Cottage foods in Minnesota: Home cooks building businesses

Creating custom cakes, plus healthy protein bars and granola, Katie Hill started Mama Bear’s Sweets in her Woodbury home kitchen more than four years ago.

"I did some cakes for friends, and then I realized there was a group of people who did that, and it was a living, and they did it out of their house," says Hill.

Meantime, North Minneapolis basketball coach Brianna Edwards is mixing up success in her downtown high-rise. Lov3 It Seasons mixtures have no salt. The idea was inspired as a way to help her mother’s diet restrictions after a second stroke.

"So I made it for all my other family members, and they said, ‘You could sell this!’ I said hold on, I don’t like cooking," says Edwards. "They were like no no no, sell seasoning! I was like you can do that?"

These entrepreneurs are among the fast-growing list of registered cottage food producers in Minnesota. It’s not a license but basically, a license exemption in part because there are no visits by inspectors from the state.

2015 was the first year anyone making food items in Minnesota at home could legally sell beyond the farmer's market setting. According to the Department of Agriculture, year over year, the numbers have increased by the thousands.

(FOX 9)

# of MN Registered Cottage Food Producers:

  • 2015: 464
  • 2016: 1,815
  • 2017: 2,556
  • 2018: 3,429
  • 2019: 4,219
  • 2020: 4,860
  • 2021: 6,447
  • 2022: 7,300
  • Thus far 2023: 7,121

"There’s so much talent and so much potential it’s boundless," says Shelley Erickson, president of Cottage Food Producers Association.

Erickson is part of a team including the Minnesota Farmers Market Association that has been advocating for these home-based businesses for decades. In 2021, they were a large reason lawmakers increased the income cap for cottage food producers from about $18,000 to $78,000. After this year’s legislative session, as of July 1, those making at-home cat or dog treats can now also ship their products. All others must continue face-to-face delivery or pick-up.

"There are less requirements when the buyer and seller are closer together," explains Kathy Zeman with the Minnesota Farmers Market Association.

Now work is being done to expand training beyond food safety and cleaning and include much more.

"We are going to go into here's how to price your product appropriately and here’s which foods require sales tax. So we are going to do a 360 on not only the law the food safety but how to make it a nice profitable business," says Zeman. "There’s no reason on these hot days to have your oven going and we are sweating with the heat and not make some money while you are doing it!"

Hustling her homemade mixtures, Edwards wants to work her way to a commercial kitchen someday.

"The ultimate goal is to be in stores across the country," says Edwards. "I want to create wealth for my family I didn’t have access to."

While Hill has already invested in doubling the size of her home kitchen and expanded from one oven to three.

"I think everyone struggles with work life and family life and this was one of the ways I could bring both together and be present for my kids when I needed to be and wanted to be and also be able to do what I want to do and build my business," says Hill. "And show my kids how to build a business."

For her, anything more is extra icing on the cake.

"It’s a lot of work," says Hill. "But it’s so enjoyable to me."