How and When to Find a Co-Packer

Posted on March 25, 2014 by

We recently wrote about food scientist Rachel Zemser, who did a short post on finding a specialty food co-manufacturer (co-man or co-packer, for short).

Although finding a list of co-packers is surprisingly challenging, it's a very small piece of that process.

Am I Ready For Co-Packing?

First, you have to decide that you're ready to move from making your own product to working with a co-packer:

These are remarkably difficult questions that require you to really think about your food business. And that's before you even start looking for a co-packer.

How to Decide on a Co-Packer

If you are ready for co-packing, you have to start looking for the right one. Ask food business friends, scour the internet, talk to your local university food science department, and compile a list of potential co-packers.

Then comes the hardest part, which is actually evaluating each one:

Resources for Helping You Through The Process

As you can tell, this is a long and challenging process that can take months. You really don't want to skimp here because it is the foundation of arguably your most important business relationship and investment. We have a couple other useful resources for you.

Ultimate Co-packing guide

Our friend Michael Adams of Green Mountain Mustard recently published a great e-book that will help you through this whole process as well as running a smooth operation once you've chosen your co-packer. The Ultimate Guide to Co-Packing will guide you through each of the above steps in great detail, something Michael's done himself several times.

It will explain how to understand the costs associated with co-packing, how to manage your co-packer relationship, how to know that your co-packer is "the real deal", common mistakes to avoid, and much, much more. We highly recommend checking it out if you're thinking about co-packing, and at $19 it's a steal.

Our friends at Right Brain Consulting have been helping food companies find and negotiate with co-packers for dozens of years and have negotiated billions of dollars of co-packing deals for everyone from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. They're the real pros. They do this every day, know more co-packers and how to find them, and have more leverage with them because of potential future business (so co-packers should treat their clients better), and are simply better at it than someone doing it for the first, second, or third time. They have also published a book on sourcing a contract manufacturer if you're curious to learn more from them without going all out and hiring them.

Trade shows can be very useful for finding the right manufacturer: PLMA and IFT are two.

You can also try a matching service like PartnerSlate.

If you're considering moving your production to a co-packer, definitely take a look at these resources and invest the time to make the right decision.

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