How to Ship Baked Goods and Other Perishable Foods

By Jennifer L. Schiff | Posted June 20, 2016

Selling baked goods seems like a great ecommerce business. After all, who doesn't love a fudgy brownie or a dozen chewy chocolate chip cookies delivered right to their door? But if that brownie or cookie doesn't arrive tasting delicious and looking as good as it did on your ecommerce site, you could lose a customer.

[Related: Small Business Ecommerce: How to Sell Food Online]

Experts Weigh in on How to Ship Baked Goods

What can aspiring ecommerce bakery owners—and online sellers of other perishable food items—do to prevent such a culinary disaster? It all comes down to shipping. And there's no better source for information on how to ship baked goods then the people who ship or deliver tasty treats successfully every day.

We asked six ecommerce and shipping experts for their tips and best practices for shipping perishable foods. Their advice ranges from choosing the right packaging and selecting the right shipper, to managing costs, timing, and customer expectations.

Here's what you need to know to deliver baked goods and perishable foods that are as delectable when they arrive as they were the day you shipped them.

How to Ship Baked Goods and Other Perishable Foods

Package Baked Goods Properly

How can you know whether your packaging for your perishable food items will stand up to a worst-case scenario (something that happens more often than you might think)? "Test your temperature-sensitive shipment by leaving it in the trunk of a car [overnight or even a couple of days] during the summer to replicate the high temperatures of delivery trucks and non-air conditioned warehouses," suggests Jesse Ness, CMO, Ecwid, a cloud-based ecommerce platform. "You want to find the worst case scenario and plan for it. Also be prepared to use dry ice or other coolants during the summer months as temperatures rise," says Ness.

Sam Williamson of Guardian Moving & Storage, a company that frequently transports perishable food for customers, suggests using polystyrene to keep perishable items cool.

"Polystyrene is very good at insulating, so it is the perfect material to keep your perishable food items fresh," says Williamson. "If you have a cooler bag, you could then use polystyrene to further insulate it and ensure that your perishable items stay as cool as possible. Dry ice and frozen gel packs are also commonly used when shipping meat [and other perishable items]; as they can keep cool for long periods of time."

No matter when or what you ship, "your items should be snug and secure in the box, so they don't jostle on their travels," says Brad Hedeman, marketing manager at Zingerman's Mail Order. "Use Jazz Pak or filler in a gift box; it's a good way to secure the food inside. Then match the size of your shipping box to the size of your gift box as best you can—meaning, don't ship air."

And speaking of shipping boxes, "all carriers provide shipping supplies for free," says Richard Garcia, director of business development, Shippo. "You just need to ask. While you should definitely invest in branded packaging for the actual items, you have the opportunity to save money on the shipping boxes just by asking them."

How to Choose a Shipping Company

Your best bet may be to "use multiple carriers for different shipment methods," says Garcia. "FedEx may be the most economical for overnight shipments, but UPS could be cheaper for second-day delivery. Make sure you check the rates for each method you use, otherwise you might pay more than necessary."

"I highly recommend selecting a shipper that lets you track the package on its travels, and that lets you give the tracking information to the customer/recipient," says Hedeman. He believes that UPS and FedEx are on par in terms of rates and guarantees. So you might want to "base your shipper selection on which company's representative you like working with the most—or the customer service you feel most comfortable with; because there will be problems [down the line], and you'll need to work through them together."

"The best advice I can give someone about selecting a shipping company is to shop around," says Kim Nelson, the owner of Daisy Cakes. "Get a feel for how interested that prospective sales rep is in your company while it's small. You're going to grow. You want your shipping company to have enough confidence in you to want to come along for the ride."

And keep in mind that "your shipping can make or break your company," Nelson says. "Trust me, I know. We almost lost everything due to a bad relationship with a shipping company." Today, Daisy Cakes uses FedEx. And, Nelson says, "We have an excellent relationship with our FedEx sales rep. He treats us as though we're his top priority; he works for us and with us—as if he was an owner in Daisy Cakes."

How to Ship Perishable Food

The Cost of Shipping Perishable Foods

Mike Elmgreen, the CMO at Handshake, a B2B commerce platform, offers this advice for anyone who wants to sell perishable goods online. "You don't want shipping to become a conversion killer. Provide multiple shipping options, such as standard, express, or rush delivery, which accommodates your customers' urgency and their desire for freshness." Online shoppers don't like surprises and, as Elmgreen notes, "Stating shipping options and costs early in the order and checkout process will help set expectations."

Information will help your customers understand your shipping costs.

"We ship our cakes frozen inside a decorative cake tin," says Nelson. And "because of the weight of our product, and it being very perishable, we can't do a lot to control the shipping costs. Our packaging alone—a Styrofoam shipper with 2-inch walls inside a corrugated container, a thermal bag, and dry ice—costs $13.

After packaging, Nelson must add FedEx shipping charges for home delivery, Saturday delivery, dry ice fee); the list, she says "goes on and on." Located in South Carolina, Nelson says that it costs $24.95 for standard second-day ground shipping to most addresses east of the Mississippi. "We also offer overnight shipping, but the cost is very high."

And while the shipping cost seems high, customers who buy Daisy Cakes understand the reasons for the high shipping cost.

"We ask the customer when they want to receive their package, and then we work out when we'll ship it according to what they bought, where it's going, and what methods are available," says Hedeman. "We base the cost of shipping on the total value of the order, as well as what method it's going. If the items are less perishable (like coffeecakes or pastries) we can ship ground, which is only $10.99 per address, no matter how much you send."

Depending on your business model or marketing strategy, "you can either include the shipping in the price of your items and say 'shipping included,' or you can estimate the cost of shipping and charge the customer that amount at the end of the order," says Hedeman. "Either way, you should be unapologetic about the cost of shipping. It costs what it costs, and most customers are used to that."

Timing Counts When Shipping Perishable Food

The old adage says timing is everything, and that's especially true when it comes to shipping perishable food. "Ship early in the week—never over the weekend when packages can warm up," says Ecwid's Jesse Ness.

"We ship Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday with our standard rates," says Nelson. Daisy Cakes also offers Saturday and overnight delivery for an additional fee (as do many other online bakeries and sellers of perishable food items).

Managing Customer Expectations

If you want to know how to handle shipping on your ecommerce site, just click on over to read Daisy Cakes' Shipping Policy. On a single, well-organized, easy-to-read page, Daisy Cakes informs customers of its shipping policy, when it ships orders, its refund policy, and any shipping-related news.

Resolving Customer Complaints

If a customer has an issue with an order, "Fix it!" says Hedeman. "If a box arrived late and the food has suffered, send a fresh box faster than you did the first one (if that's what the customer wants)—and don't charge them," he says. "If the mistake occurred with the shipper, then work with shipper separately to get a refund of some kind. But don't involve the customer; just fix the problem for the customer as soon as possible."

But what if the fault lies with the customer?

"If it was the customers fault like, for example, you delivered everything correctly but the recipient didn't notice it, and now a family of raccoons has been living off your gourmet cheese for a few days, well...still fix it!" says Hedeman.

[More ecommerce tips: How to Brand Your Small Business Ecommerce Site]

"Things go wrong in this world, and it's not anyone's fault (even though we want it to be)," Hedeman explains. "Ask yourself if it's more important to lose a bit of money on this order—but keep the customer for life—or if you'd rather keep their money and tell them it wasn't your fault and 'your hands are tied.' You may keep the money, but you'll lose the customer," he says. "And they'll be sure to tell all their friends about the experience they had with you."

Jennifer L. Schiff is a freelance writer specializing in ecommerce. You can follow her on Twitter.

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