Let’s Talk Labeling In Cottage Food Businesses
Whether you are selling your famous oatmeal cookies or artisan sourdough bread, at some point, after the millionth question you’ve received about ingredients, calories, or volume, you’ll want a label whether it’s required or not.
Laws in every state have been written to help companies referred to as; home-based kitchens, cottage food businesses, or homestead businesses to comply with food health and safety while allowing commercial operations in domestic locations.
We’ll dive into the ins and outs and food labels and the reasons that this information is always good to have on hand, whether it is mandated by state law or not.
In this guide to Cottage Food Business labeling, we’ll explore the following:
Who Requires Labels
- Examples of Home-Based Food Production Labels
- Why You Should Have a Label, Whether It Is Required Or Not
- Resources To Help Create A Label
- Each State’s Cottage Food Law For Labeling
Who Requires A Label
Most states require some version of labeling for home-based food products. However, the actual contents can range from essential to complex depending on the stipulations of Cottage Food Laws in your state.
Suppose you decide to partner with, for example, a local coffee shop to sell your baked goods, a farmer’s market, or a retail outlet. In that case, they may also have their own standards to ensure safety regulations are met and to minimize liability.
Some states have exemptions for:
- Hot, ready-to-eat foods
- Simple Items with low nutritional value; coffee, tea, etc
In all cases, you should check our guide below for what each state’s Cottage Food Laws mandate. Below we indicate typical information asked to be included on home-based food labeling.
Typical information found on food labels includes:
(1) The name of the food product located on the primary panel.
(2) The name, city, and zip code of the Cottage Food Operation (CFO) that produced the food product. (A contact phone number or email address is optional but may be helpful for contact in case a consumer wishes to contact you.)
(3) You must indicate it was prepared in a home kitchen by one of these statements, depending on state regulation, in 12-point type on the principal display panel:
“Made in a Home Kitchen”
“Repackaged in a Home Kitchen”
“This food is made in a home kitchen and is not inspected by the Department of State Health Services or a local health department.”
(4) The registration or permit number of the CFO who produced the cottage food product (if applicable).
(5) The ingredients of the cottage food product, in descending order of weight, if the product contains two or more ingredients.
(6) The net quantity (count, weight, or volume) of the food product, stated in both (pound) units and metric units (grams).
(7) A declaration on the label in plain language if the food contains any of the major food allergens such as milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, and soybeans.
Regarding allergens, there are two approved methods prescribed by federal law for declaring the food sources of allergens in packaged foods: a) in a separate summary statement immediately following or adjacent to the ingredient list or b) within the ingredient list.
Examples Of Cottage Food Labels
If you’d like to know what it looks like to create a label for your products, many states provide mockups for what meets regulations.
Here are just a few.
Texas Cottage Food Laws provides a mockup of the type of label that will meet regulations.
South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control released this example under their amended October 2022 Home Based Food Production Law Guide.
Why You Should Have a Label On Hand No Matter What
You may be a part-time home-based food producer who only sells on the weekends at the farmer’s market or to friends and think, I don’t need labels!
If no one requires you to have a label, why should you bother investing effort, time, and money out of pocket? There are a few benefits to having this information on hand that goes beyond meeting regulations. Even if you don’t put it on the physical product, keeping information on hand about nutritional values, ingredients, and sourcing can come in handy when you least expect it. Here are five solid reasons to make creating labels a priority.
1. Streamline Questions From Customers
People will ask all the questions. What are the ingredients? Do you know the caloric content? Is it gluten-free? Does it meet an allergen requirement you may have never heard of?
Consumers have a right to know all of the above, and even if they are satisfied with your answer, you may not want to answer the question several times over. You also might not be available if you end up hiring staff to answer every question, and a label can help your staff point the customer in the right direction.
2. Free Marketing
So you make the best BBQ sauce this side of the county? What better advertisement is there than a label on your product while it goes to a family get together or event? Never miss a free marketing opportunity by having your product do the talking when you aren’t around. Adding your social media and contact information is also a great way to get leads and gain momentum in your customer base.
3. Levels Your Business Up
Intuitively customers trust a brand that looks polished and professional. Your product might be made in a home kitchen, but if you put effort into making it, you should communicate that passion in the packaging. When you make social posts, a sleek labeled product will help separate you from the pack.
4. Shows You Are An Authority On Your Product
Adding nutrition, allergen, and health benefits information shows that you’ve put thought into your products. While you may not need all categories of information (check your state’s regulations in our guide below), adding it demonstrates that you know your product intimately and have done the research.
5. Opens The Doors
Building on all of the above, a labeled product infers that you are ready for partnerships with retailers, events, and expansion. A polished label will open the door to opportunity in a way that an unlabeled and “green” looking product may not.
Resources To Create Your Own Food Label
The good news is, you don’t need to be a graphic designer to put together your own labels. There are plenty of easy-to-use tools online that will help you put together the needed information, design, and print them with ease.
Nutrient / Nutrition Labeling and Analysis
You don’t need a lab to do your ingredient analysis and create a professional-looking nutritional label. Each of these online generators has free options. All you need is a set recipe with defined measurements, and the generator will do the rest. You can save the nutritional information box generated and pop it into one of the design programs below.
In addition, these platforms are a great way to experiment with recipes, especially if you have a health target like a “low calorie” product. Adjusting ingredients will help you envision where the recipe needs to go to achieve the goal.
You don’t need to have knowledge in complicated design programs to throw together your first label. If you feel intimidated, reach out to design friends or try freelance sites like Upwork, Envato, or Fiverr to hire someone. Freelance designers can range in price depending on experience, but it’s not difficult to find an economical option.
Here are several sites to design labels on your own.
Forming a relationship with a local printer is always helpful for a number of reasons. You can work together in real-time on location to get your label locked in perfectly. In addition, there is also generally faster turnaround and lower minimum order quantities if you explain that you are a new business and want to grow with them. Plus, it’s always great to support a local business.
However, this isn’t always an option. You could opt to print your labels at home. Conversely, as you scale your business, the pricing may be better with larger online companies, albeit less personal. Here are a few options for online printing services.
Each State’s Cottage Food Law For Labeling
Below we have curated a list of resources for Cottage Food Laws in each state. When possible we listed the government link for the Cottage Food Law in that state. The regulations, labels requirements, and exemptions vary from state to state and are essential to understand before launching your food business.
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
For more resources on Cottage Food Laws, check these comprehensive sites.