Making way for cottage food entrepreneurs

by Patty Cantrell on November 4, 2011

Nayyirah Shariff is on her way to an entrepreneur’s life of making signature products, employing local people, and investing in her home state of Michigan.

The young woman from Flint has her marching orders from customers who have lined up every week to buy her sweet and savory fresh-baked, organic artisan breads. Now she’s putting this test-market experience into planning her business future.

“I’m looking at putting in a commercial kitchen, and whether I want to focus on supplying restaurants or having my own storefront.”

Nayyirah Shariff is on her way to an entrepreneur’s life of making signature products and employing local people.

Shariff’s soon-to-be expanding company, Revolutionary Bread, was made possible by some regulatory wiggle room that the Michigan Legislature opened up in 2010 for home-based food entrepreneurs. She says the state’s action made way for her to try out her products and ideas after a professor encouraged Shariff to pursue her business dream.

The Cottage Food Law, Public Act 113 of 2010, allows for non-potentially hazardous foods that do not require time and/or temperature control for safety to be produced in a home kitchen for direct, face-to-face sale to customers. Before enactment, any food for sale to the public required entrepreneurs to produce it in a licensed commercial kitchen, which is a large investment of time and money for beginners.

Wendy Achatz is a Michigan entrepreneur who started her family’s successful business by trying out their products at flea markets. Achatz Pies now has eight storefronts in Michigan, a commercial bakery, and 140 employees producing fresh and frozen pies for stores across the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic. Achatz Pies uses Michigan fruit almost exclusively and, with a franchise plan in the works, expects those annual fruit purchases to increase to 15 million pounds in five years.

Achatz and her husband were able to rent space in a commercial catering kitchen for their initial pie baking. She’s happy entrepreneurs like herself now have the Cottage Food option for getting started. “I think it’s a beautiful thing. You really have to test the market before you can tell if you have a profitable business opportunity.”

Opportunity. The Cottage Food Law addresses just one of the barriers food and farm entrepreneurs face with regulations that are generally written for larger scale operations and higher risk situations. Michigan has great opportunity to grow jobs in the expanding market for local and specialty foods by examining the state’s overall food law for unnecessary and unreasonable barriers to entrepreneurship.

This regulatory review is underway in 2011 at the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. In addition to this attention from the agriculture department, other local and state officials, including economic development, could prioritize this work because jobs are on the line.

The Michigan State University Product Center for Agriculture and Natural Resources reports that if Michigan could increase the rate of agri-food startup success to a projected 851 per year, then the state could generate 23,020 direct and indirect jobs per year. Ninety-seven percent of those jobs would come from small- and mid-scale startups. Cottage food entrepreneurs are among those the Product Center assists in its work to build such a pipeline of agri-food entrepreneurs in Michigan.

Posted originally at Michigan Good Food blog,

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