Commentary: Law has meant a year of growing businesses

Happy birthday, California Homemade Food Act.

Jan. 1 marks one year since AB1616, signed into law in September 2012, was implemented, and it has created quite a stir in home kitchens throughout California.

The law allows Californians to make and sell certain non-hazardous foods out of their kitchens. According to a story in the Independent, foods that don't include cream or meat — such as bread, fruits, baked goods, jarred goods and dry mixes — could now all bypass commercial production and be sold out of a home kitchen, according to the law.

More than 2,000 cottage food permits have been issued throughout California, and of those, 860 were issued in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties.

I've met hundreds of aspiring cottage food entrepreneurs, or "kitchenpreneurs," as I like to refer to them. A kitchenpreneur is an entrepreneur who fulfills a passion for culinary creativity by using a kitchen to operate a business that earns an income. I have been quite impressed by kitchenpreneurs' enthusiasm, creativity, culinary skills and motivation to succeed.

So, who really are the individuals who start a cottage food business? The majority of kitchenpreneurs are women 30 to 50 years old who work full-time, followed by those who work or go to school part-time. A very small number are retired or unemployed.

Many share the same goal, to leave their day job and follow their dream of owning and operating a successful food business. Starting in a home kitchen before a product has proved its viability offers individuals the opportunity to test the icing before biting into the cupcake.

Basically, their plan is to work from their home kitchens until they feel confident that they have a thorough understanding of the food business, have test marketed their product and have built a client base large enough to support moving the business to a commercial kitchen, a food manufacturer that will make their product for them or to their own production facility.

So, what are kitchenpreneurs cooking up? Many of the recipes used by kitchenpreneurs have fascinating stories behind them. Some recipes originated in another country, sparking extensive searches to find ingredients that will match unique flavors or textures. Some recipes are highly coveted family secrets handed down through many generations.

Some recipes were created because of a specific health problem such as gluten intolerance or cancer. And some were even created during a kitchen mishap. In addition, many kitchenpreneurs make their products using extraordinary innovation.

It is not unusual for kitchenpreneurs to build specialized tools to make their item.

Kitchenpreneurs create interesting flavor profiles such as chocolate cayenne pepper cookies, mango chocolate cake with lemon drizzle and pretzels dipped in chocolate, coconut and pineapple.

After sampling what kitchenpreneurs are cooking up, items at your local grocery store will seem overtly massed produced, unappealing, unfortunately bland and uninspired.

With all this talent and incredibly unique food items, what prevented these individuals from launching their own food business before this law went into effect? The answer is simple: money. The cost of working in a commercial kitchen ranges from $30 to $40 per hour plus a commitment to a number of hours per month to maintain the time slot.

Contracting the work to a food manufacturer requires placing orders with minimums, usually of a few hundred pounds of product, which can be very costly. The cost to build out a warehouse space and obtain health department and city approvals can be upward of $100,000.

Under the California Homemade Food Act, an individual can use a home kitchen to launch and grow his or her dream business and do so with very limited resources and significantly less risk than what was traditionally required.

So, happy birthday, California Homemade Food Act. We love you and wish you many more happy, and lucrative, years to come.

CARON ORY is a Fountain Valley resident who teaches a course at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa on the business aspect of launching and growing a cottage food business.

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