By Karen E. Klein Q: I make Central American sweets that I would like to wrap and sell to individuals and businesses. How can I figure out the nutritional values for each piece of candy I will be making? Also, how do I get the preservatives that are used in packaged foods to make them last longer? -- N.L., Baton Rouge
A: There's a fundamental difference between making homemade treats and handing them out to friends and acquaintances, vs. packaging and offering candy, or any other food product, for sale. The biggest difference is that there are stringent federal regulations aimed at ensuring the safety of food that is sold to the public. Listing the ingredients and nutritional value of a food item is just one of the requirements imposed on food manufacturers by health codes. Other obligations involve the need for proper business licensing, commercial production facilities, figuring out volume production and quantities of scale, distribution, and pricing.
If you are serious about turning your confectionery hobby into a business, get some education so you know what you're up against before you sink money and time into the venture, suggests Robert Wemischner, an author and professor of professional baking and culinary entrepreneurship at Los Angeles Trade Technical College. "At the very least, you'll need to have business permits and product liability insurance in place, along with a health department-approved facility out of which you can produce the sweets," he says.
SWEET SOURCES. The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) is an industry organization for candy and other gourmet foodmakers could provide useful information. NASFT publishes a trade journal and can probably point you to sources for preservatives and the methods used in the confectionery trade to calculate nutritional values, Wemischner says. "Alternatively, there are individuals available through culinary organizations such as the International Association of Culinary Professionals, and the American Culinary Federation, who are in the business of doing fee-based nutritional analysis of products for labeling purposes," he says.
You might also try contacting the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Their office of Food Labeling & Nutrition hosts a Web site that includes a wealth of detailed information, including a history of food labeling in the U.S.
Have a question about your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 45th Floor, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally. Karen E. Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.