Background & Overview
Shared kitchens are a relatively recent business development strategy that communities have adopted to enable diverse local food businesses to produce, store, and sell their products through a wide range of channels. In essence, this emerging sector of the food system provides a valuable resource to communities who seek to address potential barriers to business development, including access to facilities and capital.
Yet, given the relatively recent emergence and growth of the shared kitchen sector, little is known about the types of operators using these facilities and the dynamics of their business growth. Starting in 2021, a collaboration between USDA Ag Marketing Service, Colorado State University and the Food Corridor compiled data about the role of shared kitchens in communities across the U.S. and the food business owners operating out of these facilities. Based on the survey results, six research briefs have been published along with four case studies.
From the research briefs, a few key findings include:
- 50% of kitchen respondents noted that their business was established within the last five years, making this a fast-emerging market. Another 28% were established within the last 5-9 years.
- Owners operating out of shared kitchens were more racially diverse than the U.S. population at large and most identified as female (61%). Black and African American and Asian respondents made up 18% and 11% of the sample, respectively (compared to 14.2% and 7.2%, respectively in the broader U.S. population, according to the 2020 U.S. census).
- Most businesses with small sales numbers reported selling into farmers markets. This represents 64% of businesses with less than $40,000 in annual sales. Businesses reporting high sales numbers (over $80,000 in annual sales) by contrast, were more likely to sell through grocery or retail outlets.
- These operations mean business! More than half of the 179 total respondents stated that the business they operate in the shared kitchens is their primary occupation, while 34.1% stated it was supplementary. Only 3.4% called it a hobby.
The four case studies highlight the following:
- Chiknegg Kitchen (pdf) – A shared kitchen and kitchen incubator in the rural community of Goochland, Virginia.
- Hope and Main Kitchen (pdf) – A premiere kitchen incubator in Rhode Island, graduating nearly 200 businesses from its incubator program since 2014.
- Findlay Kitchen (pdf) – A non-profit food business incubator, located in Cincinnati, Ohio, providing affordable access to 14 licensed commercial kitchens, commercial-grade kitchen equipment, ample storage space, and business support services.
- Pig and Plow (pdf) – A food business in Northern Colorado that did not operate in a region that had access to a shared kitchen as a resource, illustrating how the lack of a place for a “safe” start up, innovation and growth may have led to a greater set of challenges for their business, despite overall success.
Shared Kitchens and Food Startups: Exploring the Market Dynamics and Economic Implications of Regional Food Start-Ups and their Supporting Food Business Ecosystem
- A Survey Overview
- Business Viability and Growth
- Motivations and Start-up Timelines for Businesses Using Shared Kitchens
- An Exploration of Products Sold and Market Channels Utilized
- Strategic Positioning Among Shared Kitchen Food Businesses
- Challenges, Opportunities, and the Future
For questions, please contact:
USDA Agricultural Marketing Service