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How Do I Start a Canning Business?

By C. Mitchell
Updated May 16, 2024
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To start a canning business, you will need a developed business plan that takes into account what you will be selling and to whom, and you will need an understanding of local laws relating to commercial food preparation and sales. Small businesses are regulated in almost every jurisdiction. Before you can get started, you usually must prove that your kitchen meets safety code requirements, submit food products for testing and approval and follow labeling laws, among other things. In nearly all places, starting a canning business requires a lot more than simply deciding to sell your wares.

Food safety is a top concern for many governments around the world. Most have established health agencies, often at the local level, to enforce food safety standards. Any food that is commercially sold typically must be approved by these agencies, and sellers must be licensed, insured and regularly inspected.

After you have some idea of the sort of canning business that you want to operate, research becomes very important. It usually is a good idea to start with your local department of health, department of agriculture or food safety board. Ask for information on starting a small business. Most of these agencies receive requests like yours with some frequency, and many of them have prepared bulletins and summaries of the steps that you will need to take to get licensed.

Licensing almost always requires a detailed business plan. Before you will get the government’s blessing to market and sell food, you usually must disclose the scope of your intended business, the estimated production and your plan of distribution. It typically is a good idea to draw up a detailed plan of action before getting started on the licensing process.

Depending on the kind of canning business you intend to operate, you might qualify for a “cottage foods” licensing exception. An increasing number of jurisdictions permit farmers and local growers to sell a limited number of homemade foods out of their homes or at local markets without having to comply with commercial licensing and inspection requirements. In places where it exists, this exception typically is designed to encourage canning at home and bottling food grown locally for local consumption. Who and what can qualify for this exception varies tremendously, but if your canning business is likely to be more homespun than a mass market venture, it is something to explore.

Funding and financial resources are something that all canning operations, whether cottage or commercial, also must consider. Starting any business requires a significant amount of overhead costs. Even if you grow all of the preserving foods yourself, you will need to pay for supplies, including canning jars and labeling technologies, as well as any equipment needed to operate a commercial-grade kitchen, not to mention the cost of staff training and paying your employees. Commercial canners are almost always required to carry insurance, as well, which is rarely inexpensive. After your business becomes profitable, these expenses likely will start paying for themselves — but getting there often requires a fair bit of capital.

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