How to calculate the ideal gross margin for your natural product

Experts say it’s the most important number in your business plan. But what constitutes an ideal gross margin? This simple formula will help you make sure everything’s accounted for when you calculate cost of goods and net sales. See how your gross margin stacks up against the industry ideal and learn the most common mistakes entrepreneurs make when establishing their business plans.

Bob Burke

October 23, 2014

2 Min Read
How to calculate the ideal gross margin for your natural product

One of the most critical components to predicting business success is the gross margin for your product line. Gross margin is the difference between the costs related to manufacturing the product and the net price at which you sell product to your customers. There are many accounting variations to determining gross margin for your products. For the purpose of this exercise, we prefer the following formula be used.

First determine your cost of goods (COGS). Factors that go into determining COGS:

  • Ingredient costs

  • Packaging costs

  • Labor costs or co-packing fee

  • Manufacturing overhead (portion of rent, insurance, utilities, etc.)

  • Freight/storage costs to F.O.B. point

Then determine your net sales:

Gross sales

Less: Promotional discounts

Less: Cash discounts

Less: Returns, spoils, etc.

= Net sales

Then divide cost of goods by net sales and subtract the quotient from one to get your manufacturing gross margin percentage:

 1 – (COGS)   = Manufacturing gross margin percentage
    (Net Sales)


What margins do I need to have a successful business model?

The answer to this question depends on several factors such as the product category in which you compete—how competitive it is, your overhead costs, product turns, etc. However, generally speaking, you need gross margin of 40-plus percent. To have a successful natural or specialty business, your business must generate a margin large enough to support overhead costs (rent, insurance, salaries, freight, R&D, etc.) and the marketing and selling expenses needed to build your brand.

A 40 percent margin is barely adequate to support the expenses involved in building your business. If your product is co-packed and you keep your office expenses minimal, you may be able to squeak by with a 30% to 35% margin, until volumes develop. A common fallacy among small manufacturers is, “My margin is only 20% to 25%, but my costs will come down as my volume increases.” They then build a business model around unrealistic scenarios with little room for error. Unless you are 100% certain that healthy, sustainable margins are within short-term reach, you really need to reconsider your position and face reality. An old truism is: “It is better to fail quickly than to fail slowly.”

field_20manual.JPGThis content is excerpted from the Natural Products Field Manual, Sixth Edition, The Sales Manager’s Handbook, written by Bob Burke and Rich McKelvey. To learn more about or purchase the Natural Products Field Manual, visit the Natural Products Consulting Institute website.

About the Author(s)

Bob Burke

As a consultant since 1998, Bob Burke provides assistance in bringing natural, organic and specialty products to market across most classes of trade. This includes work in strategic planning, growth strategies, writing sales, marketing and business plans, budgeting, pricing, building distribution, broker selection and management, organizational development, strategic options, financing, branding, trade spending management and assistance around M&A, due diligence and venture strategy groups. He is also the co-author and co-publisher of the Natural Products Field Manual, Sixth Edition, The Sales Manager’s Handbook and Staking Out Space on the Supermarket Shelf. Prior to consulting, Bob was with Stonyfield Farm Yogurt for 11 years as Vice President, Sales & Corporate Development and Vice President, Marketing & Sales. He has held marketing positions with Colombo, Inc. and Sperry Top-Sider. He received an MBA from Babson College.

Bob has worked with numerous companies, including Annie’s Homegrown, Oregon Chai, Snyder’s of Hanover, UNFI, No Pudge!, Kraft Foods, Bayer Consumer Care Division, ConAgra, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Stacy’s Pita Chips, Kettle Cuisine, Small Planet Foods, New Hope Natural Media, Bushes Beans, Equal Exchange, Nantucket Offshore/Stirrings, Immaculate Baking, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, Dancing Deer Bakery, The Natural Dentist, Rice Select, EcoFish, PMO Wildwood, S.C. Johnson, Blake’s All Natural Foods, Megafood/BioSan, Mighty Leaf Tea, Lesser Evil Snack Co., Theo Chocolate, The Jane Goodall Institute, Kashi, Project 7, Vermont Butter and Cheese, Yoghund, Bord Bia, American Halal, Orgain, Turtle Island, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Bausch + Lomb, Boehringer Ingleheim, Harbar LLC, Rhino Foods, Popcorn Indiana, Stonehouse 27, The ProBar, Hail Merry, Mamma Chia, 479 Popcorn, Heel USA, Nature’s Path, Pfizer, Cape Cod Provisions, E&A Industries, Sopexa USA, Mavea LLC, Via Sana, Skyland Foods, Ignite Sales, Dave’s Gourmet and others.

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