What I Learned From Selling Muffins

Foodie Friday

Dec 2, 2011 by

I attended a lovely volunteer lunch last week at a local farm.  I had volunteered there all summer; helping kids look for bugs, weeding and generally doing whatever they asked, all for the privilege of visiting their chickens every week.  I love chickens and take great pleasure from watching them whenever I can.

During lunch, the farmer asked me if I plan to sell food at the farmers’ market again next summer.  “Oh, no,” I said.  “It’s such hard work and I couldn’t make any money.”

You really learned how food is underpriced, didn’t you?”, she said.

I sure did!

Selling food is a delicate balance.  I bought raw food from farmers every week, along with ingredients from the grocery store, and sold an assortment of finished goods with at least one locally produced ingredient.  Some weeks I sold goat cheese muffins, other weeks I sold local fruit smoothies, etc.

This experiment brought interesting problems.  For one, government regulations created fixed costs that I could not avoid.  I had to rent a commercial kitchen, buy product liability insurance and hire an accountant to explain the retail sales tax rules.

Once I did get started, I learned food growers and manufacturers of fresh foods don’t sell everything they make.  People won’t buy things without trying them and sometimes they don’t buy them even if they do try them.  I gave away a lot of samples.  Food also goes bad.  Freezing preserves food without adding chemicals, but people prefer fresh food.  All in all, I sold just over half of the food I actually produced.

Now consider that people won’t pay more than about $2.50 for a muffin, even if it’s hand made with locally produced ingredients.  You can’t charge more than the market will bear.

Think about what my farmer said the next time you’re in the grocery store.  Food producers have to make a living.  I had to decide where to cut costs.  Should I buy lower quality (and thus lower cost) ingredients, such as refined coconut oil and chocolate chips made from hydrogenated vegetable oil?  Should I add preservatives?

I don’t plan to sell anymore food.  My interest lies in supporting local farmers and now I teach people to preserve food they get from the farms.  Those little farms might not seem so important, but remember the big food companies have profit as their goal too.

I wonder where they cut costs.


About the Author

Bonnie Simon Has Written 35 Articles For Us!

I am an urban homesteader in Colorado Springs, CO where I raise chickens, make my own yogurt and am learning to grow some food, all within sight of downtown in a 1950s era neighborhood. I am starting a small business designed to fill the gap between local farms and local dinner tables.
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1 Comment

  1. Toby Bloomberg

    Bonnie – Thanks for the behind the scene look at the challenges of producing food. When you add the cob for a food truck or restaurant it’s amazing people stay in biz.

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