Advice for an Import/Export Entreprenuer

Question:  I am interested in starting a business to import/export food. Can you tell me what licenses or permits I need?  Also, how I can get food analyzed to comply with nutrition reporting requirements? - Hungry for My Own Business, A NYC Business Solutions Blog Reader

Answer:  You are smart to ask these questions now! In all the excitement of starting a business, many entreprenuers overlook compliance issues - which leads to logjams down the line.  

So, to answer your question about licenses and permits:

NYC Business Express is a fantastic resource for finding information on the permits, licenses, and certifications needed to operate a business in New York City.  In your case – with an import/export business – you’ll also need information on operating a business outside of New York City and there are many federal agencies that regulate imported/exported products. Start by checking out these two online resources to figure out what – if any – permits and licenses your import/export business needs: 

1. Get information on licenses and regulations to help you understand the various standards that foreign countries have.  And, while you’re there, check out their helpful answers to FAQs. 

2.    The Small Business Administration’s website: Here you’ll find a useful breakdown of the license and permit requirements that are specific to importing and exporting in the food and beverage industry.

To answer your question about nutrition analysis:  

  • Learn about food labeling.  Before you dive into getting your food analyzed and labeled, take a moment to learn more about food labeling, why it’s important, and who needs to have it done – because not all businesses do!  You can learn more about the ins-and-outs of food labeling by visiting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Labeling & Nutrition – Guidance for Industry page. 
  • Find help to get your food analyzed and labeled.  There are lots of companies that, for a fee, will analyze your food for nutrition content.  We can’t endorse any particular company; but try doing an online search for “food analysis lab” and you’ll find many options for companies that will tell you the nutrients in a food and give you the information you need for nutrition labels.  

We know you didn’t become an entrepreneur because you like wading through paperwork and filling out forms.  But getting your head around the licenses and permits you need to do business internationally and understanding how to get your company to comply with nutrition reporting requirements are important steps to saving time and money down the road.

Best of luck! Let us know how NYC Business Solutions can help you as you startup – for example, we might be able to help you access incentives – and lower your costs! – if you open a warehouse or distribution center. Check out our website to see what services we offer to help businesses launch.

Catherine Ward is the Director of NYC Business Solutions at the NYC Department of Small Business Services.  If you have a question for Catherine, please drop her a note in the comments section below, or “Ask an Expert” to get an in-depth answer to your business question!

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