While state and county health departments oversee food manufacturing, labeling is governed on the federal level through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). "The FDA has established guidelines for labels that cover not just nutrition facts, but weight declarations and ingredient statements," says Brown. You can research these requirements at the FDA Web site, under the Food Labeling and Nutrition page (http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/label.html). Independent label consultants can also assist you with the labeling process.
You'll also want to think carefully about the artwork on your product. While many co-packers offer label designing services, you should still shop around for other vendors. "I recommend talking to several food label designers, because the package is the final spokesperson for the product," says Hardesty.
Competition is fierce in the specialty food market. According to Stephen F. Hall, author of From Kitchen to Market (Upstart Publishing, $27.95, 800-235-8866), there are more than 15,000 new food products introduced every year.
In other words, even if you have a fantastic product, there's a good chance it will face a shelf full of competition. "The market for standard items, like jams and jellies, is really saturated," says Hardesty. "In order to get consumers' attention, you have to come up with something very different."
Brown started his company with a line of four buffalo wing sauces: hot, medium, mild, and garlic with parmesan. Two years later, he added barbecue and super-hot versions of the sauce. "Selection's really important, especially when you're looking to establish a new relationship with a vendor," says Brown, who works with product distributors and brokers to get his sauces into gourmet and specialty food stores, hot-sauce shops, catalogs and grocery stores. "The more you can offer in terms of one-stop shopping--which translates to a better selection for customers--the better chance you'll have of getting your product in."