The Thrill of the Search – The Journey of Searching for the Right Contract Manufacturing Partner

Matt Suggs

The Thrill of the Search – The journey of searching for the right contract manufacturing partner.

Finding the right co-packer for the size and scope of your business is one of the most vital and toughest parts of setting up your supply chain. It can be a very frustrating, long, and complicated process even for the most experienced CPG executive.

It’s very rare to start a search and right off the bat, find the right co-packer and work through all the steps to commercialize a product. For a team beginning this process, they must realize that there will be long periods of waiting for steps to begin or be completed. There will be disappointment even when all of the indicators seem positive; and, if one isn’t thorough, you can end up having to start all over again when you find out the co-packer you chose cannot fulfill your orders on a consistent basis with a quality product.

To use a relationship analogy, you want to date as many potential matches (and even some that you think won’t be the answer) as possible so when you do find the one to “marry” the experience of comparing them to all the others will give you confidence you’ve found the right partner. Falling in love too early works occasionally, but most of the time finding and comparing multiple options is the best course of action.

It’s only looking back does one see the value in opting for the thorough search.

Finding the right co-packer and subsequently not having to leave later can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to a growing brand. To a brand that grows to annual revenues in the tens of millions or more for many years, the value of a successful search is easily worth a million dollars or more.  A simple spreadsheet analysis will show this to be accurate or ask any experienced food and beverage executive.

It can be a tough road, but an absolutely necessary one for any food or beverage brand that is hoping to succeed in the CPG industry with an outsourced food manufacturing partner. Simply put; Having the right co-packer with the right equipment and procedure, in the right location with the right efficiencies to create the margins required for the product line to compete in your category will immediately set you up for operational success.

Many entrepreneurs ask me where they can find co-packers, and for me PartnerSlate is the obvious answer. This is a great starting point that will unlock you to hundreds of vetted co-packers.

I recommend joining PartnerSlate for your co-pack search process. This will unlock and connect you with co-packers who are actively interested in taking on more business (hence them having a PartnerSlate account).

You being on the site also signals to them that you are serious about manufacturing your food product. The team at PartnerSlate is very helpful at answering questions and acting as a liaison to make the initial connection. I often refer to PartnerSlate as my “secret weapon” and I can not recommend this service enough for food brands looking for a manufacturer.

Reaching out to a co-packer

This is where most new food and beverage entrepreneurs fall short. They either leave out key details, or they leave too long of an email for a busy executive to read. When you reach out to a co-packer you want to succinctly and quickly provide credibility, showcase exactly what you do and what you are looking for, then tee up next steps. Please do not send an email blasting all of the details, just something short to create contact and to illicit a response (PartnerSlate’s new project feature is great for this!). You want to cover three things: Product, Credibility, Volume, and then lead into a larger conversation.

●     Product – “I have a sparkling water brand that is packaged in a 12oz sleek with tunnel pasteurization.”

●     Credibility – “We are in regional Whole Foods locations and will be launching nationwide with Sprouts in Q3”

●     Volume – “We are currently running 5000 cases (24pk’s) per month but we are growing quickly”

●     Next Steps – “We are looking for a west coast co-packer to continue our expansion and would love to speak with your team.”

Hurry up and Wait!  

Many readers are probably wondering; why is “waiting” a process step?

There is a great deal of waiting in these searches. No one is going to set aside all of their projects to focus on yours.  Usually time is allocated based on availability of personnel, equipment and ingredients.  Internally many co-packers are staffed very lean and you have to understand that your project is usually one of many.

Co-packers are inundated with unqualified leads and that has made most co-packing groups pessimistic about bringing on new business without a hard reference or referral. This is why it’s a much better idea to think about yourself as a brand going after your first angel round of investment. If you called Sequoia Capital or another major venture capital group to pitch your brand and they didn’t answer, would you just stop? No, you would continue inquiring, continue poking, and try to get referrals from other colleagues to provide a warm introduction. This is exactly the same scenario.

With that said, this is not a game of who is the first co-packer to say yes. I can empathize with food and beverage founders who are eager to get ready and start producing – they have potential orders to fulfill, investors to satisfy, and the eagerness to see their product in the market.

However, a shotgun marriage of reluctantly choosing the first group can be a recipe for heartache and disaster in the future. You are also auditing and interviewing that manufacturer to make sure they will be able to make your product successfully. This is a two-way interview and a matchmaking process to ensure that you all are able to communicate well and work together. Both groups need to be aligned for success or else the relationship will not work.

About Sherpa CPG:
Made to empower makers, Sherpa CPG guides food and beverage brands through the comprehensive product development process from concept through creation. Sherpa takes a multi-dimensional, strategic approach to each phase of innovation to deliver cost-effective, efficient product solutions that are positioned for real-world success in a retail environment.

For any further questions on finding a co-packer, please feel free reach out to