Resources for Food Entrepreneurs

cheese producerWelcome to our specialty foods website!

This website will be especially useful for food manufacturers wanting to produce a specialty food product. Specialty foods are defined by the Specialty Food Association as “food and beverages that exemplify quality and innovation, including artisanal, natural, and local products often made by small manufacturers, artisans, and entrepreneurs from the U.S. and abroad.”

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension offers specific resources to assist you in your process of starting a specialty foods business. People at the beginning stages will find our Recipe to Market fact sheet helpful; it covers the most commonly asked questions about starting a food business. If you prefer in-person workshops, we offer a Recipe to Market workshop series, typically twice a year in locations across Maine. Our Recipe to Market program has been well received nationally and was highlighted in a Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development newsletter article.

If you are interested in obtaining a food license in Maine, you will want to visit these state agencies websites:

We offer specialized testing services at UMaine if you are interested in selling canned, shelf-stable food products. We offer these testing services to food businesses in Maine as well as small businesses nationwide. The School of Food and Agriculture has a commercially licensed facility located on the UMaine (Orono) campus in Hitchner Hall if you are interested in renting our commercial kitchen to produce non-perishable food products.

Please feel free to contact Louis V. Bassano if there is a topic of interest pertaining to specialty foods that you do not see listed. Thank you for taking the time to visit our site and we wish you well on your food business endeavors.

Louis V. Bassano, Ph.D., Regional Small Business Educator & Extension Professor
Beth Calder, Ph.D., Extension Food Science Specialist & Associate Professor of Food Science
Jim McConnon, Ph.D., Extension Business & Economics Specialist and Professor of Economics

Table of Contents

Special thanks to Grace Yan Liu, Business Reference Librarian, Fogler Library, for her research support and assistance in the development of this website.

For additional business resources, visit UMaine Extension’s Small Business Library.

Cottage Food Laws

Cottage Food Laws in the United States (PDF)
This Harvard publication discusses the history of cottage food laws that allow the production of non-hazardous foods in home kitchens for sale to the public.

Specialty Food Industry Overview

State of the Specialty Food Industry 2016 (PDF)
This report produced by the Specialty Food Association in collaboration with Mintel, and SPINS/IRI discusses the important aspects of the Specialty Food Industry.

Business Planning

lobster pickingSmall Scale Food Entrepreneurship: A Technical Guide for Food Ventures (PDF)
This guide from Cornell University was designed to increase awareness of food processing and safety issues related to entrepreneurial food products. It also contains multiple chapters on business related issues. This guide is a good overview but does not cover any one topic in detail.

Pros and Cons of Starting a Specialty Food Business
This Cornell University fact sheet provides a realistic picture of the opportunities and challenges that come with being a specialty food manufacturer.

Turning On Your Idea: Starting a Specialty Food Business Requires Careful Planning (PDF)
This University of Maryland Cooperative Extension publication describes the necessary and careful planning needed before starting a specialty food business.

Plan for Success
This Cornell University publication lists key steps that will maximize the potential for achieving a successful food business.

How do I Start a Specialty Food Business?
This Clemson University publication provides a useful outline to follow for individuals wishing to start a specialty food business.

Starting a Food Business
This Clemson University publication features a discussion on product types and the stages of food product development, including food label requirements, product coding, and Universal Product Codes.

Recipe to Market: How to Start a Specialty Food Business in Maine
A University of Maine publication that covers the most commonly asked questions when starting a food business in Maine. This bulletin discusses product testing and development, sanitation, business planning, regulatory, licensing, and other considerations relating to a specialty food business. 

Steps to Start a Specialty Food Business (PDF)
This Cornell University publication lists the basic steps to starting a specialty food business.

Business Planning
This Penn State University publication describes the components of a business plan and outlines the importance of creating a business plan as a strategy for launching a successful food business.

Turning on Your Specialty Food Business (PDF)
This comprehensive publication from the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension discusses in great detail the planning process involved in starting a specialty food business.

Before You Get Started as a Food Entrepreneur (PDF)
This Virginia Cooperative Extension fact sheet describes factors to consider before starting a food business.

Business Plan Basics: Fact Sheets for the Small Scale Food Entrepreneur (PDF)
This Cornell University publication outlines the key components of a business plan.

Before You Start
This Penn State University fact sheet provides some considerations in becoming a food entrepreneur.

Sample Business Plans

producer of spirits in distillary with Extension food safety offers several great sample business plans:


Insurance for Food Entrepreneurs
This Penn State University fact sheet describes the different types of insurance that a food entrepreneur should consider before starting the business.

Insurance: Protect Your Assets
This University of California Cooperative Extension publication provides a concise overview of why insurance is important to food entrepreneurs along with typical coverage limits.

Insurance Coverage for Food Entrepreneurs (PDF)
This Virginia Cooperative Extension fact sheet discusses the need for adequate insurance coverage to reduce personal liability arising from claims against the business.


List: Sources of Equity Financing for Food Startups
This REALFOODMBA article contains links to investors working in the food and agriculture arena, including startups, potential sources of equity financing.

Financing Your Specialty Food Business (PDF)
A PowerPoint presentation from the University of California, Davis that covers insurance, business structures, and financing sources. Financing sources include debt, equity, and community funding.

Capital Sources for Your Business
A Fact Sheet from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension detailing various options for securing funding for your business.

Crowd Funding

For the first time in 80 years, normal people can invest in small businesses: New equity crowdfunding rules take effect in May
New Food Economy article by Kate Cox discusses the rules established by the SEC that would permit small businesses to offer and sell equity through crowdfunding as directed by the 2012 Jumpstart Our Business Startup (JOBS) Act.

Crowdfunding: An Exciting New Way to Fund a Project
This Penn State Extension publication discusses the range of funding opportunities available to farm and food businesses through various crowdfunding platforms.

Six Crowd Funding Platforms Launch in 2014
This article from Food Tech Connect describes six crowdfunding platforms that are targeting entrepreneurs wishing to start food-related businesses or develop food products.


maple syrup producer in shop with clientSpecialty Foods — Marketing & Packaging 101 (PDF)
This PowerPoint presentation touches on many key aspects of the Specialty Food Industry and incorporates important research findings regarding target markets, pricing, distribution, and industry trends.

Marketing Considerations for a Small Scale Food Producer: Fact Sheets for the Small Scale Food Entrepreneur (PDF)
This Cornell University publication discusses the importance of developing a marketing plan as an integral part of the larger business plan.

Marketing a Food Product: Marketing Considerations for a Small-Scale Food Processor (PDF)
This publication by Mississippi State University Extension Service focuses on the four Ps of marketing: product, place, price and promotion.

How America Eats: Capturing Growth with Food on the Run (PDF)
This IRI report focuses on the opportunist eater and the potential for marketers of consumer packaged goods (CPG’s) to drive revenue by better understanding this segment of the population.

How America Eats: 2016 State of the Snack Food Industry (PDF)
This IRI publication outlines the themes that are impacting the industry and future opportunities and paths for continued growth.

Marketing Food Products
This Texas A&M publication presents information on the Universal Product Code and discusses the elements that need to be addressed in making a presentation to a retailer for placement of your product on the retailer’s shelves.

Marketing Your Food Product
This Penn State University publication asks key questions that need to be answered to create a successful marketing strategy for selling your food product.

Direct Marketing Specialty Food Products Online
This curriculum was developed as a collaborative effort among the University of Nebraska Extension, North Dakota State University Extension and others. The curriculum is designed to provide business owners with strategies and tools to help sell directly to consumers online.

Using a Co-Packer

An Insider’s Guide to Co-Manufacturing
This Penn State University publication discusses the benefits of using co-packers instead of producing a product in-house. The guide includes questions to ask when evaluating co-packers and provides helpful information for individuals who want to consider co-packing for others.

Consider a Co-Packer as a Risk Management Tool (PDF)
This Mississippi State Extension publication provides a helpful introduction to co-packing for those not familiar with the benefits, especially for new food manufacturers with limited resources to invest in a facility.

Five Things to Consider When Selecting a Co-Packer
This publication identifies key areas that need to be explored with potential co-packers.

Food Processing Using a Co-Packer (PDF)
This Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension publication discusses why food entrepreneurs should consider using a co-packer, what to look for in choosing a co-packer, and how to identify the co-packer best suited for your business.

Choosing and Using a Co-packer (PDF)
This University of North Carolina publication provides information on the pros and cons of using a co-packer and offers guidance on finding and selecting a co-packer that is right for your business.


canned picklesPrice and Pricing
This Penn State University publication describes two major types of pricing strategies; cost based and competition based and the advantages and disadvantages of each one.

Jennifer Lewis offers several helpful publications:

Are You Making a Profit on Your Products? (PDF)
This Oklahoma University Cooperative Extension publication discusses often overlooked factors that need to be considered in determining a cost structure for a food product.

Pricing Your Food Product for Profit
This Michigan State University publication discusses typical profit margins for different players in the distribution system as related to the small food producer.

Pricing Processed Food Products
This publication from Alberta Agriculture and Forestry describes how to calculate the cost and profitability of a food product and details other pricing related issues.

Money Matter$: Pricing for Profit (PDF)
This PowerPoint presentation by the Sage Food Group discusses margins and markup, standard industry margins, calculating retailer selling price, how to price your product and other issues related to product pricing.

Food Distribution/Distributors

A Guide for New Manufacturers: Food Distribution Channel Overview (PDF)
This Oregon State University Extension Service publication explains the main issues that challenge food businesses as they distribute their products to retail customers.

A Guide for New Manufacturers: Using Food Distributors in the Northwest (PDF)
This Oregon State University Extension Service publication provides an overview of distributors and the function they serve to help food manufacturers reach broader audiences for their products.

Information to Include in a Distributor Presentation (PDF)
An excerpt from The Basics: The Business of Specialty Foods. [New York]: National Association for the Specialty Food Trade. 2009. Print. Includes information a food manufacturer should address in making a presentation to a potential distributor.

Food Brokers

Using Brokers to Get Retail Accounts
A commercial website created by Jennifer Lewis ( that features discussions on topics critical to achieving success as a small food entrepreneur.

A Guide for New Manufacturers: Using Food Brokers in the Northwest (PDF)
This Oregon State University Extension Service publication provides an overview of the important role food brokers have in helping food manufacturers expand their sales.

Are Food Brokers Right for You? (PDF)
This Oklahoma State University Extension publication introduces the concept of using food brokers to help sell your specialty food product and discusses the advantages they offer.

Selected Trade Associations

Specialty Food Association
The SFA represents the specialty food industry. The organization presents two conferences each year and produces numerous excellent publications on a wide range of topics for the novice or experienced food entrepreneur.

Maine Grocers & Food Producers Association
The Maine Grocers & Food Producers Association is a business trade association representing main street businesses: independently owned and operated grocery stores, supermarkets, food and beverage producers and processors, wholesalers and distributors and allied service companies.

Bread Bakers Guild of America
The BBA promotes interaction & exchange of information between artisan bakers, suppliers, and specialists involved in baking and baking ingredients.

American Cheese Society
The ACS provides the cheese community with educational resources and networking opportunities, while encouraging the highest standards of cheesemaking focused on safety and sustainability.

Food Institute
The FI strives to be the best “single source” for current, timely and relevant information about the food industry from “farm to fork.”

Snack Food Association International
Since 1937, SNAC International has been the leading international trade association of the snack industry, representing over 400 snack manufacturers, marketers, and suppliers worldwide.

Brewer’s Association
The Brewers Association is an organization of brewers, for brewers and by brewers. It consists of more than 3,400 U.S. brewery members and 46,000 members of the American Homebrewers Association and members of the allied trade, beer distributors, individuals, other associate members.

Biscuits and Cracker Manufacturers’ Association
The B&CMA is a 112-year-old international trade organization representing the entire spectrum of companies in the manufacturing of cookies and crackers and the suppliers to the industry.

Useful University Websites

University of Maine School of Food and Agriculture
The Dr. Matthew Highlands Food Pilot Plant provides equipment and services to the small-scale food processor to assist in product development and commercialization endeavors. The Pilot Plant is for research and development purposes only. However, the SFA has a commercially licensed Commercial Kitchen available to small businesses for producing non-perishable food products. The SFA also provides specialized food testing for Maine and small businesses nationwide.

New England Food Entrepreneurs
Sponsored by the New England Extension Food Safety Consortium. The site contains useful information for food entrepreneurs

Northeast Center for Food Entrepreneurship
The Northeast Center for Food Entrepreneurship is a partnership between Cornell University and the University of Vermont. The website contains information on business and food technology related topics important to the success of specialty food producers.

Food Innovation Center, Rutgers State University and NJ Experiment Station
This website contains numerous links to trade associations, community kitchens, co-packers, government agencies and other links of interest to food entrepreneurs. Rutgers offers training programs for aspiring food entrepreneurs.

Resources for Small Food Processors & Potential Food Entrepreneurs
This Penn State University website lists a wide range of fact sheets on business, regulatory, and technological topics important to the aspiring or experienced food entrepreneur.

National Food Entrepreneur Program
This University of Nebraska website details the services and training available to help entrepreneurs start and grow their food businesses.

The Food Processing Center
The Food Processing Center at the University of Nebraska is a multi-disciplinary resource for the food industry, providing a combination of consulting, educational, technical, and business development services.

Entrepreneur Initiative for Food
This website sponsored by North Carolina State University Extension contains links to various state and national resources for the specialty food producer.

Specialty Food Trade Shows

artisan bread

The Summer Fancy Food Show (held in New York City) and the Winter Fancy Food Show (held in San Francisco): These annual events feature nearly 3,000 exhibitors from all over the world. The conferences feature high-quality workshops on topics relevant to specialty food producers.

Food Entrepreneur Conference
This conference organized by Auburn University focuses on empowering and equipping food entrepreneurs with the information they need to help their businesses grow.

The Natural Products Expo East (held in Baltimore, Maryland) and the Natural Products Expo West (held in Anaheim, California): These annual events are the world’s largest and premier tradeshows for the natural, organic, and healthy products industry. They feature business-to-business connections from supply to shelf.

New England Made Giftware and Specialty Food Shows
The New England Made Giftware & Specialty Food Show sponsored by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development and the Maine Made Program is a juried, wholesale buyer’s show featuring 350+ manufacturers of unique, quality New England-made products and specialty food items. Two shows are organized each year.

Maine Food Means Business Summit
This annual event is organized by the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association and features a variety of workshops and seminars on topics such as co-packing, scaling up, food safety, etc.

Maine Artisan Bread Fair & Kneading Conference
Sponsored by the Maine Grain Alliance, the event brings together farmers, professional and home bakers, chefs, cooks, grain researchers, maltsters, food entrepreneurs, and wood-fired oven enthusiasts to educate one another about the art and science of growing and milling grains and baking artisan breads. The annual Artisan Bread Fair is a free summer festival offering wood-fired oven demonstrations, artisan bread samplings, and opportunities to talk with professional bakers and explore the best books, tools, and delicious accoutrements to whole grain and conventional bread baking.

NGA Show
This trade show sponsored by the National Grocers Association brings together independent retailers and wholesalers, food retail industry executives, food/CPG manufacturers and service providers for unparalleled opportunities to learn, engage, share, network, and innovate.

Sweets and Snacks Expo
The Expo sponsored by the National Confectioners Association features the world’s top manufacturers including the leading multi-national manufacturers and hundreds of new exhibitors.

American Bakers Association Convention
Founded in 1897, the American Bakers Association (ABA) is the Washington D.C.-based voice of the wholesale baking industry. The Association organizes one conference each year.

Specialty Food Trade Publications

Assorted truffles, one of the 90 varieties of handmade candies sold by Monica’s Chocolates of Lubec, Maine.Specialty Food
This publication by the Specialty Food Association features leading trends in the specialty food industry and informative articles about issues that could impact specialty food manufacturers. It is available free to employees of specialty food retailers, specialty food wholesalers and distributors, restaurants, and foodservice.

The Nibble: The Magazine about Specialty Foods
The Nibble is an online consumer magazine focusing on gourmet food and specialty foods. It’s dedicated to sourcing and reviewing the finest specialty foods and beverages with a mission to introduce consumers to the superior tastes of artisanal and other types of small batch production foods, while supporting specialty food manufacturers and the Slow Food Movement.

The Gourmet Retailer
This publication features news on product categories commonly found in gourmet retail shops ranging from foods to housewares and gifts for the gourmet shopper.

Private Label Store Brands
This publication features industry trends and other insights from store brand experts including in-depth coverage of store brand industry issues, trends, and opportunities.

Flavor Northeast
A New England-based food, wine and dining magazine, including chefs and restaurants, helpful tips and techniques, as well as simple and delicious recipes for home cooks.

Teatro Naturale International
This online publication features food news and trends from around the world.

Gift Biz Buzz
This online trade magazine features new product information for the gift retailer. It contains a section on gourmet food along with other non-food gift categories.

Gourmet News
The publishers refer to their publication as the business newspaper for the gourmet industry. It features sections on retailer profiles, food categories, global cuisine, industry events and much more.

Small Food Business
This website features useful information on a range of topics for the small artisan food producer making products out of a home kitchen.

Fancy Food & Culinary Products
This publication highlights new merchandise, seasonal features, industry trends, show news, retailer tips and more. It features new products in the industry and caters directly to retailers.

Food and Drink Resources
FDR stays in front of trends and brings fresh ideas and profitable solutions their restaurant and manufacturing clients. The publishers support manufacturers and restaurants through market research and insights, culinary support and sales, and marketing.

Business Research Databases

Free Resources

The following sampling of government databases can be used to research an industry or learn more about a potential target market.

U.S. Government Data Portals

The U.S. Government’s Official Web Portal is the entry point to all government information.

This statistical database presents information compiled by over 100 federal agencies and is a helpful source of information about particular demographic groups.

U.S. Census Bureau

U.S. Census Bureau
Provides comprehensive demographic information for conducting target market research and compiles detailed reports on specific industries.

U.S Census Bureau: American Fact Finder
A national online database that provides comprehensive demographic data at the national, state, county and zip code level. Data can easily be obtained via fact sheet format.

U.S Census Bureau: Quick Facts
Provides summaries of data for states and counties, which includes data for selected populations sorted by age, ethnicity, education, and income level.

U.S Census Bureau: County Business Patterns
This database allows the user to track industry activity in a U.S region at the state, county, city and zip code level.

U.S. Census Bureau: American Community Survey
This annual survey is conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for over 3 million households.  It provides information on lifestyle and demographic topics such as income, home ownership, and other issues.

Other U.S. Government Resources

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Contains a searchable database of registered patents and trademarks.

Library Accessible Publications

New Strategist Press (Print Series)
This group publishes books on various segments of U.S. consumers, which includes particular demographic data or spending trends.

Proprietary Databases (Fee Based)

These databases are available through college or university libraries that pay a subscription to obtain access. Some reports may be purchased without a subscription, but can be cost prohibitive.

This data source provides comprehensive profiles for over 700 U.S. and global industries, including future challenges and opportunities.

Plunkett Research LTD
This database provides comprehensive information on thirty industry sectors and specific industries within each sector.

This data source is a useful research tool for industry and target market data and can be used to identify companies in a region and for generating sales lists.

Mintel Reports
Provides detailed target market information on consumer lifestyle and psychographic behavior over a wide range of industries. It also provides current data on industry trends and consumer buying patterns.

Information in this website is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned in this website. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

Links to other websites are provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any content on the linked sites.

© 2017