Opening a food-based business in Canada is not as easy as you would think. The truth is that opening a food business in Canada comes with a lot of surprises for immigrants.
I can close my eyes and smell the sweet smell of corn tortillas being heated on an outdoor grill which will, later on, become the best street tacos I would ever eat. Food in Mexico is EVERYWHERE. Everyone’s mom is the best cook and more than once every single family has thought about opening a small food stand. Food is a culture in Mexico.
Many of my clients dream of opening some sort of food business in Canada – many of them wanting to bring back their home country’s flavours. Canada is blessed to have the best international food restaurants and you can literally travel the world through food.
However, in order to travel the world through those restaurants, those owners went through a great deal of trouble and hurdles in order to get their business open. That’s right, Canada is full of health and safety regulations that operating even a small food stand is not as easy as it can be back home. Far from it.
Below are a few tips for anyone looking into selling food in Canada.
1. Finding a place to cook – legally
Cooking a product in your home kitchen and then selling it, is not allowed in Canada. All food products are required to be prepared in a licensed kitchen. Recently I wrote a blog post about renting out commercial kitchen space and even gave a few tips on other spaces you could rent to get your production started. If you are serious about your food business, find a licensed kitchen right away.
2. Obtain your Food Handlers Certification
This certification is a fantastic way to learn the safe way to prepare foods, know the right temperature checks for the different products to avoid contamination, and how to deal with your customers safely. If your plan is to open a food premise, there must be someone at all times who holds this certification. As a newcomer, I highly recommend you take this certification – it is very informative!
3. Licenses and Permits
Depending on where you will operate your business, there might be a series of licenses, permits, and inspections you need to go through. Contact your local municipality to ask what are the right permits you need to apply for. You can also check this amazing little tool that will help you get started with a very comprehensive list.
4. Price your products right!
Food prices in Canada vary tremendously by season. Most of our produce is imported during many months of the year and this tends to bring costs up. When pricing your items, make sure you take these fluctuations into consideration. Other things to add to your pricing: packaging costs, labour costs (yes, you have to pay yourself!), and shipping costs. This is one of my favourite articles that breaks down the process of a great pricing strategy for food products.
5. Meet Structural Requirements!
If your heart is set on opening a restaurant or food truck, make sure you check the structural requirements for your business. Important things to highlight: washroom facilities, ventilation, lighting, signage, sinks, etc. All these have to meet Public Health regulations. The easiest thing is to contact your local Public Health Inspection office and ask for a list of structural requirements.
A food business is definitely a labour of love and a business that has many hurdles to jump through in Canada. Your local Public Health office will become a big ally in making sure you know and meet all the requirements needed to take your food business to the next level.
If you could open a food business tomorrow, what would it be? I love hearing about all those yummy ideas.