How to Sell Food Online—a Helpful Guide
Updated · Mar 06, 2023
Over the past few years, ecommerce has emerged as a great solution for selling food, along with everything else it’s commonly known for.
It is a small surprise that more and more people want to know how to sell food online.
It isn’t a topic that is often discussed though, and so we prepared a useful guide with a couple of key points.
What Is Food eCommerce?
When it comes to food, ecommerce covers everything from grocery shopping and ordering takeout to buying meals from restaurants and ordering specialty items from cottage food businesses.
One of the great things about ecommerce is that it makes it easy for people to find and order the foods and snacks they enjoy. In turn, businesses can get more customers and grow their brands.
Before selling food online, though, you need to be aware of its specific legal requirements.
As you’ll soon see, we’ve split businesses into three broad “food seller” categories:
- Home/Cottage food
- Click-and-mortar food
- FMCG resellers.
The latter two take the form of registered businesses.
These businesses must have the necessary licensing for their industry, which can vary depending on the type of food being sold. In addition, registered businesses must also comply with food safety laws and regulations.
However, "cottage food" laws are more lenient, and they vary by state. These laws allow people to sell certain types of food from their homes without obtaining a license or registering their business.
This tool is a helpful way to check the regulations in your state.
Types of eCommerce Food Businesses
The “spheres” of this type of ecommerce can be thought of as “the home”, brick-and-mortar businesses that also sell online, and purely online ecommerce stores.
Although each type does something different, they often overlap.
One of the hottest trends in ecommerce right now is cottage food. This unique form of ecommerce allows people to create food items in their homes and then sell them to others through online platforms.
There are several reasons why this trend is gaining popularity. First, it provides an excellent opportunity for people to turn hobbies into money from their homes.
Second, selling homemade food online allows people to tap into the growing demand for artisanal and handmade foods.
And finally, it gives people the chance to connect with others who share their passion for food.
An example of this type of business would be someone making jams, beef jerky, or jars of pickles, and selling them online.
Because of the small scale, and often local nature of these products, sellers often sell on WhatsApp, or create stores on the Facebook Marketplace.
This type of food business refers to those that are predominantly offline—such as a restaurant or takeout that allows the ordering of food online. Businesses that enjoy the benefits of ecommerce and traditional commerce.
While an online food business can have its own website or, in the case of fast-food chains, its own apps, a number of food delivery apps exist to make things simple for buyers and sellers. The online food delivery industry is predicted to be worth $365 billion by 2030.
With some customers almost exclusively shopping online, businesses that don’t list themselves are actively losing customers.
This type of ecommerce refers to businesses that sell food-based fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG.)
The most common type is grocery stores, which also sell offline, but it can also include specialty websites that sell items like imported candy or niche foodstuffs.
Unlike some cottage goods and restaurant/fast food, these items are often easier to ship because they are packaged by wholesalers and “resold” by these outlets.
How to Sell Food Online
Aside from the legal requirements discussed earlier, there are four key areas to consider when you are selling food online.
These are similar to the same processes in other types of ecommerce, but as you’ll see, “hot foods” require special considerations.
The first is a question of how customers will order the food.
You can register with Uber Eats or another delivery app if you run a restaurant or takeout. If you do this, most of the issues below will be taken care of for you.
However, if you’re selling cottage foods, using a WhatsApp store is a great option. This will allow customers to submit orders neatly and allow you to respond. Since food business from home sales are typically smaller, it’ll also be manageable.
If you’re reselling packaged goods, you’ll need to find a shopping cart to use.
Next, you need to figure out how you’ll accept payment for orders.
One solution is to use a payment gateway. The step-up will differ depending on how orders are being placed.
If you are running a cottage store or selling cooked food through a restaurant or takeout, you can also consider accepting payment upon delivery.
This way, you or a staff member will interact with the customer at some point (even if they put the money in the mailbox because they don’t want any personal contact).
Another important aspect when selling food online is the packaging.
Remember, you’re selling food, which means things can spill, be ruined with too much movement, or make someone sick if there’s a contamination.
That’s why the packaging must be adequate and secure.
When reselling FMCG, you can go with traditional ecommerce packaging, but “hot foods” will require more care. Many packaging wholesalers sell generic paper bags and styrofoam containers, but it is always best to look for wholesalers that offer white label packaging.
Some cottage sellers use “decanting”, where they deliver baked goods in their own containers, and then have the customer transfer them into containers of their own.
It’s best to make this an optional method.
It’s a 50-50 whether customers will see this as an artisanal food practice or unprofessional.
Finally, there’s the order fulfillment process. If you’re selling FMCG, you should look for trustworthy courier services.
If you’re selling hot food, as we’ve covered, you can make use of Uber Eats, etc, and if you’re selling things that fall into the category of “groceries” there are services like Instacart.
Regardless of how the items will be delivered, you need to ensure that they’ll arrive in good shape and quickly in the case of hot food.
That, in brief, is how to sell food online.
You’ll have to adjust your strategy depending on what type of food you’re selling, but no matter the type, selling food online has a lot of potential.
Do your research, and you may just find a niche you can fill in your town, whether it be an exotic snack or a desire for some convenient home cooking.
Garan is a writer interested in how tech reshapes the environment, and how the environment reshapes tech. You'll usually find him inoculating against future shock and arguing with bots.