How to Ship Baked Goods and Other Perishable Foods

As a bakery owner, the ability to ship baked goods and other perishable items is the key to expanding your customer base beyond your brick and mortar shop. However, there are several decisions to make and considerations to keep in mind before you can start offering to ship your treats to online customers. Taking the time to plan out a shipment strategy for your perishables will prevent shipping disasters and ensure your baked goods will arrive at your customer’s doorstep looking and tasting as delicious as they do in your store.

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Package baked goods properly

Before your baked goods ever leave your store, it’s important to make sure they are packaged properly for a safe transit. The supplies you’ll need will likely vary depending on the items you’re shipping, so consider a wide variety of packaging options including polystyrene, frozen gel packs, and dry ice. The shipping carrier you choose might also have specific requirements for mailing perishable items, so double check that the supplies you choose will meet those needs as well.

“Polystyrene is very good at insulating, so it is the perfect material to keep your perishable food items fresh,” says Sam Williamson of Guardian Moving & Storage, a company that frequently transports perishable food for customers. “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.”

How can you know whether your packaging for your perishable food items will stand up to a worst-case scenario? “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, senior marketing manager at 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.

You’ll also need packing materials that will keep your items safe and secure during transit. 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.” 

You may also consider using packaging materials that are customized with your logo or other brand elements. Branded packaging materials aren’t a critical requirement, but they can add to your overall customer experience and give your package an elevated look and feel.

Choose the right shipping carrier

There are many shipping carriers to choose from, and it can be difficult at times to decide which one is the right choice. Your best bet may be to “use multiple carriers for different shipment methods,” says Richard Garcia, director of business development at Shippo. “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.”

Hedeman believes that UPS and FedEx are usually on par in terms of rates and guarantees, so you might want to consider customer service when choosing a carrier. “[You should] base your shipper selection on which company’s representatives you like working with the most—or the customer service you feel most comfortable with,” he explains. If an issue arises down the road, you want a partner you can trust to resolve it together.

Daisy Cakes owner Kim Nelson says her best advice for selecting a shipping company is to shop around. “Get a feel for how interested a prospective sales rep is in your company while it’s small,” she says. “You’re going to grow. You want your shipping company to have enough confidence in you to want to come along for the ride.”

The right shipping carrier will express a sincere interest in the long term goals you have for your business and how their services can support your growth. Shipping can make or break your company, so it’s important to have a solid, trustworthy relationship with the carrier you choose. 

Strategize your shipping timeline

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. Shipping delays can cause your baked goods to spoil, which will inevitably lead to an unhappy customer.

To avoid any potential snafus, create a shipping timeline that encompasses everything from the time your baked goods have cooled and are ready to go until the time your customer is ready to enjoy them. This includes how much time it will take to package all of your shipments and hand them off to your carrier in addition to the overall transportation time. 

You may also consider setting order cut-off times to ensure an order will be delivered within a specific window of time. You can offer rush delivery for an additional fee, but setting a cut-off time will keep you, your customers, and your shipping carrier on the same page about a realistic timeline for an order’s arrival. 

Once an order has been placed, the ability to track the shipment is a crucial part of managing customer expectations. Customers want to know exactly where their package is at all times, so you should be proactive about sharing this information with your customer once it’s available. You may even want to create custom tracking pages using a post-purchase customer experience platform like Narvar, Loop, or parcelLab. Aside from branding, these pages can also include special details about the shipment like food storage instructions or serving ideas.

Align cost expectations with customers

In addition to shipping timing, it’s also important to align expectations with your customers about how much it costs to ship your baked goods. Perishable items need to be shipped faster and require extra packaging that can add weight, so the total shipping cost is usually higher than the average for non-perishable items.

“You don’t want shipping to become a conversion killer,” says Mike Elmgreen, the CMO at Handshake, a B2B commerce platform. “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.”

Customers who are looking to have baked goods and other perishable items shipped usually understand and anticipate the extra costs, but shipping prices may create sticker shock that turns some customers away. Depending on your business model or marketing strategy, it may be worthwhile to offset shipping costs by raising the list prices of your items. 

“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 Zingerman’s Hedeman. “Either way, you should be unapologetic about the cost of shipping. It costs what it costs, and most customers are used to that.”

Address customer inquiries swiftly

Shipping issues are never fun to deal with, which is why you should have a plan in place to resolve them quickly and effectively. Although it might not be your responsibility when a package arrives late or gets damaged in transit, it is your job to make sure your customers are happy.

“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.”

If a delivery fails to meet your customer’s expectations, you should go above and beyond to course-correct. Offer a refund, reshipment, or discount on a future order to demonstrate to your customer that you take their satisfaction seriously. Then, work out the logistical issues with your shipping carrier to prevent a similar problem from happening in the future.

Read next: Cutting Shipping Costs: An E-Tailer’s Guide

This article was originally published on June 20, 2016. It was updated by Kaiti Norton.

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