Research Study Completed by University of Wisconsin Stout
In 2021, the first national Cottage Food Operator Assessment research study was completed to provide a snapshot of cottage food operators, those individuals operating a home-based food product business under their state’s
cottage food law. The results are summarized in the Cottage Food Operator Assessment research study infographic created by Rachael Miller, the principal investigator and graduate student attending the University of Wisconsin-Stout. They help us better understand how we fit into this growing movement, either as a CFO already operating or as someone considering launching their dream food business from home. This first-ever peek into the home kitchens reveals some of the challenges, realities, and opportunities offered by cottage food laws.
Under contract with Renewing the Countryside, the online survey was made available to current and aspiring CFOs through cottage food-related nonprofit organizations, cottage food social media channels, and attendees
of the 2021 Home-based Food Entrepreneur Virtual National Conference. Research study oversight was provided by Libby Smith, Program Director for the Master of Science in Applied Psychology at the University of
A total of 902 individuals consented to take the survey, but not all of them answered every question. They were asked about their cottage food operation, commercial kitchen operations, business dreams, and demographics.
Descriptive statistics were conducted on all variables to provide detailed information about this population sample. The demographic information includes all participants, while the non-demographic questions are split into two groups: aspiring CFOs and current CFOs.
The study reflects the geographic and age diversity of the movement. It came as no surprise to us that nearly a third of all CFOs were caring for kids at home while also operating their enterprise, perhaps reflecting the reality of the challenges of finding daycare for their children if they had full-time positions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Running a food business from home affords flexibility rarely found in corporate cubicles.
For aspiring CFOs, it was noteworthy that about a quarter wanted to sell food products other than cookies, breads, and cakes, perhaps eager to fill niches overlooked in their community or to avoid competing on price with an already crowded market for cupcakes. Reflecting the national interest in having a better work-life balance, less than half want to do it full-time and only a third wanted a storefront.
For currently operating CFOs, many found that what they sell the most of are not what generates the most profit. CFOs often carefully evaluate their menu offerings with a greater priority on pricing their products so that at the end of the day they actually earn a profit. That said, of those surveyed, most current CFOs generated less than $5,000 in gross revenues annually, suggesting that underpricing homemade products may be an issue for the cottage food industry.
Download and review the entire Cottage Food Operator Assessment research study infographic for further insights. A sample page is to the right for reference.