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Finding the right co-packer for the size and scope of your food business can be 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 then, 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, it’s important to realize 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. Plus, if one isn’t thorough, you may find out that the co-packer you chose cannot fulfill your orders consistently with a quality product…and have to start the process all over again.
Finding the right co-packer–without having to start the process over multiple times–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 quick spreadsheet analysis will show this to be accurate–or you can ask any experienced food and beverage executive.
It can be a tough road, but it’s necessary for any food or beverage brand that is hoping to succeed in the CPG industry with an outsourced food manufacturing partner.
What is a Co-packer?
A co-packer is a manufacturer that packages finished food or beverage products according to a brand’s specifications. This can include bottling, boxing, sealing, canning, and packaging a finished product.
However, “co-packer” is often a term used to cover a wide range of food production and packaging services. You may see the term used to describe a contract manufacturer or a company that provides private label products.
Co-Packer vs Co-Manufacturer vs Private Label
A contract manufacturer is a food production facility that manufactures food or beverage products for other brands according to the brand’s instructions. They may also offer co-packing services.
Private label manufacturers in the food industry also produce and package food and beverage. However, they make products using their own recipe that is then packaged with their client’s branding and sold at their client’s stores.
Some popular examples of private label brands are:
- Target: “Good & Gather”
- Walmart: “Great Value”
- H-E-B: “Hill Country Products”
- Publix: “GreenWise”
Key Co-Packer & Contract Manufacturing Services
There are various services and capabilities offered by co-manufacturers and co-packers, including:
- Ingredient sourcing
- Product development
- Recipe development
- Private labeling
- Glass and plastic bottling
- Map packaging
- Heat and cold seal
- Wet and dry packing
- Vertical and horizontal filling and sealing
- Flat packaging
- Stand-up packaging
- Dry storage and cold storage
- Dry mixing and blending
- Flavor sampling
- Flow wrapping
- Allergen control
- Rotary molding
What specifications and processes your product requires will impact which co-packer will be the right fit.
Ready to Find Your Perfect Co-packer?
What to Consider When Choosing a Co-packer
It seems simple, but having a co-packer at a convenient location can be very important when you’re starting. From initial site visits to testing the product to any quality control issues, having to travel extensively to reach your product can be time-consuming and costly.
Furthermore, if you’re planning on selling your product locally, the closer your co-packer is to your distribution network, the less you’ll have to pay in shipping costs. You may also be able to source local ingredients, allowing for a fresher product you can market as local and sustainable.
Location is also important if you have a national brand: you’ll want to work with multiple co-packers throughout the country that are closest to your customer markets and distribution centers.
Does your product require flash pasteurization? Or high pressure processing? Do you require a nut-free facility or are you making a gluten-free product? Choosing a co-packer with product-specific expertise is extremely valuable when you have a one-of-a-kind item or are very new to the food and beverage business.
The services you require can narrow down your search–but also make it challenging to find the right copacker fit. At PartnerSlate, this is exactly what we do for you. Our matching marketplace connects you with quality manufacturers based on your product needs.
Sign up for free, add details about your business, and then do a project describing the product and production needs. Once you find your perfect fit? We streamline the documentation and onboarding process right on our platform.
Plus, there’s no cost for the matching service if the project doesn’t move forward after the initial introduction. We’re just all about finding you the right fit.
Capacity & Interest
Before reaching out to copackers, it’s helpful to know whether they’re even taking on new products–and if they are, if they’d be interested in working with you and your product.
Some co-packers simply don’t have the bandwidth no matter how incredible your product might be.
This is another way PartnerSlate saves you time: we only match you with co-packers that have both the capacity and interest in working on your specific products.
Having all necessary and current certifications demonstrates that your co-packer has taken all the measures required to create a dependable quality-control system in the facility and encourage responsible behavior and attitudes from their employees.
Some certifications your manufacturer might offer include:
- SQF Level 1
- SQF Level 2
- SQF Level 3
Before selecting a co-packer, you’ll need to know their Minimum Order Quantity, or MOQ. The MOQ is the smallest number of units the food manufacturers are willing to provide to a customer in one order.
Some co-packers may only want to work with larger brands where they can make over a million units in one run and have a higher profit margin. Others prefer to work with smaller businesses and startups, and their MOQ is less than 25,000 units.
Make sure the co-packers you have in mind can fulfill your MOQ before you go any further–and be honest with yourself on how much product you can sell. The last thing you want is to mislead your co-packing partner or not be able to afford their services.
How much a co-packer costs will depend on your product ingredients, production requirements, packaging requests, and more.
Co-packers usually work with multiple clients and often purchase large amounts of raw ingredients, allowing them to take advantage of economies of scale. Even though they may charge you extra for the materials, it can still be cheaper and easier than if you were to source the raw materials on your own.
The labor and overhead cost varies depending on the type of product produced and its production process. It may require expensive equipment that the contract manufacturer has invested in, or the product could be very labor-intensive.
If the co-packer needs to purchase specialized ingredients or the product requires more manual labor, they’ll probably need a higher MOQ to make the production costs worth it. Generally, the more you make, the less expensive each unit will be.
A co-packer is a vital part of bringing your brand to your customers. Ensuring they share your values and have the necessary business skills is important. A good relationship between them and your team is essential, so you’ll need to make sure you have a proper culture fit before starting an engagement.
It can be helpful to speak with some of their past and present customers to determine whether or not this copacker would work well with your brand and business.
We Make It Simple to Find the Right Co-packer
How to Find the Best Co-packing Company for Your Food Business
Searching for the ideal co-packer has always been a lengthy and costly process for food businesses. Making countless cold calls, spending extra fees, and spending hours researching each co-packer they are interested in can be a pain, especially if you don’t see any results. This next section will review everything you need to do to find the right co-packer for your product.
We do have a quick tip that can make this process much easier: make your free account on PartnerSlate. PartnerSlate is a full-service matching marketplace that connects brands with manufacturers quickly and easily. You just sign up for free, make a project with your product’s needs, and get matched with vetted manufacturers quickly. You can get started right now. Or, keep reading for a full overview of the manual process of finding a co-packer.
If you don’t already have a co-packer in mind, you’ll need to do some research online to determine which one is the best fit for you. Take notes and look at the different co-packers that could work for you.
This can be a challenging and time-consuming process if there isn’t much online information or you don’t know where to start. If there isn’t enough information available online, you may have to make some calls to manufacturers to ask about prices, capabilities, minimum order quantities, and more.
This is the point where many new food and beverage entrepreneurs can fall short. They either leave out key details–or 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 the next steps. Please do not send an email blasting all of the details–or something without any details at all. Instead, write something short to create contact and elicit a response.
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.”
Why is “waiting” a step in the process?
There is a great deal of waiting in these copacker searches. Internally, many co-packers are staffed very lean, and your project is usually one of many. Time is often allocated based on the availability of personnel, equipment, and ingredients.
Due to frequent issues in step number two, co-packers are inundated with unqualified leads, making some 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 the same scenario…except you have an alternative solution right at your fingertips. PartnerSlate is an online marketplace that helps food and beverage companies quickly find the perfect manufacturing and packaging partners to realize their product ideas.
All you have to do is create a profile on our platform and list your project. We’ll take care of the rest, connecting you with the right manufacturers and making it easy to exchange documents, communicate, and get things done. With PartnerSlate, you can bring your product from the idea to the shelf that much faster.
4. Site Visits
After finding some potential matches, you’ll want to verify that their facilities and equipment meet your needs at an in-person site visit. This can require a thorough examination of their current equipment and machinery as well.
Going on a tour of the facility in person gives you a special view of the factory and the methods used for making and packaging your items. It also gives you an opportunity to meet the team and staff and check for cultural alignment.
We 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.
With that said, this is not a game of “who is the first co-packer to say yes.” 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 can communicate well and work together. Both groups need to be aligned for success or else the relationship will not work.
6. Signing & Onboarding
You need to sign a contract, or co-packing agreement, once you’ve chosen a co-packer for your product. A well-written contract between food companies and co-packers can help ensure clarity of roles and reduce doubts. It lays out the details and responsibilities of both parties, including defining terms, safeguarding confidential information, and preserving each brand’s identity.
Once you have signed the contract, you can start onboarding with your co-packer. The onboarding process requires you to share your spec sheets, purchase order, final formula, and more. All these items are required for the co-packer to start producing your product.
Just be aware that you might have to do this process a few times if the co-packer isn’t a right fit–whether due to capabilities, management, or culture fit.
The Best Way to Find the Right Co-Packer
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.
To make this possible (and easy) setting up your free account with PartnerSlate is the obvious answer. This will unlock and connect you with co-packers who are actively interested in taking on more business (which is why they’d have a PartnerSlate account). Your being on the site also signals to them that you are serious about manufacturing your food product.
It’s a simple, three-step process:
- Create your company or brand profile.
- Add a project describing your product and needs.
- Let us find you the perfect match from our network of nearly 6,000 co-mans.
It’s time to find the right co-packer for your product.