Five Things You Should Look For In A Co-Packer

Sarah Lanphier
Sales are booming, inquiries are coming in, and you feel like your whole life is being spent in the kitchen instead of focusing on managing your accounts and following up with all those new leads. 

This is where a co-packer can make or break the future of your company. Co-packers are important allies in the food industry because they allow brands to specialize in marketing and selling their products, and enable manufacturers to focus on making products.

You may have heard horror stories of co-packers gone bad from other businesses, but you can overcome these obstacles if you prepare and make sure to ask the right questions when starting your co-packer search. I will warn you, however, that every co-packer is different and it might take you a while to find the one that is just right for you. But when you do, it will all be worth the effort. 

1. Refine your recipe. When transitioning into a larger operation, it’s imperative that your recipe and process be as detailed as possible, with accurate weights, times, and temperatures for every single step of the operation. When making a recipe for the thousandth time it becomes second nature, but when you’re switching to an operation where there are several rotating employees, the recipe cannot have any ambiguous variables— only absolute precision.

2. Calculate volume projections. Every co-packer has an established minimum for volume, and that minimum can change depending on the product. Make sure you know your volume projections so you can determine if you can meet the co-packer’s minimum.

For example, we use a co-packer whose minimum run is 2,000 pounds. If your volume projections are 2,000 pounds for three months and your shelf life is 12 months, the minimum might still be within your reach. 

3. Keep it confidential. The first thing you should do when working with a co-packer, or anyone for that matter whom you are disclosing your trade secrets to, is have both parties sign a confidentiality agreement. There are numerous free templates online you can download, or ask if the other party already has one drafted. Even after you are under the agreement, only disclose necessary information to keep the project moving. As the relationship unfolds and trust is built, you can disclose more details, but to begin with, start with just the basics.
 
4. Secure sufficient capital. Be prepared to potentially have to order a few months’ worth of inventory at a time.  You will want to make sure that you have sufficient cash flow to fund the order and any support items, such as storage, that will come along with the increased volume. Cash is king in any business and it will become even more important as your inventory increases.

5. Keep an open mind. One of the advantages of working with a co-packer that specializes in your product is that you get to utilize the co-packer’s manufacturing expertise and experience. I encourage you to embark on your co-packing quest with an open mind as to how your product is produced. The co-packer might know a more efficient way to make your product, and as long as the product quality and integrity remains intact, the process should always sway to the leanest side.

Granted, there are A LOT more than five things you need to do to prepare yourself to work with a co-packer, but this is a good start. Be patient with the process, and take the time to refine your own business goals and structure so that you will know when the right partner comes your way. 

Do you have additional tips and recommendations for the search for the right co-packer? Share them with the community in the Q&A Forum!

Editor's Note: If you are interested in contributing to the SFA Blog, we welcome your ideas! Send proposed topics to community@specialtyfood.com. 
Posted by Sarah Lanphier on Dec 8, 2015 5:12 PM America/New_York