Start a Profitable Jam and Jelly Business

Start a food-based business to stock up on money by canning and selling jam and jelly spreads to preserve your independence.

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by Unsplash/Monika Grabkowska

If you’re a canning aficionado and like to put up juicy berries, sweet peaches, and crisp apples, you could be earning extra cash with your preserved spreads.

According to the Specialty Food Association, jam and jelly sales totaled more than $228 million in 2016. Many people yearn for the days when food was homegrown, homemade, and full of recognizable ingredients, yet the pace of modern life leaves little time for cooking. People with traditional canning skills can fulfill this desire for homemade food by starting their own jam- and jelly-making businesses.

Operating a jam- or jelly-making business has unique benefits. It can be large or small, and operated part time, seasonally, or year-round. Unlike other food-based businesses, there’s minimal infrastructure required; in most states, you can make jams, jellies, and other preserves in your own home kitchen. Also, as a low-risk product, soft spreads have fewer startup safety hurdles than other food-based businesses — and it’s a profitable way to use up excess orchard or garden produce.

If the thought of starting a business seems overwhelming, don’t worry. The process is simple when taken step by step.

A Delectable Selection

First, decide which products to sell. Think about the soft spreads you know how to make, and those you enjoy preparing. If making jelly fills you with joy, then you should definitely consider producing and selling jelly. But if you hate this time-consuming process, opt for jam, fruit butter, preserves, or marmalade instead.

If you can’t decide on a product, consider your main ingredient. For example, if you own an orchard with surplus apples, choose apple butter. If you don’t grow any fruit on your property, maybe you live near a commercial farmer who will happily sell you excess fruit. Perhaps the local U-Pick farm will give you a discount if you pick in bulk, or a fruit-packing house will give you scarred or “ugly” fruit. Seek out opportunities to reduce raw product costs.

Next, determine which specific products you’ll offer, starting with a few related soft spreads. Customers naturally compare two or more items before purchase, so it’s always a good idea to offer a couple of choices. While more than four options might overwhelm both your startup budget and your customers, three or four different soft spreads provide tantalizing choices, as well as limiting the ingredients you must keep in stock. You could start with apple butter, apple preserves, and spiced apple jelly; peach preserves, peach jam, and peach syrup; strawberry jam, blueberry jam, and blackberry jam; or a similar trio.

Show how your product is special with a unique selling point (USP). Your USP is the common thread throughout all of your marketing efforts, and sets you apart from the competition — for example, using only organically grown fruit. A common USP is price, which can be low (like Walmart) or high (like Tiffany’s). The best USPs for specialty jam products are:

Artisan: These are high-quality, handcrafted products. You, for example, might package your product in an ornate jar with an elegant label.

Nostalgia: These products recall flavors from long ago, reminiscent of Grandma’s chokecherry jelly or wild rose jam. Old-fashioned fonts and brown paper labels are reminiscent of bygone days.

Local: Use regionally specific, locally sourced produce to make these products, such as key lime marmalade, cactus jelly, or huckleberry jam.

Unique Flavors: Feature creative and unusual flavor combinations, such as peppermint crab apple jelly or passionfruit jam.

Become a Certified Canner

Of course, a business doesn’t get off the ground in one day. To start a new business, you must meet various legal requirements.

Each state has a different startup process, but all follow a similar path. First, you must obtain a local business license from your town office or state licensing agency. A business license clarifies municipal code requirements and approves the type of business in the desired location. A food-specific business, however, requires additional licenses. So, next you’ll need your state’s version of a food worker card or permit.

If you make your jams at home in a cottage industry business, the local health department will inspect and approve your kitchen. If you prepare your products in a commercial kitchen, you’ll need a food processor license from your state’s department of agriculture. Luckily, this isn’t as confusing as it sounds. While some states have many rules and regulations surrounding food businesses, soft spreads are considered low-risk foods. As a result, it’s easy to manage the process no matter where you live. To find out if you can legally make homemade fruit spreads for sale within your state, visit Forage Cottage Food community.

While it’s fun to experiment with different jam ingredients, sadly, our favorite combinations might not be approved for public consumption. Making jelly from excess bottles of wine, for example, requires a state liquor license, and home production almost certainly won’t be allowed.

The fruits the federal government classifies as “low-risk” are usually high in acid. This list includes almost every commonly known fruit, such as apples, grapes, and peaches for fruit butter; pineapple, strawberry, and cherry for jelly; and blackberry, tangerine, and plum for preserves or jam. The federal guidelines also tell us which ingredients can be added to soft spreads (pectin, sweeteners, spices, preservatives). When submitting your state licensing application, include your specific recipes.

Some states require additional recipe testing, especially for lower-acid products, such as pepper jelly, or conserves, or if your proposed recipe uses an uncommon ingredient. Most land-grant universities — there’s one in every state — will test both your recipe and the production process for a nominal fee.

These decisions become easy when taken one step at a time. If you follow them, your business should be up and running in three or four months. But don’t forget: If you already understand soft spreads and the jam-making process, you have a big jump on the competition. Your jam jars will be filled with cash in no time!

Practical Considerations

  • Here are a few other considerations when setting up your own jam- or jelly-making business:
  • Will you make your products in a home kitchen, certified rental or incubator kitchen, or a commercial kitchen?
  • Where will you sell your products? Will you sell retail at farmers markets, craft fairs, and farm stands? Or will you sell wholesale to local stores and restaurants, or through a specialty food distributor?
  • As a small food business, you don’t need to include nutrition information, but your labels will need an allergen statement, product weight, and location address.
  • You’ll need liability insurance. Shop around for an agent who understands small food-based businesses. Most policies cover $2 million, and are fairly inexpensive.
  • What are your marketing ideas? Start with at least a basic website and one social media account to reach prospective customers.

Renee Pottle writes about food preservation, food businesses, and gardening from her home in Kennewick, Washington. She’s the author of Creative Jams and Preserves.