How to Get Started with an Online Food Business
The Basics of Selling Food Online
Selling food online can mean big sales for small businesses, so it makes sense to think of e-commerce as the next step for your gourmet popcorn shop, bakery, or candy store. It’s not a small undertaking, though, so research thoroughly before getting started.
Here are some important considerations for selling food products online.
Set Your Offline Food Business Up for Success First
If you’re just getting started, you’ll need to get all your licenses and permits squared away before selling – online or offline. State and local governments regulate all retail food businesses, so make sure you’re compliant. Your public health division may require:
- A floor plan of your building, with entrances and exits, plumbing, and equipment locations indicated
- Specific types of refrigeration, sinks, and other materials
- Your menu
- Food manager training
You must also follow FDA regulations regarding food package labeling. Find more information on small business food packaging for your food products.
How to Sell Online: Your E-commerce Website
When your business and products are ready to go online, you’ll need to choose an e-commerce platform that is user-friendly and well designed. In our digital age, a clunky website will drive customers away rather than encouraging them to purchase from you.
As you evaluate your options, think about how you plan to scale your business. You may not need all the bells and whistles of a fully equipped content management system. There are choices in several price ranges.
Read reviews and contact customer service for several companies to get an overview of what they offer. A few to think about are:
Your Online Food Business: Choosing What to Sell on Your Site
If you list all your available products on your website at first, it’s possible you could get overwhelmed with orders you’re not prepared to fulfill. Having to cancel orders is worse than simply not offering items to begin with.
When starting out with online selling, choose the most popular menu items that you know you can produce quickly and efficiently. If you’re selling gourmet popcorn, for example, list only your top 10 flavors on your site and measure interest before expanding your options.
If your brand is popular, you might also want to branch out from food items and sell branded merchandise such as t-shirts, hats, or bags on your site.
Pricing and Shipping Your Products
It’s important to consider shipping charges you’ll incur when setting prices for your online store. Discuss options with the major carriers – USPS, FedEx, and UPS – to determine what your rates need to be to recoup shipping costs.
Online shoppers are accustomed to “free” shipping, so if you can offer that option without inflating your prices over your customers’ spending threshold, that is ideal. If you can’t, try to offer shipping deals if a customer purchases a certain weight of product, or offer coupons for use on a second order.
Digital Marketing for Your Online Food Business
When you’re ready to list your products online, hire a good photographer to take product photos for your site. It doesn’t have to be a professional – you could ask around at local colleges for art students who may charge a lower fee so they have work to include in their portfolio. But it is essential to have good photos on your site since online customers can’t taste the product in-store.
Also, consider search engine optimization – again, there’s no need to hire a marketing agency if your budget is limited, but write concise descriptions of your products using clear language and include common terms people use when speaking about and searching for your foods, such as “gourmet popcorn.” (However, avoid overuse of search terms, which is known as keyword stuffing.) Then, have someone you trust read over your descriptions to check for grammatical errors and consistency.
You can also begin to set small budgets for advertising on social media and pay-per-click ads through search engines. Focusing on local keywords, like “gourmet popcorn in Your City” will help keep your budget manageable and still spread your message.
Spreading the Word to Current Customers and Beyond
Once your site is up and running, make sure to tell your existing brick and mortar customers about it and ask them to inform their friends. Include your website on business cards and packaging, and post on social media frequently, linking to products and announcing online sales.
And don’t forget about the power of email. Ask customers for their email addresses at checkout, and include a signup link on your website. Use your email list to send discount coupons, announce specials, and thank people for their support.
Above all, offer quality products at reasonable prices, ship them in a timely manner, and address customer questions and concerns quickly, and you’ll be on your way to a successful business – both online and in-store.