The real question for most California Cottage Food Operators is how and where do I sell my homemade foods? Farmer’s Markets, where people knowingly come to sample and buy food, is often the first place people plan to sell. But getting into a market is not always as “easy as pie.”
Here are some points and ideas to help…
The Markets: A list of SD County Farmer’s markets can be found here. First, decide what days and times fit your schedule. Identify the markets which fit your availability, adding at least one hour to either end of the market session to allow yourself set up, break down, and travel time. Secondly, identify markets within your travel distance. Visit them to see if vendors are already selling your type of product. Market managers usually do not like to have vendors competing with each other to sell the same or similar products.
The Fees: Each market is different and has its own fees. Vendor fees can run between $17 and $40, though the average seems to be around $25 for a spot. That amount is due whether you sell a little or a lot so be sure your products are priced competitively and you can profit enough to pay for your space.
Your Homework: Visit the website of the farmer’s market if there is one. Then check out the market in person. Look at what is for sale already. Market managers want vendors who will draw more customers or improve the market by bringing something new. When you are ready, contact the manager to see if they are open to adding a new vendor. Then set an appointment to meet. Bring pictures of your product, your set up (if possible), and samples of your food. Be ready to answer the unspoken questions, “Why should we let you sell here?” and “What makes your product special or different than similar products?” Remember, you only get one chance to make a good first impression so be as prepared and professional as possible!
You may need
- An additional business license. Some markets require that you have a business license to sell IN THE TOWN OF THE MARKET. This may be in addition to your operational business license.
- Insurance: Many markets require you to carry general liability and/or product liability insurance. This can cost you about $500 or so annually. Be sure to find out what is required and what the costs will be.
Your pricing. Can you make a profit? Add the costs of travel and vendor fees. How many of your products will you need to sell in order to make a profit? Are your products priced appropriately and competitively?
Your time. There is often a lot of competition for a stall space. Once you get into a market, you need to commit to being there regularly. Can you have enough product and be there every week?
Smaller, more remote markets. New markets, smaller, or more remote markets may be easier to get into initially. They will give you opportunity to test the public’s response to your products, the chance to identify your target audience, experience promoting your business, and sales results that may help persuade larger or more popular markets to admit you.
Unique requirements: Different markets have different regulations. For instance, Imperial Beach’s Farmer’s Market requires each vendor to have a fire extinguisher due to city laws. The Horton Plaza, Coronado, and one Pacific Beach farmer’s markets do not allow packaged foods at all. Find out what your target market requires or restricts. Most of that information is in their application packet.
If accepted you will need:
Permits: If you have a Class A or B CFO permit, want to sell prepackaged food and do not intend to offer samples, you will not need an additional Temporary Food Facilities (TFF) permit. But, if you want to offer custormers samples to taste, you will need to get a TFF permit costing $250 annually. TFF applications can be downloaded here.
Hand washing station: If you will be sharing unpackaged samples of your product, you must have a hand washing station for your stall as described in the TFF permit application, or as seen in this Diagram of Handwashing Facility.
Pop up tent: The typical space provided is 10×10 feet so a similarly sized tent with a blue or white canopy is recommended. Some markets restrict which canvas top colors can be used.
Signs and/or Banner: You must clearly display the name of your cottage food operation in letters at least three inches high in a color contrasting with its printed surface. The city, state, and zipcode of your operation must be one inch or more in height. The operator’s name also must be displayed on the sign or banner.
Table/chairs: You will need a table to display your product. Six foot long tables which fold in half and have convenient handles for carrying can be found for $42-$80. Consider a folding chair or two for comfort. Also, a long table covering adds aesthetics while providing a hiding place for containers, props, etc.
Packaging: Bring boxes or bags for customers buying multiple products.
Business cards: Let people know how to reach you when you are not at the market. They may not buy today, but could call and order from you tomorrow!
It may take you a few tries to find and get into the right market. Don’t despair! Keep trying. And check out our Facebook page for new markets just starting up. Selling at a Farmer’s Market is a great way to interact with the public, get feedback, orders and leads and get your products known. It’s worth the effort!