Home » OPINION » Columns » BRETT KITTREDGE — Now more than ever, allow cottage food operators to earn as much as they can

BRETT KITTREDGE — Now more than ever, allow cottage food operators to earn as much as they can

BRETT KITTREDGE

The cottage food industry is a popular and growing slice of Mississippi’s economy. But as is usually the case, the state has not kept up with consumer demands in new markets and current laws are holding entrepreneurs in Mississippi back.

Of course, we are using the word “new” loosely. People have been selling food they make at home longer than we’ve had stores or restaurants. Still, it was just in the past few years that Mississippi “legalized” the industry.

But in a world where the economy has changed, where millions are out of work, and where we’re still a little unsure about going back to the office, home-based businesses like cottage food operations stand to grow even faster. In Mississippi and nationwide. If government allows the market to work.

The Mississippi cottage food law has an annual sales cap of $20,000. Most operators don’t approach the cap, but why is it there? This is the third lowest cap among states with a cap, something the majority of states, including Arkansas and Tennessee, do not even have. All the cap does is restrict an entrepreneur’s ability to earn a living, which then negatively impacts the state’s tax base. If a single mom can sell $100,000 worth of goodies she bakes in her kitchen while trying to homeschool her child during the pandemic, she should be able to.

The state has already said it is okay for her to make up to $20,000 in her kitchen, why can’t she make more? If “health and safety” is the concern, as established restaurants and bakeries would like to claim, it doesn’t matter whether they are making $5 a year or $10,000 a month.

But, of course, we know there’s no real health concern. There has not been evidence to suggest that the lack of comprehensive regulations pose a threat to public health as some indicate. Consumers know what they are purchasing, where they are purchasing it from, and that it does not come from a government-inspected kitchen. They willingly accept the so-called risk.

And as we know, today’s technology makes it easy to find high-quality food, read reviews from happy (or unhappy) customers, and make knowledgeable decisions. Online reviews and apps are doing the job of a government inspector. The free market is the most effective regulator. Instead of needing the cookie police, we know an individual who sells an awful-tasting cookie or cake won’t remain in business long.

The other unnecessary regulation on cottage food operators is a prohibition on internet sales. Initially, the Department of Health interpreted this to mean that you couldn’t even post a picture of the food you just made on Facebook or Instagram. We clearly had a lot of outlaws on the streets in Mississippi.

They even went so far as to send cease and desist letters to home bakers who dared to post pictures on social media. They’ve said that’s no longer their practice, but the vague law remains. Cottage food operators are also currently prohibiting from selling to restaurants and retail stores. 

Fortunately, the legislature has shown an interest in expanding and updating the current law. While we don’t know exactly what bills the legislature will be tackling for the remainder of this session, the House passed a bill, House Bill 326, that would remove the internet prohibition and expand the cap to $35,000. While there is no reason for a cap other than protectionism, this is a step in the right direction. That bill passed the House unanimously and awaits action in the Senate.

By eliminating the current restrictions on the cottage food industry in Mississippi, we can give consumers new options, grow the economy, and encourage entrepreneurship. Barriers to economic liberty have long existed in Mississippi, but this is something we should be interested in removing, especially during the current times.

We need to embolden small business growth, even the smallest of businesses. Freeing home-based businesses like cottage food operators is the right thing to do.

» BRETT KITTREDGE is the Director of Marketing & Communications of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, the state’s non-partisan, free-market think tank.

BEFORE YOU GO…

… we’d like to ask for your support. More people are reading the Mississippi Business Journal than ever before, but advertising revenues for all conventional media are falling fast. Unlike many, we do not use a pay wall, because we want to continue providing Mississippi’s most comprehensive business news each and every day. But that takes time, money and hard work. We do it because it is important to us … and equally important to you, if you value the flow of trustworthy news and information which have always kept America strong and free for more than 200 years.

If those who read our content will help fund it, we can continue to bring you the very best in news and information. Please consider joining us as a valued member, or if you prefer, make a one-time contribution.

Click for more info

About MBJ Newswires