Starting a Food Business in Wisconsin

An opportunity to share a family favorite item or to provide a uniquely flavored sauce for others to try can be a reason to start or expand a food business. As you move from Idea to Reality, begin by asking yourself three questions:

  1. What do you want to make?
  2. Where do you intend to make your product(s)?
  3. Where do you intend to sell your product(s)?

What do you want to make? There are many options. Consider what you make that family and friends like, or items already in the marketplace that you can improve upon.  Businesses that are just starting out are often more successful if they focus on a few key items and expand over time.

Where do you intend to make your product(s)? A limited number of food items offered for sale can be made in the home kitchen where family meals are prepared. For example, regulations allow for some home bakery businesses and home pickling of vegetables for sale. These regulations allow products made in the home (family) kitchen to be offered for sale, but only in the state of Wisconsin and, in some cases, confine sales to particular locations, e.g. farmers’ markets or community events for homemade pickles. More information on home-based businesses can be found online:

Most food businesses cannot operate without a license. A license is issued for food businesses operating at a particular location. A license can cover manufacture of many products, foods that are baked, packaged, extracted, frozen, dried, bottled – often all these activities may be covered under one license. Many business start-ups do not have a dedicated facility or kitchen and look to shared-use locations to get started. This is a great idea!  Consider renting space in an existing already licensed restaurant (when the restaurant isn’t serving) or a dedicated shared-use or entrepreneurial kitchen; some businesses start off by renting space in church halls or community centers that have kitchens that meet licensing standards.  A license is issued to each person or business operating in a shared space, is renewed annually, and is not transferable.

Where do you intend to sell your product(s)?  Consider if you will sell your product directly to consumers, such as through farmers’ markets or online, or if you are targeting area grocery stores that feature local products.  A retail food establishment license is focused on direct sales to consumers, while a food processing plant license is necessary if a business will manufacture food primarily to sell to other businesses. Some business operations such as canning may only be done under a food processing plant license. License requirements for retail food  establishments are in ATCP 75  here,   and for food processing plants are in ATCP 70 here.

Once you have answered these three questions, you are ready to go on to the next step.

If your business is ready, contact state licensing specialists. or 608-224-4923. These specialists can help you move your idea closer to reality.

More information is in Idea to Reality: Starting a Food Business in Wisconsin

Information on financing and other information can be found here.