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Co-Manufacturing and packaging for gourmet popcorn


Poppy Handcrafted Popcorn
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Looking for some help in the overwhelming search of finding a co-manufacturer and packer for our gourmet popcorn. We've outgrown our in house capacity and would like to look into outsourcing production and packaging. Does anyone have insight on how to get started in finding the right companies to partner with?  Appreciate any help!

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Hey Poppy Team,

Congrats on reaching a growth stage where the shift into outsourcing production is a sales-driven need. Of course, it's difficult to relish the joy in a milestone when you're staring down a warehouse stacked with kernels waiting to be handled (literally have been there, done that, and owned the factory LOL). In working with dozens of emerging brands to transition them into contract manufacturing, I can share a few best practices for how to get the process underway.

Before shooting out a single email or phone call to a potential copacker, I recommend preparing your project candidacy presentation which consists of five key documents:

1. your product specifications : This is the number and brief description of the SKUs you are looking to have manufactured, including your packout instructions per unit, master case and pallet. Also included here is third party certification requirements if making qualified claims; plus facility certification requirements (i.e. SQF) to meet certain retailer standards

2. your formulations : scale-ready commercial formulas, not kitchen recipes. Standard weight-based ratios, including loss for things like topically applied seasonings or sifted popcorn hulls. No tribal knowledge measurements.

3. your statements of process : a sequence-based, step by step recording of every action it takes to make your thing correctly. Assume the copacker is blind and describe all data they would need to assess if and how your product can be mapped onto their equipment and process flow. Include all temperatures, time frames, size and gauge of pans and standard batching weights, considerations for min/max holding times, and so forth.  

4. Ingredient specification: Is your butter a standard 86% butterfat or a higher European-style butter? Salted or unsalted? What grain size is the salt you use in your caramel vs topically, for best adherence and flavor? Or is it flake salt? What country of origin are the spices in your seasoning blends? Is your cinnamon Ceylon, Vietnamese, Korintje? If you're seeking a copacker who can turnkey your product, you'll want to look to them to help you bring in all your ingredients or use their house ingredients to achieve better economies of scale. Many specialty brands do a hybrid model where they bring in certain specialty ingredients, like natural flavors or cocoa or inclusions; but gain a few pennies by letting the copacker consolidate buying for commodity items like brown sugar or salt. But again, whether or not these commodity specs are suitable to your product's performance and sensory experience is 100% up to you to determine. Specifying upfront will help accelerate this convo.

5. Projections. Last but definitely not least. You want to be able to give your copacker an honest idea of your production volume per month, or at least per quarter, for the next 18 months.  Copackers have leverage at this moment in history because the demand for their services is at an all time high, not only with brands like Poppy but with private label opportunities for established grocery stores and foodservice brands trying to get a slice of CPG pie. Solid data on your intentions as a long-term client with a healthy financial runway and solid growth potential is essential to giving a copacker the confidence that onboarding your brand and investing the resources in fulfilling your POs is not going to be risky.

Outside of these docs, should you have a shortened version of your pitch ready for action? Sure thing. But remember that they're in business just like you, and they need to take care of their staff and keep the lights on. So as much as they are inspired by who you are and what you've done (which is delightful and amazing!!!), their consideration won't overlook the bottom line.

Internally, know your costs, and know the questions you need answers to: line availability, tolling/per unit cost, pilot or validation trial costs, warehousing and additional fulfillment capabilities, assignment of key project or plant manager for your brand, familiarity with your packaging type, annual production volumes, etc

A copacker won't be able to return a cost to you until you give them enough pieces to create a picture of what your production process looks like head to tail. The key is to make is look and sound easy peasy, even if you know or feel that your precious popcorn babies should all be hand-swaddled in golden blankies of lush caramel. 🙂 

There are co-packing brokers who can help vet the general landscape to make a good match, but most of them aren't expert in detailing items like your process or ingredient specification. There are also some open-source lists and databases that you can go through to narrow down copackers that serve your particular category, and then set sights on more "nice to haves" like location, proximity to a solid 3PL, size, gluten free facility, etc. 

Hope this helps a bit. Feel free to give me a poke if I can help add further insight to the commercialization process. Back in my popcorn days, I created a chai masala kettle corn flavor that I more or less lived off of from mid-summer to New Years. Popcorn is such a glorious vehicle for these spices, and I adore that you've captured this at Poppy. Such a sophisticated yet playful suite of flavors--hope to see them in more stores soon!

Best,

Victoria

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Good morning Poppy Popcorn team,

Please also check out the SFA's 2022 Co-Manufacturer Resource Guide. It was just released today and is free to members. SFA is also recently hosted a webinar about working with co-manufacturers, which is also free for members. https://community.specialtyfood.com/store/product/244-technical-review-discussing-your-product-with-a-prospective-co-man/

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