The food industry could not exist without co-packers, and this is particularly true for smaller start-ups and entrepreneurial businesses. Indeed, according to the most recent “State of the Food Industry” report from the Specialty Food Association, roughly half of all specialty food businesses – including hundreds of the most popular brands that you see on the shelves of stores like Whole Foods – are made by co-packers. This allows companies to focus on growing their brands and their business’ sales instead of food production.
Co-packing services can vary greatly from one company to another – from creating formulas to manufacturing to package design and FDA compliance. And choosing the right co-packer for your food business can mean the difference between success and failure. A good co-packer will effectively become your business’ external Chief Operations Officer, and so you need to approach a call with a prospective co-packer like an interview for an invaluable internal company position.
Start the search by talking to food industry contacts that you might have – in person, or through social media websites like LinkedIn and Facebook. Then, expand your search through search engines like Google and LinkedIn’s search tool. Online research might seem somewhat simplistic but it can be an invaluable tool to find a co-packer in the modern landscape because of its ability to deliver precisely to your particular needs.
Once you identify a co-packer or two that you believe might be a good match for your company, go into the call prepared with a list of questions you have. Here’s a great jumping-off point for the top 10 key questions you should ask any potential food co-packer:
- What type of food products do you make? (Ensure that this is a perfect ‘match’ for what you need before moving forward.)
- Do you offer recipe formulation and testing (ie; water activity testing), or is the client responsible to bring a ‘finished recipe’ with complete testing already completed?
- What are your minimum order quantities (MOQs)? (Large co-packers in the snack bar business, for example, typically have MOQs starting at around 100,000 bars per flavor per run – but there are some great co-packers that have much more flexible MOQs for smaller entrepreneurial start-ups.)
- What certifications do you have? Gluten Free? Non GMO Project Verification? Organic?
- Will you source the ingredients for me, or do I need to purchase them and handle that supply chain myself? (Co-packers that offer to do this for their clients can often deliver a better end price because they frequently have much better buying power than an individual client would have on their own.)
- What are your lead times from the date that a purchase order is placed?
- Are you SQF certified? What was the score on your most recent audit? (Many major retail stores will not accept non-SQF third party auditing verification. If you have large retail ambitions, choosing a co-packer that is SQF is vital.)
- Are you able and willing to grow with us? If I’m ordering at your minimum order quantity now, how big can I get with you? Is there a ‘ceiling’ with you?
- Do you provide support on FDA compliant package creation? Will you ensure that my packaging meets the legal requirements for sale in the United States? Will you help in finding the best package supplier for my products?
- Are there any questions that I should have asked that I have not?