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No business premises? No problem. The phenomenon of home-based food businesses has burst into a supernova of freshly-cooked, locally-sourced meals in neighbourhoods all over the country.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic made social distancing and online delivery services the norm, home-based food businesses were popping up everywhere in response to a trend for fast, fresh, local and healthy food.
Looking at the stats, it’s easy to see why so many people are turning to their home kitchens and culinary hobbies to begin thriving small businesses.
The demand for local, fresh, healthy food in the UK has continued to rise, according to a nationwide survey in Farmer’s Weekly. Findings within the survey show that 63% of consumers are consciously buying local produce such as fruit and vegetables and cheeses. More specifically, 37% claimed to focus their spending on English brands.
This steadily growing commitment to eating local reaches further than produce. More and more diners are choosing restaurants by the products they use in their kitchens. According to a survey reported in the Hospitality & Catering News, “Ethical considerations are important to 66% of the population, with local produce, transparency in the food supply chain and organic food all being of interest to consumers.”
In a feature for the Manchester Evening News, home-based food business Eat Homemade’s owner Dan Stringer spoke about how his business began out of necessity and convenience and has flourished into a successful enterprise.
"My eldest daughter is off school long term,” he explained in the article, “and I couldn't hang around at home and do nothing.”
Using social media to push sales of his freshly cooked frozen meals through his website, Eat Homemade now has franchises in the Greater Manchester area.
In the same enlightening article is Zara’s Home Kitchen, a popular home-based food business operating almost exclusively via Facebook. Unlike a regular take-away, this food is made with love by Nana Bibi, and the food can be collected from specific pick-up points within the local area – in recyclable containers that Nana also accepts to refill another time.
Zara’s isn't open every day. According to the article, “customers need to follow the business on Facebook or sign up to the mailing list to find out and receive menu updates,” which shows just how flexible you can be if your home-based business takes off.
Starting a home-based food business is more than simply cooking up a storm and setting up a Facebook page. There are regulations to abide by that are governed by Public Health England and your local council, and plenty of vital health and hygiene rules to abide by.
Government guidance states that because COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, the chances of catching it from food are slim, but good hygiene practices like frequent handwashing are still important – and if you are unwell or have symptoms of the virus, you should not be handling food.
If you’re serious about starting your kitchen business, register with the council. This lets the health inspectors know you are legitimate, and means you can be added to the Food Standards Agency’s food hygiene rating system.
Once registered, a council inspector will inspect your kitchen and advise you on any changes (if any) that must be made in order for your business to operate legally. This can include things like:
You must also gain a food hygiene certificate, which can be obtained online or at a local training centre. This certificate gives you a good understanding of the importance of food safety and hygiene, as well as teaching you how to avoid cross-contamination and allergen contamination.
You will also be required by law to include specific information on your packaging in order to help your customers choose foods they can safely eat and are not allergic to. To find out more, take a look at the government’s website.
To make your food business a success, you need to have customers. The best advice is to reach them where they are – whether that’s on Facebook or Instagram, in the local Post Office or at the Farmer’s Market.
Your marketing strategy will depend on the food you want to sell and where you are based. If you’re based in a small town where local food is already a selling point, getting your products into local cafés, joining in with local foodie events and posting in local Facebook groups might be the best choice for you. If you’re a trendy vendor based in a city or tourist area, Instagram and Twitter might be better for you.
Remember: not every social media platform works for every business. If something is taking up a great deal of your time for very little reward, scale back and work harder on the areas where you’re reaching more customers. Do what works for you.
However you choose to set up your business, remember that you’re doing this because you believe in your products. Always put your food and the stories behind it – the producers, the growers, the bakers, the chefs – at the front of your marketing. Your customers are choosing your food because it’s delicious, local, fresh and convenient, and for a million other reasons besides. So the best way to find out what they want from you is to ask them.