bubble wrap, and a box before placing into an outer shipping box, with ice packs for items being shipped to warmer climates. “We also include instructions with most orders for freezing and reheating to preserve our items.”
A box of 12 pieces of luxury chocolate truffles filled with fruit ganache, hazelnut praline , caramel. Made by Zam Artisan Chocolates and Confections.
Photos courtesy of Zam Artisan Chocolates and Confections
Zoning and Your Kitchen
Research the zoning laws in your city to make sure it’s legal for you to operate an food business out of your kitchen. If you hope to be able to sell your food product in stores, you might consider renting space in a commercial kitchen right out of the gate. Be aware that this may require facility permits and insurance.
When they’re not in use, some commercial kitchens at churches, schools, and restaurants may allow people to rent the space. Culinary Incubator has a map of commercial kitchen shares in your area.
Dealing with perishable items can be tricky, which means sellers should use the freshest ingredients and prepare the items in a sterile environment. Also, consider the size of your food operation and if you have enough space to store your finished products and ingredients.
Jafer prepares his chocolates to order, stocking only the raw ingredients such as sugar, nuts, chocolates, and cocoa butter. He shops the farmers markets for fresh eggs, fruits, and herbs. “Once the customer receives our chocolates, they can taste the freshly roasted almonds in the nougat or the freshly made praline from roasted hazelnuts,” he says. “Tasting a freshly made candy is an experience few have had.”
Other resources to check out:
Lindsay is a modern quilter, writer, and editor. A multi-book author with C&T Publishing, her latest project was designing sampler quilts for FreeSpirit Block Party (Stash Books, September 2018). She also works with Craftsy and Baby Lock sewing machines, and is an editor for Frommer's Travel Guides. She lives in Indianapolis with her husband, son, and two cats, who were the inspiration for her adult coloring book and Kickstarter "Project of the Day" Lazy-Ass Cats. www.lindsaysews.com, www.lazyasscats.com