In recent years, cottage food laws have improved and expanded significantly. More and more states are allowing the sale of homemade food online, across state lines, and are allowing home-based food entrepreneurs to sell a wider variety of foods.
As of today, 42 states allow cottage food entrepreneurs to sell food online within state limits and 35 states that allow cottage food to be shipped. Shipping has become a commodity for customers — without it, cottage food entrepreneurs may not be able to meet the expectations of their customers. Shipping is a convenience that modern business owners and their supporters depend on to make money and receive goods.
Shipping can also feel like another hurdle that needs to be cleared as you start or grow your artisanal food business. Since shipping has become the norm for e-commerce stores, there are plenty of options that fit your budget, resources, and timeframe.
Ready to get started shipping your products? First things first: Make sure that shipping cottage foods is legal in your state. check to see if you live in one of the 35 states that allow for shipping of cottage food products:
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
Things to Consider When Shipping
Shipping food across state lines (or even just within your state!) takes more planning than shipping a typical package does.
Choose Your Packaging Wisely
When it comes to shipping food, speed matters even more than it might in other e-commerce situations. It is important to consider things like how long your product will last in the shipping process or how secure your packaging needs to be in order for your products to make it in one piece. The type of packaging that you use needs to be considered carefully to ensure your cottage food arrives to customers in the shape that it was in when it left your house.
If most of your products will be shipped in the same size boxes with the same packaging materials, it’s best to buy supplies in bulk to save on packaging costs. There are many different ways to execute your packaging — think of it as an opportunity to showcase your brand and create an extra special experience for your customers.
Many small businesses tend to take more time in their packaging, as they want to show customers that they care. Small details, like including a handwritten note in your shipping box, can set your business apart. Big companies like Amazon manage perfectly fine with their plain packaging, but those little details and packaging accessories go a long way in making your business memorable
Keep in mind that perfecting your packaging can be time consuming or more costly than doing the bare minimum, but these details can make all of the difference to your customers. Above all, make sure that the packaging you’re using gets your homemade food to the buyer in the best shape possible.
Understand Food Shipping Costs
Although free shipping may feel like table stakes to customers, even large corporations don’t provide free shipping unless customers meet a certain spend threshold.
Don’t feel guilty for charging shipping fees to your customers — after all, shipping food quickly and safely across the state or country isn’t cheap. If your customers have questions, remind them that there’s a worthwhile tradeoff between receiving their order in a timely manner for a reasonable price. Shipping can be a sizable expense for both your business and your customers, so it is best to shop around for shipping costs before deciding on a provider.
These factors can impact your shipping expenses:
- Dimension and weight: Knowing the basic dimensions of the boxes you will be shipping from makes your life easier, as most shipping platforms will be asking for the length, width, and height.
- Destination: The distance between where you are shipping to and from is another added factor to the overall cost of shipping. As a cottage food business, you may only be able to ship within your state, which can help keep costs low.
- Shipping volume: Your inventory tends to be the operations of how your business will be run. It should not be too high where you are unable to manage, as it could cause unnecessary costs. Yet, an inventory that is readily available to ship and does not disrupt your business operations is worthwhile if you are shipping on a consistent basis.
Set Up a Shipping Schedule and Guarantee
Transparency in shipping can ensure that there is customer satisfaction. The provision of a delivery date and tracking goes a long way in keeping your customers happy. The guarantee of delivering the product on time and accurately shows the consistency and care your business would want to be reputable for. If you only ship on Mondays and Tuesdays to ensure that your products don’t get stuck in a shipping warehouse over the weekend, let your customers know! Transparency is key.
As you shop around for shipping providers, you’ll notice that all of the factors we mentioned previously, like the amount of products you’re shipping and the size of your boxes, can have a major impact on your shipping prices. You want to make sure that you’re covering your expenses, not over-charging customers for shipping, and shipping products securely. It’s a balancing act, and as you ship more, you’ll get even better at pricing and estimating delivery times!
Which shipping tools are best for your business? These are some of the most popular shipping tools used by independent culinary artisans:
Pirate Ship finds the cheapest USPS and UPS shipping rates, without any added monthly or hidden fees. There are instant pricing rates, no matter the volume, found instantly. To find a rate, all you need is the zipcode of where you are shipping to and from, the shipping type or speed, plus the dimensions and weight of your box. After inputting your information, you’ll be presented with a variety of shipping options. The shipping options also include the estimated delivery dates and how much you will be saving in comparison to the retail price.
Shippo requires you to set up an account in order to use their service, but they don’t charge monthly fees. To get a quote, you will enter information about your package, its weight, the shipment date, information needed for shipping, and the recipient address. From there, a shipping rate and estimated delivery time are calculated. Since Shippo requires an account setup, entering and organizing information is quite easy. You can also create labels on Shippo and the platform also offers tracking for your customers.
Read how one baker uses Shippo to manage shipping for her cookie business.
Other options for shipping are ShipStation, UPS, or FedEx. When it comes to shipping, it's worthwhile to do comparison shopping — shipping is not a small expense! After comparing the different shipping options to see which one is the best fit, you can feel confident that you are offering the best shipping quality and prices for your customers.