How to Profit From Selling Cupcakes at Carboots

I have always been terribly impressed by the ingenuity of sellers at car boot sales – particularly those who think outside the box.

Some talented sellers forsake the usual practice of loading their cars with mountains of unwanted household clutter in favour of bringing along fresh, home-baked pastries, cupcakes, as well sweet-smelling jams and preserves.

The aroma wafting from these stalls, groaning with edible delights and set atop freshly laundered checked table cloths, is like a siren call to all the buyers flocking to these popular events.

Even the most hardened haggler will stump up the readies without quibbling about price.

If the food seller sets out their stall with flair, offering quality products at fair prices, they really can’t go wrong.

As well as the car boot buyers, car boot sellers also become customers at the same time. After all, they are committed to spending four or five hours manning their stand, and they get hungry!

Sure, they might have brought along a few limp sandwiches for their lunch to save on cost, but when it comes to pastries and cupcakes, the force is strong (Luke) and temptation usually wins the day.

I used to think: ‘How simple – bake a few cakes, turn up at the car boot and start selling… Now if only I knew how to bake!’

But things are never quite as simple as they seem.

There are a few practical and legal requirements, applicable to both car boots and market stalls, which should be understood and observed before you get baking:

  • Locate your first venue – Your very first step is to check out the local car boot fairs and markets to select a venue which suits you for your first venture, e.g. you don’t really want to travel too far to start off with. Check out for a full UK directory of car boot sales.
  • Try and find a friendly but busy environment, frequented by reasonably ‘well healed’ visitors. A well attended event is crucial, as your aim should be to sell out of most of your produce within a few short hours. This can only be achieved with a constant stream of potential buyers flowing past your stand.
  • Seek permission from the event organiser – Not only is it polite to seek the permission of the organiser when selling food items, it is also advisable because they are usually limited in the number of certified and registered food traders allowed per event by the local council. (You will most likely be asked whether you are a ‘licenced trader’ or not.) They might already have reached their limit, so you won’t want to run the risk of being turned away.
  • Registration rules vary from council to council – The requirement to become a registered trader depends very much on where you live. Legislation states that all food businesses must register their kitchens with their local authority, unless they operate on a ‘casual and limited’ basis only. If you’re simply selling once in a blue moon at a car boot sale or market then you might not need to worry.
  • My advice is to contact your council regardless – As some councils might not be so flexible in their interpretation of this ruling, I would advise contacting them anyway, whether you are planning to sell cakes occasionally, e.g. every few months, or whether you are planning to do this on a full time basis – better safe than sorry!
  • Registering your business with the local council – Contact your local council and speak with a member of staff from the Environmental Health Service (EHS) department. Let them know your plans and seek their advice. At the very least, you might be required to register as a business trader (free of charge).
  • Registering your premises – You may be also required to register your premises (likely your home kitchen), assuming food is actually being prepared there, with the EHS at least 28 days before commencement of trading. This registration is also free.
  • Preparing food or not? – If your food business does not involve personal preparation such as baking, then you may only need to register your business and can ignore your home kitchen.
  • Inspection of your premises – It is standard procedure to have an inspection by the EHS. This is to ensure that your kitchen is up to the standards required to prepare food safely. Assuming you are only making and selling simple cakes, you will likely be only assessed at the lowest risk level, so it should all be quick and painless.
  • Food packaging requirements – Under the Food Safety Act 1990 there are strict rules governing the labelling, quality and composition of the food and the use-by dates. These rules are stringently enforced by Environmental Health Officers from your local authority. If you are not planning to package your food, e.g. loose cupcakes, you need worry no further. If your food does require packaging, then please seek advice from your council at the time of your registration.
  • Food Hygiene Certificate – You will probably need to have a standard Food Hygiene Certificate. This can be obtained by attending a one-day course, generally run by the local council. If they don’t have a suitable course, they will have details of courses available in your district. I also understand you can do this over the Internet and it’ll cost you about £15.
  • Seriously consider insurance – This is always a wise precaution with any business, but especially when selling food to the general public. You will be advised on this matter when you register with your council. If advice is not forthcoming, seek their opinion on this subject anyway.
  • More guidance – See the Food Standards Website for further guidance:

Other points worth considering:

Costings – If you want to make this moneymaking scheme worth your while, you will need to do some basic costings…

Take into consideration:

  • Ingredients – how much ingredients cost
  • Your ‘pitch’ fee – (car boot sale/farmers market fee)
  • Cost of travel – to and from the location
  • Cost of the food packaging – (keep it simple to start with – e.g. clingfilm)
  • Stationary costs – e.g. labels/general stationery/invoicing pads
  • Power – extra cost of gas or electricity for your oven
  • Competitive pricing – take note of how much other stallholders sell their cakes and foods for, in order to get a rough idea of how much you can reasonably expect to charge.
  • Making a profit – having calculated all your costs, you should be able to work out how much you’ll need to sell your cakes, sweets and jams for, to break even and then make a profit.

Recipe experimentation – as my cookery skills are very limited, I cannot do more here than advise that you ‘experiment.’

You’ll need to come up with a range of different products to make this work. Try out different variations of ingredients. For cakes, try out different methods, ingredients, flavours and fillings. You could try focusing on one area, like chocolate, or fudge etc.

Friends and family – get your friends and family to try out your samples and find out which are the most popular choices. You won’t be short of volunteers!

Farmers markets – it’s worth knowing that at farmers markets, you’re not likely to sell much unless you use local, organic ingredients. People who go to these events look for traditional homemade foods and they will be inquisitive regarding the local source of your ingredients.

Marketing – a simple way to get some repeat business is to get some business cards printed. If you’re making cakes, you could then advertise the fact that you bake to order for parties and events (if your kitchen can take it!).

Phew! That about covers it I think… and you thought this was going to be a piece of cake?

But don’t worry: the truth is that it sounds far more complicated than it really is in practise.

Keep it simple and just make that initial phone call to the Environmental Health Officer at your local council, and all the rest will easily fall into place from thereon in.

Next week, I will conclude this car boot mini-series when I revert back to more standard territory and discuss some of the most popular items which currently sell at car boot fairs today.

I hope to catch up with you again next week.

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