Do you dream of turning your family's secret chocolate chip cookie recipe into the cornerstone of your baking empire? Well, move over Mrs. Fields, because with a little research, paperwork, gumption and elbow grease, you can start a bakery business right in your own home!
What's more, instead of (or in addition to) trudging door to door, from coffee shop to coffee shop, trying to peddle your baked goods, you can take advantage of the marketing bonanza also known as your local farmer's market. Farmer's markets are full of hungry people who--let's face facts--may be looking for something other than a parsnip or a head of bok choi to snack on while they enjoy the lively social ambiance of the farmer's market. That's where you and your soon to be world-famous chocolate chip cookies (or quick breads, pies or other assorted baked goods) come in.
Contact your state's department of environmental health and find out what the requirements for starting a home-based baking business are. Many states will allow you to sell baked goods that you make in your own home kitchen, as long as the kitchen meets their standards.
Their criteria may include such things as having a pet-free home, having designated utensils and pans that are used only for baked goods destined for sale, having certain approved light fixtures, faucets, refrigerator thermometers, etc., and having your water tested for bacteria and other unwanted substances.
You may find out that your state requires you to have a whole separate kitchen to bake your "for sale" baked goods in. If this is the case, see if you are allowed to install a second kitchen--before you scream in horror, consider that to the heath department, a second kitchen may only mean some counter space (or a table), some storage space, a sink, a dorm-fridge and an oven, installed in an indoor location such as your basement or your (car-free) garage. Ask them!
Once your kitchen has what it takes, you'll probably have to have an inspector from the health department give it their seal of approval. Remember to ask the inspector any questions that you have about additional licensing requirements (i.e. taking food handling courses, etc.), what types of items you will be allowed to sell, and other regulations that apply to your business.
Develop recipes and get them approved by the necessary authorities. Having a certified kitchen doesn't give you the right to cook and sell whatever strikes your fancy. Most home-based bakers are restricted to selling shelf-stable baked goods such as cookies, quick breads, pies (often fruit pies only--no custard or cream pies), and miscellaneous other almost foolproof (from a food safety standpoint) items such as jams and jellies. Make sure that your recipes fit within your state's guidelines.
If you want to expand your home-based cooking business in the future, keep in mind that you will likely need much more training and many more permits. For instance, items such as pickles, salsas and chutneys are federally regulated, and items that require refrigeration will often cause your state department of environmental health to require you to have such things as refrigerated trucks to transport them in.
Don't make the mistake of selling food items that you are not licensed to sell--it could get you into serious hot water.
Find a market (or markets) for your baked goods--Farmer's markets are a great place to sell baked goods, but don't count on just being able to show up and start selling. Most farmer's markets will require you to attend organizational meetings and many will also have a lot to say about what types of goods you are allowed to sell, what prices you are allowed to charge, how your goods need to be displayed, etc.
Don't be discouraged if you are turned away by a farmer's market's management: many markets only allow a certain number of vendors to attend, and they often give priority to returning vendors or to vendors who also sell homegrown produce or other items that the farmer's market's members have deemed a priority. If you get turned down, try again the next year and, in the meantime, apply to be a vendor at every other farmer's market in your area.
Make decisions about pricing, packaging and other marketing musts--Pricing is an art, and so are many other aspects of your product marketing. Learn as much about marketing your product as you can from any source of information you come across (books, courses, local business people, etc.) then, wing it! If you start out small, you'll be able to change your marketing from week to week, based on trial and error.
Bake, bake, bake and sell, sell, sell! And, above all, make sure that you (and your baked goods) get to market every single week, on time and looking (or tasting) good! If your recipe is really a winner, it will sell itself, and Mrs. Fields will start to shake in her boots!
Tammy Biondi is a former suburbanite who moved to the country in order to dedicate herself to the farm and garden life. She grows and sells organic plants and vegetables and uses the knowledge she gains from her professional experiences to make a beautiful and bountiful home garden for herself and her family.
Extra money could be waiting for you among the rows of your garden. Greenhouse gardening for profit is a bit more demanding than simply growing vegetables for yourself.
If your apple trees are loaded with fruit this fall, it's time to think about the most profitable ways for you to sell them.