If you've got a fiery passion for food, a knack for culinary delights and a desire to showcase your delectable creations to the masses, then starting a business in food can be an incredibly thrilling journey. With the global food service market projected to grow from $2.6 billion in 2023 to $5.4 billion by 2030, there’s always demand for new tasty ventures.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the process of starting your very own food business, covering all the crucial points, including creating a business website and getting your business properly registered. So, grab your apron, and let's dive in.
What is a food business?
A food business involves preparing, cooking and selling food to customers. It can take a whole host of forms, like restaurants, cafes, food trucks, bakeries (learn how to start a baking business), catering services (see how to write a catering business plan) or even online food delivery. Food businesses cater to customers' desire for delicious, convenient and satisfying meals, providing them with a diverse range of culinary experiences.
Why start a food business?
Starting a food business could be a good idea for you for a number of reasons. To start, there are certain areas of the industry growing more than others. Currently in 2023, the market's largest segment is that of confectionery and snacks, with a market volume of $1.66 trillion, according to Statista. You may want to consider researching certain segments in your specific area to see where the market is growing.
But, just because the market is growing in a certain direction, doesn’t mean you have to go that way too; make sure you pick a direction that aligns with your passions.
By starting a food business, you can turn your passion into a profession. And, the food industry is arguably more flexible than others, allowing you to creatively experiment with new flavors, ingredients and cooking techniques.
How to start a food business
After carefully considering all the pros and cons and have your heart set on starting your food business, these are the steps you’ll need to take:
01. Research the market and plan your business
Conduct market research to understand the demand for your food concept in the target location. Analyze the competition, identify your target customers and develop a comprehensive business plan that outlines your goals, menu, pricing, executive summary, marketing strategies, financial projections and operational procedures.
Once you’ve defined the what, identify the who. Imagine your ideal customer and get as specific as possible, thinking about all the details around demographics, lifestyle, and interests and hobbies. While it can be challenging to pinpoint a very specific type of customer (after all, who doesn’t enjoy food?), the more detailed and precise you can be, the better you can tailor your product, messaging, and marketing.
Let’s look at the food company G Butter. The target market for fans of nut butter is huge, and filled with many competitors. So, G Butter narrowed in on a specific subset of that audience: health-conscious customers who lead an active lifestyle and want to indulge guilt-free.
Once you've written your business plan, write a concept statement to outline your vision.
02. Choose your business structure and register your business
Select a legal structure for your food business, such as a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC) or corporation. Consult an attorney or accountant to determine the most suitable structure based on your circumstances if you’re not sure. Don’t forget to register your business name and obtain the necessary permits and licenses to operate legally. If you haven’t thought about how to name a business, you can try out Wix’s free business name generator to come up with a catchy and memorable option.
All businesses require some form of licensing to operate, but the food industry has particularly strict requirements for food safety due to the inherent risks of dealing with items that people consume. The specific types of licenses and permits you need depends on what type of food you’re offering and where you’re located.
Some types of licenses and permits could include:
A business license from your city or state that enables you to conduct business
A food handling permit
A resale license to be able to buy ingredients at wholesale
A food license for making and selling food from home
03. Find a suitable location
Look for a location that aligns with your target market and concept. Consider factors like foot traffic, accessibility, parking and proximity to your target customers. Ensure the space meets health and safety regulations and has the necessary infrastructure for food preparation.
You’ve defined your business strategy, established your brand and built your website. Now, orders start coming in. How do you get your food to customers in a timely, secure way? Depending on what you’re selling, you can choose to enable order pickup, deliver items locally, or ship orders domestically or internationally.
Enable order pickup and local delivery
Does your food business function like a restaurant (see how to create a food truck business plan), offering take-out, made-to-order meals? If so, your shipping strategy should focus on enabling curbside pickup and local delivery.
Order pickup: Make sure you can take orders over the phone as well as through your website and be able to appropriately manage the queue so you can give customers an accurate pickup window. Once they get to the pickup location, consider offering curbside pickup or contactless pickup.
Local delivery: Decide whether you want to hire additional employees dedicated to delivery or use a third-party delivery service like DoorDash or UberEats. For both these options, consider increasing your menu prices or adding additional fees to accommodate these costs.
Define your shipping guidelines
If you’re selling packaged food items, like candy, cured meat, hot sauces, or cookies, it’s important to establish clearly defined eCommerce shipping guidelines. This allows you to streamline operations and be able to respond to customer queries. Some questions to ask yourself include:
Will you charge for shipping? If yes, how much?
Where will you ship to? Are you planning to ship only in the continental United States or will you also ship abroad?
How quickly will you ship the items (two-day, next-day, priority mail)?
Which carriers will you use?
Shipping food also carries additional challenges, especially when sending something outside of the country or even across state lines. Make sure to research any potential restrictions in your destination states or countries.
04. Develop your menu and source ingredients
Create a menu that reflects your culinary vision and target market. Source high-quality ingredients from reliable suppliers to ensure that the freshness and taste of your dishes live up to your standards. Consider any dietary restrictions or preferences of your target customers and offer a diverse range of options.
Chances are, you already have the seed of a business idea growing in your head. The best food businesses often come from your own passions and interests, like when you stumble upon a revolutionary chocolate chip cookie or an innovative hot sauce recipe while tinkering in the kitchen. If you have a gut sense that one of your creations could be a hit, follow that instinct and start small and niche. Focus on perfecting that single item (or type of item) before trying to expand your menu too quickly.
This was exactly what G Butter did. G Butter only sells protein-packed nut butters—nothing else. They offer 12 different flavors, all with the same sugar-free, non-GMO base. By staying niche and focusing on a limited menu, they’re able to hone their craft and make a successful product.
05. Set up your kitchen and equipment
Equip your kitchen with the necessary appliances, tools and equipment to facilitate food preparation and storage. This may include ovens, stovetops, refrigeration units, food processors, utensils and serving-ware. Make sure that all equipment meets safety standards and is regularly maintained.
You can’t start a food business without the right equipment to produce items at scale. This means you have to think of your home kitchen like a restaurant: What do you need to buy in order to operate as efficiently as possible? How can you turn your space into a more commercial kitchen?
Some items to consider purchasing or renting include:
Saute and frying pans
Kitchen utensils like tongs, knives, cutting boards, and ladles
Like a restaurant, you need to understand your supply chain and your inventory needs in order to buy accordingly. This will likely be a matter of trial and error—you want to buy enough ingredients that you can meet customer demand, but avoid any food going bad.
Depending on what you’re selling, look for distributors who work directly with farmers or develop direct relationships with suppliers.
06. Hire and train your staff
Recruit employees who align with your vision and have the necessary skills and experience. Train your staff on food handling and safety, recipe execution, customer service and maintaining cleanliness and hygiene in the kitchen. Regularly provide ongoing training to maintain consistent quality and service.
07. Implement effective marketing strategies
Develop a marketing plan to promote your food business and attract customers. Utilize various channels such as social media, local advertising, collaborations with influencers and participation in food events. Create a visually appealing online presence and consider building a professional website using platforms like Wix to showcase your menu, location and contact information.
For Nick Collins, Founder of Cleverchefs,
It's about creating perfection in the food industry.Creating something that is different and vibrant. Everything from Cleverchefs’ tasting room to their website shines in bright colors and refined design.
Managing a food business effectively
Once your food business is up and running, it's important to manage it effectively to ensure long-term success. Here are just a few tips.
Provide consistent quality: Maintain consistent quality in your food and service to build a strong reputation and customer loyalty. Regularly assess and improve your recipes, train your staff on proper preparation techniques and listen to customer feedback to address any concerns promptly.
Make operations efficient: Optimize your food business operations by streamlining processes, managing inventory effectively and ensuring timely service. Regularly review and improve your operational workflows to minimize waste, reduce costs and maximize efficiency.
Excel in customer service: Provide exceptional customer service to create a positive dining experience. Train your staff to be attentive, friendly and responsive to customer needs. Encourage customer feedback and address any issues or concerns promptly.
Smart financial management: Implement sound financial management practices to ensure the financial health of your food business. This includes how you raise money for your business, track operating expenses, manage cash flow, analyze profitability and review your financial statements. Consider using accounting software to streamline bookkeeping tasks.
Stay updated and innovative: Stay informed about the latest food trends, customer preferences and industry developments. Continuously innovate your menu, experiment with new flavors and ingredients and offer seasonal specials to keep your offerings fresh and exciting.
Tips to promote your food business
Once you’re happy with the brand name and concept that you came up with, you’ll need to think about a memorable logo for your brand. If you don’t have the funds for a designer, you could use a logo maker to get the job done quickly or take inspiration from these food logo ideas.
Melbourne Food Squad is a perfect example of how a memorable logo can be the focal point of your brand experience. The logo itself immediately conveys food, so customers understand the business’ offering right away. The strong, dark color of the cow matches the bold font of the company name and is balanced by the body copy font, which is lighter and thinner.
With brand and logo in hand you’re now ready to start promoting your food business and attracting customers, here’s a few tips to get going.
Build an online presence: Make a website using platforms like Wix to showcase your food business. Include your menu, location, contact information and any special offers or promotions. Make sure to also optimize your website for search engines to improve your online visibility.
Initiate social media marketing: Leverage social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and X (formerly Twitter) to promote your food business. Share enticing food photos, engage with your audience and run contests or promotions to generate interest and attract new customers. Encourage customers to tag your business and share their dining experiences. To promote their food business, Cleverchefs got to marketing on social media with high-quality food photography. Founder, Nick Collins used the Wix Video Maker to show off the dishes in their posts. “I was blown away by the video maker,” he says. “We’ve created clips that really match our brand.”
Find local partnerships: Collaborate with local businesses, such as farmers markets, grocery stores or event venues, to expand your reach. Offer joint promotions or cross-promote each other's services to attract new customers.
Gather online reviews and ratings: Ask your customers to leave reviews and ratings on popular review platforms like Yelp or Google My Business. Positive reviews can enhance your online reputation and attract new customers.
Go to food events: Participate in local food events, festivals or community gatherings to introduce your food to a wider audience. Offer food samples, engage with attendees and distribute promotional materials to generate interest and build brand awareness.
From a branding perspective, make sure your packaging incorporates your logo, colors, and fonts. The goal is for customers to have a cohesive brand experience, from ordering food on your website to receiving it at their doorstep.
From a logistical perspective, your packaging should also serve its core purpose: keeping your food fresh and ready to eat (especially important if you start a vending machine business). If you’re selling and delivering made-to-order meals, your packaging should keep the food warm and presentable by the time it reaches your customer. If you’re shipping food items to customers miles away, your packaging should keep everything intact and fresh.
Another important consideration is labeling: Food manufacturers are responsible for developing labels that meet legal food labeling requirements. Proper labeling, including nutrition labeling and labeling for the major food allergens, are required for most prepared foods.
Benefits of starting a food business
A food business offers a slew of benefits and opportunities.
Flexibility and creativity: The flexibility and creativity in menu development, recipe creation and presentation will always allow you to express your creative side. You can adapt to seasonal ingredients, incorporate customer preferences and continuously innovate to keep your offerings fresh and exciting.
Revenue potential: A well-managed food business has the potential to generate substantial revenue. You'll need to really understand the cost of starting a business in your chosen industry and take into account all expenses to calculate your net profit. By carefully pricing your products and managing costs, you can achieve profitability and financial sustainability.
Community engagement: Food businesses often become community gathering places, providing a space for people to come together, enjoy meals and connect. By fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment, you can contribute to the social fabric of your community.
Diversification of services: Depending on the type of food business you start, you can offer more services such as catering, delivery or private events. These additional revenue streams can help diversify your business and reach a broader customer base.
Challenges of running a food business
While starting a food business offers a whole host of benefits, it's important to be aware of some of the challenges you may come across.
Food safety and regulations: Food businesses are subject to strict health and safety regulations to ensure the quality and safety of the food served. Compliance with these regulations—such as obtaining proper permits, adhering to food handling guidelines and maintaining hygiene standards—is crucial.
Competitive landscape: The food industry is highly competitive, with many restaurants and businesses vying for customers' attention. Standing out from the competition and attracting a loyal customer base requires a unique selling proposition, exceptional quality and effective marketing strategies.
Operational complexity: Running a food business involves managing various operational aspects, such as sourcing ingredients, managing inventory, handling food preparation (see how to start a food prep business), ensuring timely service and maintaining consistent quality. Efficient operations and effective coordination are vital to success.
Staffing and training: Hiring and training skilled staff who share your passion for food and customer service isn’t always easy. Finding reliable and dedicated employees—especially chefs and cooks—is crucial to maintaining the quality of your offerings and providing an excellent dining experience.
How to start a food business FAQ
How profitable is the food business?
The profitability of the food business varies widely depending on the type of food business, the location of the business and the management of the business. However, the food industry is generally a profitable industry. In fact, the food industry is one of the largest industries in the United States.
What is the easiest food to sell?
Some of the easiest foods to sell include:
These foods are easy to prepare, store and transport. They are also popular with a wide range of people.
What is the most profitable food to sell?
Some of the most profitable foods to sell include:
These foods are popular with a wide range of people and can be sold at a high price point. However, they can also be more expensive to produce and store.
When choosing what food to sell, it is important to consider your own skills and experience, your target market and your budget. You should also choose foods that you are passionate about and that you enjoy making.
How to start a business in a specific state
If you're considering launching a food business within a particular state, you can take a look at these resources to ensure you’re compliant with state-specific regulations and get all the relevant information for your specific location:
Or, interested in other business types? Check out these articles: