How to Start an International Food Store

International food stores, also called international grocery stores, are stores which offer imported food. This imported food ranges across many countries, different nationalities, and dish types. International food stores usually stock food, drinks, alcohol, candy and condiments. Some international food stores also stock international commodities, like toys and kitchen instruments.

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Learn how to start your own International Food Store and whether it is the right fit for you.


Start an international food store by following these 10 steps:

You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your international food store. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

Check out our How to Start a Business page.

STEP 1: Plan your business

A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.

What are the costs involved in opening an international food store?

Pre-opening expenses are often $70,000 or more. The costs include insurance, equipment sourcing, food sourcing, utility start-up costs and employee hiring fees. Before assuming control of your store’s operations, consider investing as much as $200,000.

Opening an international food store can be expensive, mostly because the food must be sourced overseas. Some international grocery stores can, however, find domestic bulk providers for international food.

What are the ongoing expenses for an international food store?

Ongoing expenses vary from store to store. Rent is normally $3,000 to $4,000 per month for a medium to large-sized shop. Meanwhile, monthly utilities can be about $700 for continuous use. Employees should be paid between $8 and $15 per hour.

Who is the target market?

As with any grocery store, the best clients are those who’re noninvasive. Ideal clients will have a love for international food, and they’ll return for new, exotic tastes. Because international food stores tend to be niche, they’re usually favored by food connoisseurs.

Sometimes, ethnic customers are useful advocates and knowledgeable resources. Since an international food store’s popularity is determined by its authenticity, these customers can be useful. An international food store owner needs to have a lot of knowledge about the best-tasting foods in order to provide customers with the most delicious, most authentic products.

How does an international food store make money?

International food stores make money by selling international foods, pre-cooked dishes, deserts, candy, drinks, alcohol, and other items. Some international food stores have cafes, and others may have fresh food restaurants inside. An international food store needs to be the “one-stop-shop” of its area to be successful. For this reason, a lot of international food stores offer all the services a grocery store would have while also offering food that cannot be found at other local grocery stores.

How much can you charge customers?

Food prices vary greatly. Customers can be charged as little as $0.99 for end-cap items. They can be charged as much as $50 for a nice bottle of wine. Research competitive food prices, and make your products attractive.

How much profit can an international food store make?

A successful international food store can make upwards of $500,000 per year. That said, profits are determined by a store’s ability to serve local markets.

How can you make your business more profitable?

Start by operating a small storefront. Become a mini-grocery, and stock novelty goods. By supplying coffee, books, candy, or alcohol, you can save costs while being a competitive store. Distribute food items other providers don’t have, and try to source as much local food as possible before relying on an overseas supplier.

What will you name your business?

Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our International Food Store Name Generator

If you operate a sole proprietorship, you might want to operate under a business name other than your own name. Visit our DBA guide to learn more.

When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:

  • Your state's business records
  • Federal and state trademark records
  • Social media platforms
  • Web domain availability.

It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.

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STEP 2: Form a legal entity

The most common business structure types are the sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), and corporation.

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your international food store is sued.

Form Your LLC

Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC

Have a Professional Service Form your LLC for You

Two such reliable services:

You can start an LLC yourself and pay only the minimal state LLC costs or hire one of the Best LLC Services for a small, additional fee.

Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.

STEP 3: Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.

In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!

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You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.

Learn how to get an EIN in our What is an EIN guide or find your existing EIN using our EIN lookup guide.

Small Business Taxes

Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).

You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:

There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.

STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card

Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.

Open a business bank account

  • This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
  • It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
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Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank, credit union, business-loan friendly banks, one with many brick-and-mortar locations, and more.

Open net-30 accounts

When it comes to establishing your business credit, net-30 vendors are considered the way to go. The term "net-30," which is popular among vendors, refers to a business credit arrangement where the company pays the vendor within 30 days of receiving goods or services.

Net-30 credit terms are often used for businesses that need to obtain inventory quickly but do not have the cash on hand.

Besides establishing business relationships with vendors, net-30 credit accounts get reported to the major business credit bureaus (Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, and Equifax Business Credit). This is how businesses build business credit so they can qualify for credit cards and other lines of credit.

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Recommended: Read our guide on the best net-30 vendors so you can start building business credit now, so you never have to worry about cash flow in the future. Keep in mind that poor cash flow is the #1 reason businesses fail!

Get a business credit card

  • This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
  • It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.

STEP 5: Set up business accounting

Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.

STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses

Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.

Federal Business Licensing Requirements

There are federal regulations regarding what can and cannot be added to, sold as, and processed with food. Attached is a resource from the Food and Drug Administration detailing the process of starting a food business: How to Start a Food Business

State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to open a international food store. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.

Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

For information about local licenses and permits:

Certificate of Occupancy

An international food store is generally run out of a storefront. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.

  • If you plan to lease a location:
    • It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
    • Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to an international food store.
    • After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
  • If you plan to purchase or build a location:
    • You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
    • Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your international food store will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.

Food Regulations

When selling food, you will need licensing from a local health department; all establishments serving food are required to pass a health inspection. Tips for faring well on a health inspections

STEP 7: Get business insurance

Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.

There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.

Learn more about General Liability Insurance.

Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.

Recommended: Learn what business insurance for your International Food Store will cost.

Business Insurance for
International Food Store

STEP 8: Define your brand

Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.

If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
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Recommended: Get a logo using Truic's free logo Generator no email or sign up required, or use a Premium Logo Maker.

How to promote & market an international food store

Promotion should take place on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Because an international food store has highly unique options, it normally promotes itself. As for marketing, it’s a good idea to promote your business to other small businesses.

Interestingly, marketing through nearby grocery stores can work. By helping grocery shoppers understand why your store is unique, you can “source” them without creating much competition. While grocery stores often have international food aisles, customers prefer entire international stores.

How to keep customers coming back

Enhance the shopping experience. Become the community’s grocer, and open niche services. Give customers a reason to return, like a fresh-baked pastry bakery, or cook for shoppers upon request. Invest in a wine and alcoholic beverage corner, and diversify your stock. If you’re competing against other international food stores, you should focus on highly unique engagement strategies.

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Still unsure about what kind of business you want to start? Check out the latest Small Business Trends to help inspire you.

STEP 9: Create your business website

After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.

While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.

Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:

  • All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
  • Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
  • Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.

Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.

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Recommended: Get started today using our recommended website builder or check out our review of the Best Website Builders.

Other popular website builders are: WordPress, WIX, Weebly, Squarespace, and Shopify.

STEP 10: Set up your business phone system

Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.

There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use.

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Recommended: Find the best phone system for your business; check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2021.

Start An International Food Store In Your State

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Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Is this Business Right For You?

The international food business is perfect for any business person who loves exotic foods. The ideal international food store owner has a fine taste for salads, sandwiches, picnic lunches, specialty drinks, desserts, and cooked meals. Normally, an international food store owner is able to pinpoint the nationality of different foods. Deli-lovers, bakers, and café operators normally make good international food operators.

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What happens during a typical day at an international food store?

International food store owners research local shopping experiences. Then, they source and stock ethic foods. When running an international food store, owners need to make the food taste as authentic as possible. Some feature recipes for visitors to try.

Other responsibilities include grocery store upkeep. Utilities need to be managed, and food needs to be restocked. Because international food needs to be sourced overseas, a lot of international food store operators need to be well-adjusted to shipping, competitive pricing, and international buying plans.

On the administrative end, international food store owners need to conduct sales, manage employees, and create marketing campaigns. Typical grocery store responsibilities apply, like cleaning, conducting maintenance, and handling rent.

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful international food store?

The most successful international food stores have great pricing strategies. They also prioritize the customer service experience. A good international food store will encourage communication between staff and shoppers.

As an international food store owner, you’ll need to source international foods effectively. It can take years to secure the best food sources, and it can take longer to price them competitively. Provide customers with high-quality products, and make them affordable. A good international food store avoids the “department store” feel, focusing on specialized customer experiences. The more personal an international food store feels, the better.

What is the growth potential for an international food store?

Most international food stores are locally owned. For this reason, most of them never reach cross-country popularity. While it’s possible to become a state-wide international food store provider, many are city favorites. This isn’t bad, however, as an area’s best international food store is normally a customer favorite. If your international food store can deliver top of the line products to a lot of people, it can achieve a lot of success.

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Take the Next Step

Find a business mentor

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

Learn from other business owners

Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.

Resources to Help Women in Business

There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:

  • Funding
  • Events
  • Guides
  • Support

If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.

What are some insider tips for jump starting an international food store?

While international grocery store startup costs are big, it’s a good idea to keep your investments as low as possible. Independent international grocery stores can be risky, and sourcing costs can get out of hand.

Thrill customers with high-quality products, and offer affordable prices. Focus on your pricing strategy, and make your international food options as authentic as possible. Give customers the ability to get all of their international food in one place. When starting, stock a bit of everything. Don’t worry about highly unique food items. Instead, focus on general food items first.

How and when to build a team

You should build a team immediately. While small international food stores can be operated by one person, many have at least three employees. You’ll need to spend your time marketing, sourcing food, and strategizing your pricing plan. Meanwhile, your employees should be working on in-store operations. They’ll need to talk to customers, handle clean-ups, and conduct maintenance.

Next Steps

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