Seller Handbook

Advice and inspiration for successfully running your Etsy shop

Recipe for Success: 7 Tips for Selling Food Online

Do you dream of taking your favorite recipe from your kitchen to store shelves? Learn how with tips from one of Etsy's resident bakers.

By Alison Walla Jun 5, 2014
thischarmingcandy-header
Photo by This Charming Candy

I developed my baking company, Butter + Love, in much the same way that many sellers on Etsy started their shops: with a deep desire to make, nourished by the encouragement of my friends and family. I started selling my packaged cookies wholesale to a small gourmet grocer here in Brooklyn, New York, and it was only a matter of weeks before my products lined the shelves of 18 more shops around Brooklyn and Manhattan. Soon after that, I realized I needed a retail outlet for my quickly growing business. I started selling at local artisan markets and opened my Etsy shop in 2011. Setting up my food business from scratch was an undeniably thrilling ride, especially since I often found that resources and education on the process were scarce (and the learning curve is steep!). When it comes to sharing your edible labors of love, research and planning are essential. Here are some tips for all manner of budding chefs. This is by no means an exhaustive list (and focuses primarily on laws in the U.S., since that's where I built my business), but consider it as food for thought as you get started.

1. Know the Law

It might seem easy as pie to start selling your delicious baked goods around town, but, in many countries, there are a number of rules that govern who can make, package and sell food. "It's important to know and consult all local, national and international laws regarding your business,” says Etsy policy analyst Brett Miller. Etsy sellers based in the U.S. can learn more about the rules for running a food business at the national level through the Food and Drug Administration. At the state level, cottage food laws determine whether you're allowed to make certain types of food from your home kitchen to then sell at certain types of venues; you can learn more about the specifics at CottageFoods.org. Shops based in the European Union, or those planning to sell to customers there, should check out EU food laws and regulations. While it may be a little overwhelming to sift through all of this information, the initial prep work will set your business up for success in the long term.

2. Acquire Licenses and Permits

Next, you’ll need to get all your licensing and permits in order. Check your local and state regulations for the specifics, but you may need a business license, a food handler's license for each person making and packaging your shop's food and a temporary food service establishment permit (if you'll be selling at a fair or flea market). You may also need a home or commercial kitchen inspection, most likely from your state's Department of Health, and insurance that covers basic liability.

3. Find the Right Workspace

Thinking about setting up shop in your home? First, research the zoning laws in your area to see if you are allowed to do so. Not all states in the U.S. require you to have your kitchen inspected, but it's a good idea to do so. (Learn more about the rules governing inspections and ingredients in your state at CottageFood.org.) You should also think about how you'll store your ingredients and finished products, considering both refrigerated and dry storage. If you’ve got big dreams of stocking the shelves of specialty gourmet stores around the country, operating out of a commercial kitchen is the route for you. Commercial workspaces can be a great resource for start-up food businesses, since they give you access to large (i.e. expensive) kitchen equipment for an affordable price. With the local and artisanal food movement on the rise, incubator and catering kitchens are popping up all over the country. Check out this kitchen incubator map to see some options. Some churches, schools and restaurants also allow access to use their commercial kitchens during off-hours. Be sure to research requirements related to operating out of a commercial kitchen, including facility permits and insurance.

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Brooklyn confectioners Whimsy & Spice share behind the scenes photos of their commercial kitchen space on their About page.

4. Label Your Products

While some folks don’t give a second thought to what goes into their favorite artisanal granola, others may pore over every ingredient. When it comes to labeling your packaged products, the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act stipulates that "all food products should be labeled with disclosure of ingredients, quantity and weight of ingredients and labeled with the name and place of the person or business who makes and packages these goods." Be sure to add your ingredients to the listing descriptions in your Etsy shop, and include them on your packaged products as well. Point out whether or not your products contain nuts, dairy or other common allergens, as well as whether or not your products are made in a facility that processes these items. As a general rule of thumb ingredients should be listed by quantity, going from largest amount to smallest amount.

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Lemon Bird Preserves spells out the ingredients of their jams and jellies on their artfully designed labels.

5. Ship Wisely

It’s important to understand what different shipping carriers allow, and the restrictions for various items. This is especially important when considering whether you want to ship your perishable items internationally. The United States Postal ServiceUnited Postal ServiceFedEx and the Food and Drug Administration all have great resources for helping you decide what and where you should ship.

6. Be Transparent

Transparency as a food business can go a long way in reassuring customers that the food product they are buying is safe, high-quality and expertly made. Images of your kitchen facility and your process are a simple, but impactful method of communicating this. Food photography is deliciously appealing to almost everyone, so including a mix of images of your kitchen, ingredients and process is smart. Don't forget to highlight any kitchen helpers you may have on your About page.

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Jason and Andie Moore of Andie's Speciality Sweets make a point of keeping things transparent on their About page, "When we say 'Chocolate', we mean chocolate -beans roasted, nibs ground to cocoa mass, to cocoa solids, plus cocoa butter, and sugar."

7. Share What Makes Your Recipes Special

For many consumers, the story behind the business is just as important as the product itself. For Butter + Love, sharing the details of where my recipes come from and how I make my delectables has helped me entice repeat customers, create brand loyalty and generate press. On Etsy, the best way to tell your story is through your About page. You can use the space to talk about the technique or methods that you use, and share your personal philosophy on baking or cooking. If you’re struggling to tell your story, you could always talk about the ingredients and where they come from. Are the herbs you use grown in your backyard? Do you work with local farmers? Customers will love reading about the details. What are some of your tips for selling edibles on Etsy? Let us know below.

Author

Alison Walla

Proud Midwesterner + Brooklynite, Alison Walla recently hung up her apron to become a Seller Account Manager at Etsy, where she is doing her part to help crafty folks spread the handmade love. She documents her life and baked goods on Twitter and Instagram.

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