Call it artisan, craft, small batch, handcrafted or even homemade — whatever the label, the end result is often more delicious and more nutritious than the big food alternative. Craft food producers are typically extremely personally invested in their products, taking great care with process and ingredients and often tweaking recipes to gastronomical perfection. Many begin with family recipes passed down for generations while others discover a talent or hobby like beekeeping, baking or canning and develop that into a local culinary product. Legally, there are a variety of ways that people can produce food for sale in the state of Florida. Typically artisanal food makers are working under cottage industry laws by preparing food in their homes or under commercial food preparation laws by owning or renting a commercial kitchen or using a small production facility.
Recent changes to the cottage industry laws have made it easier for home food makers to sell their products from home, at farmers markets or at roadside stands and craft fairs. Cottage food usually refers to prepared food products such as jams, sauces and baked goods that are prepared in a home kitchen. No license or permit is required to sell prepared foods under Florida’s cottage food laws. There are no training or inspection fees, but the producer may only sell directly to consumers — no wholesale, mail order, or internet sales are allowed. Many of the craft foods available at the Palafox Market fall under cottage foods law and must be labeled as such.
Aaron Ruis and his wife Rollalyn started selling their popular Chilito sauce in February of this year and it’s already a big hit. Made from a family recipe originating with Ruis’s great grandmother, Ruis sells roughly 100 jars of the spicy and flavorful sauce every Saturday at the Palafox Market. Ruis grew up with the sauce and often made it for his friends at church. When he lost his job in the nonprofit sector, those friends encouraged him to go into the Chilito business. Chilito production is a family affair with Ruis, his wife and their four daughters pitching in on production days. Ruis makes the Chilito in his home but takes great measures to ensure sanitary conditions. The jars are sanitized and he uses commercial, restaurant grade utensils and mixing buckets. The popularity of Chilito may take Ruis out of the cottage industry and into a commercial kitchen in the future as he has already received inquiries into retail and wholesale purchasing.
If a craft food producer wants to sell his or her product in a store, to a restaurant, via mail order or online, their products must be produced in a licensed commercial kitchen. Many producers opt to rent a commercial kitchen in order to prepare their food to code. Some rent from restaurants during their off time while others rent from churches or from cooking schools. Since licensed commercial kitchens meet all codes, these producers are able to sell their products wholesale, thus reaching a much wider market. Commercially licensed food must have shelf stability tests in which the product is tested for acidity and other lab work is done to ensure shelf stability and to run nutrition facts for labeling.
After renting commercial kitchens for past food ventures, Kelly Green of Super Soups decided to build her own commercial kitchen on her property in Gulf Breeze in order to have more control over her product and production schedule. Green has been making her delicious Super Soups for five years and receives orders from over 100 natural food stores, including Ever’man Cooperative Grocery and Cafe. With a focus on health and flavor, Green chooses healthy, mostly organic and non-GMO ingredients for her soup mixes. She began making the soups from scratch for herself and for family and friends and her business has now grown to over 50,000 bags of soup per year.
CO-PACKING AND PRODUCTION FACILITIES
Once a producer has reached a certain level of sales and popularity, it is often beneficial to use a small scale facility in which they can prepare or cook and bottle their products according to commercial specifications.
MD FAMILY FOODS
Husband and wife team Doc Bruce and Patty Maxwell have been making their delicious Jamaican Jerk hot sauces for about seven years. Inspired by Doc’s time spent living in Jamaica, the couple originally made the sauces for friends and family. Demand grew and the pair decided to go commercial, originally renting kitchen space at Sanders Beach Community Center. There, they did all of the prep work, cooking, sanitizing, bottling, labeling and packing by hand. As the business grew, this method become too labor intensive and not cost efficient. Because there are no co-packing facilities in the Panhandle, the couple now travels to St. Augustine to a family owned facility where they oversee every aspect of production. Cooked in 600 pound kettles, the couple produces roughly 400 cases per year and both the Jamaican Jerk and the hot sauce placed in the 2013 hot pepper awards in NYC. The secret to the couple’s popular sauce is in the pepper—a hybridized cross between a scotch bonnet, a Caribbean red and a sweet bell pepper. The couple had the pepper officially named “Doc’s Darling.” Straight off the vine, the pepper is incredibly intense and hot, but when combined with Doc’s proprietary blend of Caribbean spices, the heat moves to the back and allows the flavor to shine through. Both sauces are sold at Palafox Market, Ever’man Cooperative Grocery, Apple Market and many more local and national grocers