Because food is perishable and comes with a sell-by-date, optimizing your revenue streams is essential if you don’t want to end up with a load of gone off, smelly ingredients.
Luckily, today, you can do more than just attend farmer’s markets and food fairs - you can learn how to sell food online from home!
Getting started, however, can be a little tricky, which is why I’m going to walk you through a step-by-step guide on how to start selling food online.
To get this tutorial going, I’ve chosen Shopify because it’s the largest online, most favored retail store maker, but you can also opt for other platforms like BigCommerce, WordPress, OpenCart, Volusion, among many others depending on your individual preferences. And there will be a lot of things in common between the platforms - so even if you're not using Shopify, you'll still be able to take something away.
In short, these are the things you need to do to start selling food online:
- Check the legalities and licensing of selling food online
- Consider your packaging and labeling
- Open an eCommerce account
- Add a domain to your online food store
- Choose a theme for your online store
- Start adding products to your inventory
1. Check the legalities and licensing of selling food online
Before you can start selling food online, you must find out which licenses you need. You also need to dive deeper into the legalities within your region and those you plan on selling to.
Because food is a perishable item that can also carry bacteria if not prepared in the right conditions, you have to abide by strict regulations when selling and shipping these types of products.
For example, in the USA, the Cottage Food Law differs from state to state.
In most states, you’ll need some form of kitchen inspection, a permit from a local zoning department, a license, and you won’t be able to have pets in rooms where you handle food. However, remember that rules vary between states and it’s important you read up before you start selling food online.
State law compliance also depends hugely on the type of food you’re selling. For example, you may be selling dry ingredients, vacuum sealed ones, or even home-cooked meals. Your compliance will also depend on whether you’re selling products that are certified organic or not.
So, make sure your licenses are all in order before you do anything.
2. Consider your packaging and labeling
According to US law, every food product you sell must have an adequate label, listing every ingredient in it. You must also list the net quantity as well as the weight of all the combined ingredients.
Aside from listing this information on your product, make sure to add an image of it on your product listing online. A handy tip to help you with your labels is to start with the largest quantity one and work your way down. You must also state allergens for health and safety purposes (and to avoid a lawsuit down the line).
Last but not least, tell your customers about perishable ingredients by adding a “consume by” date.
3. Create an online store account
Other platforms are available, but as an example, we're using Shopify - which is a great professional platform for online sales.
With Shopify, you simply visit the website and enter your email address, a password of your choice, and your store name. Then, click on “Create your store”.
From there, you’ll be asked to share some information about your business. The platform will ask you if you’re already selling online and what your current revenue is. It’ll also ask you whether you’re setting up the store for yourself or on behalf of a client. Once you complete this section, click “Next”. Alternatively, you can skip this section altogether.
During the next step, you’ll be prompted for information about yourself. This includes your name, location, phone number, and business name – although the latter is optional. Once you fill in this information, you can click on “Enter my store” to visit your dashboard.
3. Add a domain to your online food store
When on your dashboard, you’ll find your main menu on the left-hand side of the screen. In the middle, there will also be a menu with all the basics you need to get set up. Start by clicking on the “Add domain” tab followed by the “Add domain” button.
It’s worth mentioning that Shopify automatically assigns a .myshopify.com domain to your online store based on the business name you gave when signing up. The next step will depend on whether you already have a domain and a website or not. If you don’t, you can click on the “Buy new domain” button on the top right of the screen.
This will take you to a page where you can input your preferred name to see if the domain is available. If it’s not, it’ll come up as “unavailable” with five alternatives below. If it is, it’ll show the price of your chosen domain as well as alternative options. Click on the one you like and follow the instructions to pay for it.
But what if you already own a domain?
Well, you can choose to connect or transfer it. If you’re connecting it, enter your domain and click “Next”. Then, follow the instructions on the screen as these will vary depending on the website where you bought the domain.
Transferring your domain is slightly different. This option is relevant if your chosen domain is already assigned to a website. Once you click on this option, follow the steps outlined on your screen to transfer it to your new Shopify website.
4. Choose a theme for your online store
After choosing, connecting, or transferring your domain name, go back to your dashboard by clicking on “Home” at the top left-hand corner of your screen. This will take you back to the menu where you’ll find a tab entitled “Customize theme”. Click on this tab, then click on the “Customize theme” button.
On this page, you’ll have the option to customize your current theme or change it to one of the free or paid ones that Shopify has to offer. If you’ve paid a designer to create a personalized theme for you, you can also add this from the Themes page by clicking on "Upload theme".
5. Start adding products to your inventory
Now that your domain and theme are set for your new food store, you need to add your products. To do this, click on the “Home” button on the top right-hand side of your screen. Then, click on the “Add product” tab followed by the “Add product” button.
The next page will allow you to add every detail about your product. You’ll be able to choose a product name and description as well as upload images and pricing. There, you can insert inventory information like the stock keeping unit, barcode, inventory policy, and the quantity of the product you have.
Additionally, you can add the shipping information such as the weight and HS tariff code. You can also add variants of the same products from the same tab. Furthermore, Shopify allows you to edit the SEO for each product. This includes the title, meta description, and URL.
If you already have a list of products with all their details, you can import these from your device. All you have to do is click on the "Products" tab in the menu on the left of your screen. The import option is at the top of this page.
Don't forget to do some additional steps
When selling food, don't forget to keep the information of every product both public on the internet and printed on each of the products. This will help you to avoid any issues you may run into when it comes to labeling.
And if you wish not only to meet the regulations but to beat the competition, there are a few more things you can do to become a great online food store:
- Keep track of all your products and inventory, including those your selling on other sales channels.
- Run surveys and collect information about your audience so that you can better meet their needs.
- Stay up-to-date with trends in the food industry and create discounts based on the season and your stock.
And with a good eCommerce platform, all of those things can be done. So when you pick, choose wisely, and you won't have any issues. Good luck selling!