Create your own ecommerce website and start selling successfully with ShopWired today

Create your ecommerce website on ShopWired today.
Start today with 14 days free

Create your own ecommerce website and start selling successfully with ShopWired today

Create your ecommerce website on ShopWired today.
Start today with 14 days free

How To Sell Food Online: A Step-by-Step Guide

17th April 2024

Lady with laptop thinking about selling food online ideas

Whether you’re a seasoned chef, a home baker or an entrepreneur, selling food online can be a lucrative avenue to explore. Years ago, launching a food business necessitated a physical storefront, substantial startup costs and a local customer base. Today, all you need is a solid brand, a user-friendly website and high-quality products.

But where do you start? What regulations do you need to consider? And how do you ensure your food products meet health and safety standards?

This guide will walk you through each step of the process, from navigating regulatory requirements to choosing the right ecommerce platform. By the end, you should be well-equipped to successfully start an online food business.

Before launching an online food business, it’s imperative that you know the specific legal and regulatory requirements of your region. Regulations can vary significantly and cover everything from food safety and labeling to tax obligations and import regulations.

Let's take a look at some key considerations for businesses in the UK and the US.

1. Business Registration and Licensing

UK: Register your food business with the local authority at least 28 days before opening. Registration is mandatory but free. All businesses selling food and drink need to register, whether they operate from a home, a mobile unit, temporary premises or solely online.

US: Regulations differ by state in the US. You'll need to check with your local city or county about necessary business licences, including health department permits if you’re preparing food. The FDA has more info here.

2. Food Safety and Hygiene

UK: While it's not a legal requirement for food handlers to have a food hygiene certificate, food business operators must ensure that staff are adequately trained in food safety practices. Registering for a Level 2 Food Hygiene Certificate is highly recommended.

US: Regulations vary by state; some require food hygiene certificates and safety training for food handlers, while others may not. It's important to consult local health department guidelines to ensure compliance with specific state requirements. The FDA Food Code has more info.

3. Labelling and Allergens Information

UK: Your food business must comply with the Food Information Regulations 2014, which require detailed labelling of ingredients, allergens and nutritional information.

US: Your labels should contain accurate ingredient lists and nutritional facts as per the guidelines of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA). Allergen labelling is also mandatory.

4. Tax and VAT Considerations

UK: If your business's annual turnover exceeds the VAT threshold, you will need to register for VAT. It's essential to maintain accurate records for tax purposes.

US: Be aware of both state and federal tax obligations relevant to your business. It's advisable to consult with a tax professional to ensure compliance with specific state regulations concerning food sales.

Navigating the legal and regulatory landscape is a laborious but important first step in establishing a successful online food business. With these foundations in place, you're ready to focus on the fun part- crafting your brand and building your online presence!

How To Start an Online Food Business

The following steps will help you start your own online food business.

1. Create Your Brand

Mind map for branding , including identity, logo, design, name and quality

Whether you're building a new brand or transitioning an existing food business online, establishing a strong brand identity is essential. Your brand is what defines you in the marketplace; it's what customers think of when they see your products.

Take Ben & Jerry's, for instance, a brand renowned not just for its unique and rich ice cream flavours but also for its commitment to environmental and social issues. Their activism in areas like climate change and social equality resonates deeply with consumers who share similar values, creating a loyal community that appreciates both their products and their principles.

Now, your brand might not necessarily need to reach this level of social activism, but it's important to define clear values that resonate with your audience. Whether it's through sustainability, exceptional customer service or simply amazing products, anchoring your brand to strong, relatable principles can establish a connection that turns first-time buyers into repeat customers.

2. Finding Your Niche in the Online Food Market

Two healthy meals in containers

To succeed in the crowded online food market, it’s important to identify a unique niche that resonates with a specific audience. This allows you to tailor your product offerings and marketing efforts more effectively.

Here are some food niches and business models to consider:

  • Health and Wellness: Focus on products that promote health, such as organic, non-GMO or low-calorie options. You could launch a subscription box service for healthy snacks or create an online store dedicated to nutritional supplements.
  • Keto: As the ketogenic diet gains followers, offering low-carb, high-fat options could attract a dedicated customer base. You might start an ecommerce store selling keto-friendly ingredients or meal kits.
  • Allergen-Free: Serve people with dietary restrictions by offering products free from common allergens like gluten, nuts and dairy. Your business model could be an online store specialising in certified allergen-free foods, offering safety and convenience to allergy sufferers.
  • Vegan: With the rise in plant-based eating, providing a range of vegan foods could capture a significant market share. Consider setting up an online marketplace that exclusively offers vegan products, appealing to environmentally conscious consumers.
  • Gourmet and Exotic Foods: Attract food enthusiasts by offering exotic or hard-to-find ingredients. You could operate an online gourmet food store that offers everything from luxury chocolates to exotic spices and specialty meats.
  • Locally Sourced Foods: Support sustainability and local economies by offering products sourced directly from local farms and producers. This could be through a virtual farmers’ market or a subscription service that delivers fresh, seasonal produce directly from local suppliers.
  • Ethnic Foods: Specialise in specific cuisines by providing authentic ingredients or ready-to-cook meal kits. This niche is perfect for those looking to explore or celebrate their cultural heritage through food.

3. Decide How You Will Source Your Products

Packaged Food Supplies

Assuring the best quality food products starts with knowing exactly where your products come from.

Whether you are sourcing ingredients, buying wholesale or even making your own delicious products, choosing the best sources is vital. Remember, it's your reputation that's ultimately on the line, so you'll need to vet suppliers and prioritise partnerships that align with your brand's commitment to quality.

Local sourcing

Partnering with local farmers and producers offers several advantages:

  • Product freshness: Source ingredients at their peak to ensure freshness.
  • Support for local businesses: Foster community growth by contributing to the local economy.
  • Sustainability: Reduce your carbon footprint with shorter supply chains.
  • Consumer appeal: Attract customers who prioritise eco-friendliness and community.

Wholesale suppliers

For more standardised or non-perishable items, wholesale suppliers can offer a cost-effective solution. Evaluate suppliers based on the quality of their products, their reliability and their ability to meet demand at scale. It’s important to negotiate favourable terms that allow flexibility in order quantities, especially as your business grows.

Making your own products

Lady making a cake

Crafting your own products gives you ultimate control over the quality and uniqueness of your offerings. Starting in a home kitchen allows you to tweak and perfect your recipes at a low cost, ensuring you comply with local food safety rules. As your business grows and demand increases, you might consider moving to a commercial kitchen to allow for greater production capacity, but this would require more investment and adherence to stricter health regulations.

Co-packing and private labelling

If you want to sell products under your brand without handling production, consider using a co-packer or private label manufacturer. This method lets you to choose existing products from a manufacturer and have them packaged and branded as your own. It’s an effective way to expand your product line with minimal investment in equipment and production facilities while still maintaining control over product quality and branding.

By carefully selecting where and how you source your products, you can ensure that your food business is set up for success.

4. Building Your Website

People working on web design using a laptop and notes

To take your food business online, you’ll need a well-crafted website. Your website not only showcases your brand and products but also serves as the primary interaction point with customers. It needs to look good, function properly and provide a positive user experience.

Here’s what you’ll need to consider:

Design and branding

Your website should be a visual reflection of your brand. This includes using your brand colours, logo and typography consistently across all pages. The design should resonate with your target audience and show off your products in all their glory. For example, a minimalist design might work well for a luxury organic chocolate brand, while bright and bold colours might be better suited for a sweets store aimed at children.

Layout and user-friendliness

A clean and intuitive layout is key to turning website visitors into paying customers. Make sure navigation is simple with a well-organised menu and easily clickable product categories. Important information like contact details, shipping policies and return procedures should be easy to find. The goal is to provide a seamless and hassle-free shopping experience that encourages purchases.

Ecommerce platform

Choosing the right platform to power your ecommerce website is crucial as it forms the backbone of your digital operation. Many ecommerce platforms allow you to build a store from scratch with little to no technical knowledge. ShopWired, for example, provides all the tools you need for designing your store, managing inventory, processing payments and much more.

Mobile optimisation

With a significant portion of consumers browsing and shopping on their mobile devices, you'll need to make sure your website is mobile-friendly. This means fast load times, responsive design and touch-friendly navigation elements.

5. Marketing Your Online Food Business

Person writing up marketing strategies on post-it notes

Having a website is one thing, but you'll need to market it effectively to attract customers and expand your reach. Here are some tailored strategies to help your food products stand out:

Social media marketing

Lady presenting a food webinar in front of camera

Platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest are perfect for food businesses due to their visual nature. Showcase your dishes with high-quality photos and engaging stories. Use features like polls and live videos to interact directly with your audience, and consider running targeted ads to reach specific demographics.

Email marketing

Encourage customers to sign up for your mailing list by offering incentives like a first-purchase discount or exclusive recipes. Regular newsletters featuring new menu items, special events or cooking tips will also help keep your audience engaged and encourage repeat visits to your site.

Content marketing

Create a blog on your website where you post recipes, the benefits of certain ingredients or the stories behind your dishes. This sort of content not only provides helpful information to your customers, it also boosts your SEO efforts, potentially drawing more organic traffic to your site.

Paid advertising

Sweets on Google Shopping page

Consider using paid advertising options like Google Ads or social media ads to boost your brand's visibility and reach a bigger audience. Target your ads based on the demographics and interests of your potential customers.

Influencer partnerships

Collaborate with food bloggers and culinary influencers who share your brand values. This can introduce your products to a broader, like-minded audience. Sponsor posts or arrange for product reviews to gain visibility.

Local marketing

If you source locally or participate in local events, highlight these stories in your marketing campaigns. Engage with local food scenes through community events, or offer special promotions to local customers. Local SEO can also drive traffic from your area to your website, increasing footfall and online orders.

Utilising these strategies in a comprehensive marketing plan can significantly increase the prospects of your online food venture.

6. Consider Multichannel Sales

Icons representing multichannel sales

Expanding your online food business across multiple sales channels can significantly increase your reach and sales potential. Here’s why and how you should consider this strategy:

Online marketplaces

Utilising established online marketplaces like Amazon, eBay and Etsy can put your products in front of a larger audience. These platforms are frequented by millions of shoppers daily and can provide substantial visibility for your brand. Ensure that you comply with each platform's specific regulations, particularly around food items.

Social commerce

Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest now offer integrated shopping features, allowing businesses to sell directly through their posts and ads. This is particularly effective for food businesses as these platforms are visual by nature, making them ideal for showcasing high-quality images of your products. Utilise the shopping features to streamline the customer journey from discovery to purchase.

Direct sales through own website

While marketplaces and social media are powerful, having your own ecommerce website is important. It offers you complete control over the customer experience, branding and data. Use your website for exclusive products, detailed brand storytelling and to cultivate a direct relationship with your customers. If you're using an ecommerce platform like ShopWired, you can integrate your store with other sales channels to boost your visibility.

Subscription services

Consider offering subscription boxes or recurring delivery services for your products. This business model can build customer loyalty and provide a steady revenue stream. Subscriptions are especially popular in the food industry for items like snacks, health foods or even full meals.

Cross-promotion with other brands

Collaborate with non-competing brands in the food industry to cross-promote each other’s products. This can help you reach similar target audiences and increase sales through bundled offers or co-marketing campaigns.

By diversifying your sales channels, you not only safeguard your business against fluctuations in one channel but also increase your market penetration. Each channel comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities, so it's important to tailor your strategy for each one.

7. Shipping and Returns

Food being packaged by man for shipping

Efficient shipping and a clear return policy are key components of a successful online food business. Here’s how you can handle them:

Shipping Considerations:

  • Choose reliable couriers: Partner with reliable courier services that can handle food items and guarantee a safe and timely delivery.
  • Packaging: Invest in high-quality packaging that maintains food integrity during transit. This includes insulated packaging for perishable items and sturdy containers to prevent damage.
  • Transparent shipping costs: Be upfront about shipping costs or consider including shipping in the price of the product to avoid cart abandonment.
  • Delivery options: Offer different delivery options, including same-day or next-day delivery for local areas, which can be a significant selling point.

Handling Returns:

  • Clear return policy: Since food items are often perishable, have a clear return policy that complies with local regulations about food returns. Generally, returns might not be allowed unless there is a fault on your part.
  • Quality assurance: Ensure every product sent out meets strict quality checks to minimise the likelihood of returns due to quality issues.
  • Customer support: Provide excellent customer service to handle any complaints or issues swiftly. This can help mitigate negative feedback and maintain customer loyalty.

8. Implement Analytics

Implementing analytics tools can provide you with the insights needed to make informed decisions for your online food business. Here’s how you can effectively use analytics data:

Google Analytics

Integrate Google Analytics with your website to track visitor behaviour, traffic sources and conversions. This tool can help you understand which marketing efforts are driving the most traffic, what pages visitors spend the most time on and where you might be losing potential customers.

Sales figures

Monitor which products are your best sellers and which ones may need more promotional efforts or adjustments in pricing. This data can also help you manage inventory more effectively to ensure you're well-stocked on popular items and don't hold excess stock of items that don't sell as quickly.

Customer feedback and reviews

Implement tools to gather customer feedback and reviews. This not only helps in building customer trust but also provides valuable insights into what your customers like and dislike about your products.

Social media analytics

Use the built-in analytics tools provided by social media platforms to gauge the performance of your posts and ads. Understanding metrics like engagement, reach and click-through rates can help you refine your social media strategy. Furthermore, using social media listening tools can help you hone in on what your audience is talking about.

Heatmaps and user session recording

Tools like Hotjar can provide heatmaps and user session recordings that show you how visitors interact with your website. This can be invaluable in optimising the layout of your website to improve the user experience.

Regularly reviewing your website's analytics data lets you refine your strategies with data-backed insights.

Choose ShopWired for Your Online Food Business

ShopWired Logo

When it comes to launching and managing your online food business, the choice of ecommerce platform can make all the difference. Of course, we would always recommend ShopWired, but here are some reasons why ShopWired is a good fit for an ecommerce business selling food:

Full Suite of Ecommerce Features on All Price Plans

ShopWired Pricing

ShopWired's comprehensive ecommerce features are available on all pricing tiers. Each feature is designed to streamline operations and give you full control over all aspects of your business.

Free, Customisable Themes

ShopWired themes

With ShopWired, you can choose from a variety of customisable themes that are not only visually appealing but also optimised for performance and mobile shopping. This allows you to create a unique brand presence that showcases your food products and captures your audience’s attention. All ShopWired themes are completely free to use.

Reliable Hosting and Security

Understanding the importance of reliability and security, ShopWired provides robust hosting with 99.99% uptime guaranteed and advanced security measures to protect both your business and your customers' data.

Top-Rated Support

ShopWired’s knowledgeable support team is on hand to assist you with any queries or challenges you may encounter, from setup and customisation. Our top-rated support is one of the reasons ShopWired scores so highly on review websites like Trustpilot.

ShopWired Trustpilot rating

Marketing and SEO Tools

With built-in marketing and SEO tools, ShopWired helps you attract more visitors to your store and convert them into customers. Whether it’s through optimising your site for search engines or leveraging email marketing campaigns, ShopWired has you covered.

Choosing ShopWired as your ecommerce platform means partnering with a provider that understands the unique challenges and opportunities of the food industry. With a combination of specialised features, unlimited customisation and dedicated support, ShopWired is the ideal choice for entrepreneurs looking to make a mark in this lucrative market.

Multichannel Sales

ShopWired connects effortlessly to eBay and Etsy, making it easy to expand your food business across multiple sales channels.

Multiple Payment Options

ShopWired payment gateways

Offer customers a wide array of payment methods with ShopWired's numerous payment gateway integrations. You'll need to check each payment processor's terms to ensure they permit sales involving food items.

Start Your Online Food Business Today

Starting an online food business presents a lucrative opportunity to tap into an ever-growing market. This guide has explored essential steps, from complying with legal regulations to establishing a compelling brand and building an effective online presence. With some hard work and culinary creativity, you can build a successful food brand capable of anything!

Want to get started today? Give ShopWired a try with a 14-day free trial.

Online Food Business: FAQs

Do you need a licence to sell food online?

Yes, you need to register your food business with the appropriate local authority and obtain any necessary licenses or permits.

Do I need a food hygiene certificate to sell food online?

In the UK, it's not mandatory but highly recommended to have a Level 2 Food Hygiene Certificate. In the US, requirements can vary by state, so it's best to check local regulations.

Can I run a food business from home?

Yes, you can operate a food business from home, but you must comply with local health regulations and register with your local authority in the UK or obtain the necessary permits in the US.

How do I ensure my food products are safe to ship?

Use appropriate packaging that maintains the integrity and temperature of the food. Consider insulated packaging for perishable items and ensure all packaging is secure to avoid contamination.

What should I consider when choosing a payment gateway for my online food business?

Look for payment gateways that accept transactions for food businesses and offer a secure, reliable service. Also, consider the fees involved and whether the gateway integrates easily with your ecommerce platform.

How can I market my online food business effectively?

Utilise social media platforms, engage in email marketing, create compelling content on your website and consider paid advertising to reach a wider audience.

What are the key legal considerations for labeling food products sold online?

In the UK, comply with the Food Information Regulations 2014 for labeling ingredients, allergens and nutritional information. In the US, follow the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requirements.

Can I sell food internationally through my online store?

Yes, but you must be aware of the import regulations of the countries you are shipping to, as some might have restrictions or require specific labeling adjustments.

What is the best way to handle customer complaints in an online food business?

Provide excellent customer service, respond promptly to complaints and offer solutions like replacements or refunds where appropriate. Ensure your return policy is clear and visible on your website.

How important is SEO for an online food business?

SEO is crucial as it helps your website gain higher visibility in search engine results, drawing more traffic to your site and potentially increasing sales.

What are some effective strategies for retaining customers in an online food business?

Offer high-quality products, excellent customer service and engage with customers through loyalty programs, newsletters and personalised marketing strategies.