Selling food online is a great way to start your own business, especially if you have a passion for creative baking or cooking. However, selling food products comes with more complications than other online retail businesses. While online food sales are subject to more regulations and laws, the industry is highly resilient. After all, we all have to eat, right?
If you want to start your own online food business, even if that means selling baked goods out of your home, this post will cover the essential things you need to consider. There are sure to be challenges when you sell food online, but you can successfully launch your own online food business with a bit of guidance.
How to Start Selling Food Online
There are a few key things you will need to do and understand before you can begin to sell food online. No matter what type of food products you want to sell online, whether that is homemade wines, baked goods, produce, etc., every food business needs to do the following:
- Select your niche
- Understand the law
- Find suppliers
- Determine packaging and branding
You won’t be able to sell food online through a website or mobile app until you figure these things out. As you design your business plan, consider the rising trend of online meal delivery services. Nowadays, more consumers are turning to the internet for their food needs, either to satiate an immediate craving or to organize their weekly meals. This concept allows customers to order food online and have it delivered straight to their doorstep. Look towards companies like Hello Fresh for inspiration. They have successfully brought together the convenience of digital shopping and the joy of homemade meals, resonating with consumers around the globe. Here are some things to consider for these tasks.
Select Your Niche
If you are serious about starting an online food business, you have probably already started thinking about what type of food products you want to sell. Remember, the food industry is vast and competitive. Therefore, getting as specific as possible with your offerings can give you a competitive edge and help your food business stand out in a crowded marketplace.
If you’re having trouble focusing on a particular niche, think about the food products that you are most passionate about. For example, if you love to bake bread, focus on selling bread first and expand your offerings as your business grows. Additionally, you could also narrow your focus based on types of food. For example, many people today prefer to eat vegan. However, finding good vegan products in grocery stores can be hard. This creates a great business opportunity for you to sell vegan products.
Understand the Law
Selling food is not like selling other products. There are several laws and regulations that must be followed regarding food safety. Failure to follow all laws and regulations could result in hefty fines. Plus, putting your customers at risk can expose you to costly litigation and irreparable brand damage. Therefore, any business selling food products out of their home must follow Cottage Food Laws.
Cottage Food Laws vary from state to state, but they cover what types of food products can be sold from home-based food businesses, how they can be stored, and what constitutes a contaminant. While these laws vary by state, they all include some variation of the following:
- You must have a state-issued business license
- Your kitchen must be inspected annually
- All food storage methods must be up to code
- Your kitchen must adhere to all permits and zoning laws
- No animals are allowed in the kitchen at any time
Remaining compliant with the local health department and government regulations is essential if you want your business to stay open.
Finding reliable suppliers is just as crucial for businesses making their own food as it is for those curating food products to sell to their customers. You need to do your due diligence when choosing a food supplier to work with. Choosing the wrong supplier could lead to food poisoning your customers, damaging your brand, and even putting you out of business.
Ensure that your suppliers have good reviews, can answer all the questions you might have, and send you fresh products with a decent shelf-life. Keeping your food products fresh will primarily come down to managing your inventory, but getting fresh products from your supplier is this first step.
Determine Packaging and Branding
Now that you have your niche, understand the laws and regulations that apply to your business, and have found suppliers, your focus should be on packaging and branding. Both are important for your success and brand image. Branding and packaging are closely related in the food industry. Think about the classic red Coca-Cola can or the signature yellow Cheerios box.
Packaging food has to be done correctly to comply with FDA regulations and avoid contamination. You need to make sure that your packaging not only looks good and entices customers but is also safe and includes all of the nutritional and ingredient information required by law.
Create an Online Store
Creating an online store is one of the most exciting parts of starting an online food business. You might be tempted to start here instead of handling the other considerations we have already covered in this post, but that would be a mistake. Web development requires time and financial commitments that you might decide you are not ready to make after figuring out the complexities of selling food online. That is why it is essential to understand the laws and the market before beginning.
Online food stores are just eCommerce sites that sell food instead of products. Although, you might want to sell branded products or other helpful tools associated with your food products in your store. For example, if you sell pizza doughs and sauces, you might want to consider selling pizza cutters and cooking stones.
The key to a great eCommerce website is quality product pages. You want your product pages to entice users to purchase your food. High-quality photographs are an excellent place to start, but you cannot rely on photos alone. Your food products should also have rich, detailed descriptions that encourage users to buy. While product pages need to be your main priority, there are also a few other pages you’ll want to have if you want your website to be successful, including:
- Accreditation page – Share certificates with users and prove the safety of your food products.
- Supplier information page – Share any relevant information about your suppliers and the food you get from them.
- About page – Share your story with users and allow them to get to know you and the brand.
- Contact page – Any customer comments, concerns, or questions can be handled through this page.
- Blog – This is a great way to engage your audience with relevant content and news, and it is a valuable content marketing channel.
- Policies/FAQ page – This is where you will share your shipping and return policies. It is a great place to include frequently asked questions to help answer common user queries.
Before spending a lot of time building a website or hiring a project management team to help you, make sure that you understand your brand voice and imagery. You will want to use the same tone, color schemes, etc., on every page of your online store and all your digital channels ( social media profiles). You want your branding to be consistent wherever you interact with your customers.
Several eCommerce platforms can help you create an online store. The most popular platform is Shopify, but it is not your only option. Additionally, you could choose to build a custom website. No matter what option you choose, your best bet is to hire a professional web development company to help you create the best possible online store.
Starting an online business is an exciting opportunity. However, you need to make sure that you create a great User Experience for your customers. The best way to ensure that your online store is built to deliver a great experience for your users is to work with a web development partner. A partner can help you navigate the complexities of starting an online food business. If you’re ready to start selling food online, reach out to an experienced development partner today.