How to Start a Home Food Business in Virginia

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A home food business is a lucrative venture for chefs and foodies whose recipes are food are raved about. Virginia is one of the 11 states in the USA that allows a home food business, selling food to the public. However, there are certain laws that need to be followed so that the business is legal and there is no risk of an audit.

  • Contact the Virginia Department of Agriculture for an information packet that contains valuable information on getting started with a home food business. It has detailed information on how to go about the procedure smoothly. Call the department toll free at 1-800-552-9963 or call 804-786-2042 if you are in the Richmond, VA area.

  • Develop and write a business plan. Your business plan should include your concept about the business, recipes, process of preparation, facility planning, and marketing and advertising plans. Since it is a large and important document, the Virginia Cooperative Extension office has officers who can help you free of charge. The Virginia Department of Agriculture also has people who can help in facility planning and layout and advise you about laws and regulations for production, distribution and sale of food in Virginia.

  • Check your local zoning ordinances to see if you can have a food business in your specific geographic area. Even though the state of Virginia allows home food businesses, the exact rules vary depending on local zoning regulations. Contact your respective city office to check the zoning laws since each city has different laws.

  • Obtain approval from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Office of Dairy and Foods (VDACS). The information packet that you get from VDACS has an application form and information sheet that you should fill out and mail to the department. This agency is responsible for regulating and ensuring food safety. Officers from VDACS will also come and inspect your facility to give their approval and issue an inspection report to authorize you to manufacture food on your premises.

  • Evaluate the competition in your area. This is an important factor that will help decide the feasibility of your business. If a lot of businesses are offering a product similar to yours, you will have a hard time convincing consumers to buy from you, especially when you are new in the business. If you have a unique product idea, consider evaluating the market and testing customer response to your product before launching a full-fledged business.

  • Develop a budget. This important step helps determine the economic viability of your business venture. Evaluate your fixed and variable expenses and do not forget to add labor cost, which is the amount you want to pay yourself and your employees, if any. Set prices for your products and remember to add a profit percentage.

  • Research wholesale suppliers for your ingredients. Since you will be starting small, the local warehouse store will be a good place to check for your ingredients. Try to buy in large quantities so that your per unit price is low and you are able to set reasonable prices for your homemade food products.

  • Keep written records for all your transactions so that you have proof in case of errors. Remember to follow the product labeling guidelines outlined in the handbook sent by VDACS so that your product can be sold in the state. The information handbook has detailed diagrams and information about labeling to help you get an idea. The name of the business should be on the front of the package, and the ingredients have to be listed in order from most to least used.

Tips & Warnings

  • Contact VDACS as soon as possible since it takes at least a week for the information packet to be sent.
  • Do not operate a food business without proper license since there is always the risk of food poisoning and you being held liable for someone's health.

References

  • Photo Credit fresh muffins image by Glenn Jenkinson from Fotolia.com
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