Questions about starting an on-line tea business?!?
I am weeks away from launching a website to sell Tea and I have a few questions if there are any tea.com owners out there…
Have any of you incorporated? I am thinking about it….
Did you purchase a trade name/trade mark your company name and
Do you need a FDA liscencing to sell Tea/food products online?
Any advice would be helpful!!!
Were you able to get these questions answered? I’m in the same place you were 3 years ago and I was particularly struggling on item 3 (FDA approval). Let me know if you can help with anything!
Did you find license for selling tea. I am stuck with licensing part. Any help is appreciated
Licensing is handled by your local city department. Typically, they will inspect the physical location where you will be operating to ensure everything is up to code. This covers the physical location as well as your business operations. If they are satisfied that you have met all requirements, they grant you a license to sell directly to consumers.
If you want to sell wholesale, to other businesses, you need the state to conduct a similar inspection. Once the state is satisfied, you are granted a wholesale license.
So you need local and state authorities to grant you a retail and wholesale license, respectively. The FDA does not license you; local and state authorities grant the licenses after ensuring you adhere to FDA requirements.
Tea is a food product, and as such must be stored and handled in a food safe facility and according to all of your local laws and guidelines. You need to contact your local city and licensing officials: every state and metropolitan area will have their own unique requirements, though all share the same goal of keeping everyone safe and healthy.
The bottom line is this: you would not be operating legally or safely if you packed and sold tea out of a home or office. These spaces are not outfitted with the correct materials (floor, ceiling, walls), NSF work surfaces, scoops, etc, and a scale that is in accordance with your local department of weights and measures. All of these regulations are here to keep customers safe, to make sure that customers actually get what they pay for, and protect against unintentional or negligent contamination from allergens (peanuts, soy, pet dander, etc) dirt and bacteria (dust from ceilings and walls that are not food safe, improperly sanitized surfaces), or even just from your own hands, face and hair.
You must be licensed for food manufacturing / food processing / food handling. Otherwise, you are unintentionally exposing all of your customers to risk, and you are breaking the law. It is true that many small tea companies work out of homes or other unlicensed office facilities and fly under the radar for many years, but this doesn’t make the practice any less dangerous.
Building out food safe facilities can be quite expensive, and will take time to be inspected and licensed. Expenses are high especially in regards to plumbing, proper installation and the licenses and inspections themselves. It depends on your local licensing bodies – ask them, because they are the experts for your region, and they are there to help you keep your customers safe. Many metropolitan regions also have commercial kitchens that are available for rent. You would need to find one that also allows you to store your product in the food safe facility, but in this case, you would need to talk with the manager of the place to protect your tea from unintentional exposure to any other food products being stored there. If there is a baker using the space, then there will be flour in the air. If there is a peanut butter maker in the space, then you will need to let customers with nut allergies know that your tea is packing in a space that also processes nuts. If there is kimchee fermenting in the space, etc, then the tea will need to be protected from absorbing that aroma. Etc etc etc…
Contact your local health department. They will get you on the right track, answer your questions, and get you in contact with the correct licensing officials. FDA inspection may be required, or may not be – this has more to do with rules of interstate commerce, and usually depends upon whether you’re selling more directly to customers or doing more wholesale business.
The large majority of regulations are not there to keep customers safe, they’re there to create a massive barrier to entry for would-be tea sellers and limit competition for the already established retailers.
If it truly is impossible to safely handle or package tea without an industrial-grade kitchen and without following all of the FDA’s bible-long list of regulations, then no one should feel comfortable drinking tea grown in some of the most famous tea farms in China. If you visit many of these farms you’ll find conditions that I’m sure your local health inspector will not approve of… and yet some of the best tea in the world is grown, processed, and packaged there.
I’m not saying all the regulations are needless, but I do think it’s a shame that so many tea sellers are deterred from offering quality, imported tea to the American market because they simply cannot overcome the massive regulatory burden that is involved with starting a business in the US… and we wonder why everyone in the States only drinks Bigelow tea bags.
I chose to form a LLC with my business so I would have some type of protection.
Since trademarking is a time consuming, and sometimes costly, I have not trademarked yet, but it is something I am planning on doing in the near future.
For my state, I needed to get a food processing license. I was lucky to find an up to code kitchen to use for my space. I do get health inspections randomly to make sure everything is done correctly.
Like Lily said, it is expensive. When I started my business I didn’t realize how much up front costs would be. Although I was lucky to get a kitchen to use, not everyone can and has to build out their own.
Yes to all of my dear friend, Lily’s, comments! It will be expensive. It will take time. It will take years to make it pay for itself. It will take plenty of research, blood, sweat, tears and tons of passion to offset the blood, sweat and tears :) And if you really want to make it work, have plenty of cash in reserve and get hunkered down for the long-haul. Practice joy and take care of yourself. Always take care of yourself.
Thank you all. This has been really eye-opening. I will try to find a kitchen that is up to code and use that for the time being. All the ingredients I use are certified organic and if it’s packaged in an approved kitchen, I should be all set until I have the money to afford some certifications and testing.