How to Start an International Food Store

International Food Store Image

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.

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 9 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 step guide to starting your international food store. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

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:

  • What are the startup and ongoing costs?
  • Who is your target market?
  • How long it will take you to break even?
  • What will you name your business?

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 very important. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.

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STEP 2: Form a legal entity


Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your international food store is sued. There are many business structures to choose from including: Corporations, LLC's, and DBA's.

You should also consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.

A cube with LLC printed on its sides

For most small businesses forming an LLC is a great option, but if you still want to weigh all your options check our our article, What Structure Should I Choose for My Business?

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!

A cube with LLC printed on its sides

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?.

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.

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.

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


Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.

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.

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.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

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.

STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence


A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

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.

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.

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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