I have been privileged to help many clients start their own cotton candy business. Starting a cotton candy business (or any small food business) can be very profitable and rewarding. For many new entrepreneurs, starting a cotton candy business is a great, quick education on business basics. With some research, planning, and preparation you can get started in no time.
How do I start a cotton candy business? When starting a cotton candy business there are six main steps to take to get started; decide on the type of cotton candy you want to sell (organic or traditional, or both), check local food laws and permits, make a basic business plan, purchase necessary equipment and supplies, market your cotton candy products, and grow your team.
First you need to decide if you are going to sell organic cotton candy or traditional cotton candy or both. Organic cotton candy is made with organic sugar, and the flavors and colors are always natural or organic, absolutely no dye or artificial flavor in organic cotton candy. There are various benefits that make organic superior to traditional; I will explain those in a future post soon! Traditional cotton candy is made from standard refined sugar, and uses artificial flavor and chemical dyes. Since dye is used, the colors are extremely vibrant in traditional cotton candy which some business owners prefer. There is always the option to offer both organic and traditional cotton candy from your business. This decision will ultimately come down to your personal opinions on the use of artificial flavors and colors, the demographics in the area you plan to do business, and the demand for either or both in your area. The type of cotton candy you decide to sell will greatly affect the overall “theme” of your cotton candy company and who you market your business to. Also when making product decisions, it is important to consider if you will prepack your cotton candy into bags and containers, or if you plan to strictly spin fresh cones at events. Both options are great, but there are cost differences between prepackaged and fresh spun cotton candy. There is a lot more time involved in prepackaged cotton candy as well. Another product decision to consider is toppings! Toppings on cotton candy are extremely popular and a lot of cotton candy companies have branded themselves on special toppings or combos that they have created. Get creative and decide how you are going to set yourself apart from other companies or what will make your cotton candy special. I have some fun topping suggestions here.
Check Local Food Laws and Permits
Once you have an idea on which type of cotton candy you want to sell, it’s time to figure out local food laws and permits in your area. Thankfully, cotton candy is considered a non-potentially hazardous food in most states meaning that it generally requires minimal regulation and requirements. Food laws vary greatly not only between states, but counties as well. Permitting will most likely determine how and where you sell your cotton candy. For example, one county in the my state requires no permitting at all to cater at private events, while another county not only requires a permit to cater private events, but also requires that your cotton candy cart be stored in a food commissary. More about food commissaries in a very future post! If you plan to sell at public events such as a farmers market or street fairs, again, permitting will vary between counties. Some counties will have a permit that allows you to sell prepackaged cotton candy and fresh spun cones, while another county may require different permits for each or a higher cost permit to do both prepackaged and fresh spun. It is important to call your county environmental health department (or better yet, go down there and physically speak to someone!). Explain what you plan to do with cotton candy, (i.e. are you making it at home in bags, strictly spinning it fresh on site at events, using a commercial kitchen to prepackage it, ordering prepackaged bags from another cotton candy company and reselling the bags, etc). There are so many variations on how to sell the cotton candy and the environmental health department will want to know every detail of your plans and set up. Be prepared to draw out your set up as well: cart, tent, supplies, etc. Some counties may require you to show where you are purchasing your prepackaged cotton candy from (if you’re reselling from another company or where you purchase your floss sugar if making your own). The costs of your permits again will vary depending on your state and county. Some permitting is higher when making cotton candy on site as opposed to selling prepackaged only. Before you do anything else with your cotton candy business, I highly recommend becoming well educated on your local laws. When I first started a cotton candy company, I only catered private events, absolutely nothing else, as my county didn’t require any permits for catering and I could legally store all of my equipment at home making my investment low. When just starting out these things definitely matter!
Make a Basic Business Plan
Once you are educated on your options for where and how you can sell cotton candy in your area, it’s time to put those ideas and plans on paper! A business plan will help you get organized and informed on what your business should look like. Some basic steps to take while writing your business plan are:
Summary- Overview of your cotton candy business idea and your plans for this business in your community, etc
Opportunity- Decide on the opportunity in your area. Is there ton of competition in your area for cotton candy? Are there events, companies, and communities in your area that will want your product and services? etc
Implementation- How are you going to market your company? How are the logistics of operating going to run? Etc
Structure- Are you going to work alone or do you plan to build a team? What is the legal structure going to look like for your company (corporation, sole proprietor, LLC, etc)?
Finances- This is when you want to document all of your costs, including time, so you can make accurate decisions on what your actual profit will be. What are your costs and time involved for this company? Is your profit high enough to make this worth your time?
Always be sure that your business plan reflects realistic goals for the company. Continue to revise and refine your business plan over time as your company grows.
Purchase Necessary Equipment and Supplies
If you’re at the point of purchasing equipment, you are really serious about this cotton candy business! I am so excited for you! Here are the absolute basics for equipment when starting out:
Cotton Candy Cart- If you plan to spin cotton candy live at public events or cater private events, a cart makes the process so much easier. Our carts are custom made, get creative and design something of your own, and then find a great carpenter in your area to build it if you cannot build it yourself.
Cotton candy machine- Find my recommendations here. How you are selling your cotton candy is going to depend on the type of machine you need.
Cotton Candy Cones- You can use basic, traditional white paper cones. This is most definitely your most economical option. Paper straws and Hay Straws are some of my favorite basic products to use as in place of the white cones. You can find all of my favorite items to spin cotton candy on here.
Cotton Candy Sugar- Which type you buy will depend on if you are selling organic or traditional. Please contact me directly if you are interested in wholesale pricing for USDA organic cotton candy sugar. I also sell small floss sugar pouches of mixed flavors on Amazon here and here.
Protective Eyewear- Never operate a cotton candy machine without protective eyewear. I use these cute glasses, but anything will do!
Food Safe Gloves- I use Gorilla Gloves, they hold up and don’t get holes in them!
In comparison to some other food businesses, cotton candy is very minimal. Depending on your area and the size of events you participate in, it is possible to make your initial equipment investment back in one event!
Market Your Cotton Candy Business
It is now time to start implementing the clear marketing plan you wrote up in your business plan.
Farmer’s Markets- I always recommend local farmer’s markets and other local street fairs to get exposure at a local level. One of the things I love the very most about a cotton candy business is the opportunity it gives for connecting with the local community and sharing sweetness (literally) with them. No one is every mad or upset to see the organic cotton candy cart! Support from your local community is the best place to start when marketing and getting the company name out there.
Local Businesses- Drop off cute cotton candy samples to local coffee shops, boutiques, hotels, and event planners. Potential clients always remember that amazing jasmine cotton candy sample you drop by. This is also a great way to show people that cotton candy is for adults too with some of the unique flavors and combinations.
Schools and Fundraisers- Schools and fundraisers are an excellent way to market your cotton candy business to families and various organizations. Cotton candy is an excellent fundraising product with high profit margins for fundraising groups. You can find more about cotton candy fundraising in a post I wrote here.
Large Corporations PR- If there are larger companies in your area (pretty home/décor stores, clothing, tourist stores, etc) send samples and a cotton candy catering brochure to their PR manager. A lot of large companies will want to have your cotton candy cart in their stores to hand out candy to their shoppers or customers. Organic cotton candy is memorable and PR managers love that!
Social Media- Cotton candy is a fun and whimsical product for photos. There are a lot of creative photos you can capture with cotton candy making it great for social media. Build a following and build your cotton candy business.
There are many ways to market your cotton candy business; these are just a few of the most successful ways I have found.
Grow Your Team
As you grow your business you may begin to find the need for extra help. Whether you just need help selling cotton candy at the farmer’s market or manufacturing your cotton candy products, be sure to put ads out as you need and spreading the word that you are hiring. Finding people who are excited or passionate about cotton candy or just working at community events is always great as well!
I always tell people to find a mentor! Surrounding yourself with people who have business experience or are passionate about entrepreneurship will accelerate your progress. There is so much to learn and know when it comes to starting any small business. Allowing resourceful mentors to help you along the way can help your business thrive. Not only can starting a cotton candy business can provide a great income, the experience gained and knowledge obtained can help any entrepreneur prepare for additional businesses in the future as well. Time to get spinning!