Finding the right co-packing partner is crucial for the success of any nutritional or CPG brand. The relationship with one’s manufacturing partner can make or break even the largest of companies. There are many factors one should consider when it comes to vetting and doing business with a manufacturer. In this article we will discuss some criteria to use in your search for the right co-packing partner.

Finding the Right Size Fit

One key factor to finding the right co-packing partner is finding one that is the right fit. You will want to find a co-packing partner that can accommodate your size, but also one that can grow with you. There are pros and cons when working with both large and small sized manufacturers. Larger manufacturers come with more industry savviness and expertise, while smaller manufacturers may offer you more priority and transparency. For most manufacturers, the bigger a customer is to them, the more leverage and priority they receive. However, going with a manufacturer that is too small, could mean that crucial components have not been fully implemented yet. Finding the right fit for the size of your company will be important in ensuring you get the right amount of priority and attention to scale your business. 

The Price Isn’t Always Right

While pricing can be a motivating factor in your selection of a co-packing partner, it shouldn’t be your main focus. It is important to remember that good manufacturers will not compete solely on price. Sometimes the lowest price offered may not be the best deal for you in the long run. Be cautious of “sweetheart” deals or pricing that comes in significantly less than the competition. Manufacturers that want to win your business by offering the lowest pricing can have some underlying issues. Oftentimes the cost savings you see doesn’t include pricing for essential items, like quality testing. To avoid running into costly surprises later, you will want to make sure your total pricing includes finished good testing. However finished good testing will not typically include your label validation testing or shelf life stability, so you will want to plan on covering those costs on your own and factor that into your total finished good pricing. 

Beyond the Certifications

Certifications can be a great place to start when vetting good co-packing partners. Reputable manufacturers will pay the money to be accredited with organizations like SQF and NSF. Organizations like SQF and NSF have high quality standards that the manufacturer must adhere to and be audited on a regular basis. While the certifications a manufacturer holds can be a telling sign of a manufacturer with a high standard of quality, this might not always be the case. It would be worthwhile to look into the history of their certifications. Beyond making sure the certification is up to date, manufacturers should be able to tell you when their last audit was and what their overall scores were. It would also be wise to find out if they ever lost their certification and why. You can always look online to see if the manufacturer has ever received an FDA warning letter. Warning letters can be found on the FDA website here.

On Site Inspections

One of the most telling ways to evaluate your potential co-packing partner is by scheduling an onsite visit. When planning an onsite visit, make sure to look at the facilities current size and capacity. Are they bursting at the seams with raw materials? Do they have adequate room for growth? Are they able to properly separate raw materials, packaging components, WIP, and finished goods? If it looks like your manufacturer is bursting at the seams with their current workload, they may not be a good fit for handling more. It is best to see the facility when they are currently running some product to assess their overall cleanliness and sanitation. On site inspections are a great time to meet their quality team and ask them about their current procedures that would affect you. Some things you should ask about are how they handle quality complaints, investigations, materials and products that are out of specification, and batch records. 

Responsiveness & Timeliness

Last but not least, one of the most important factors in finding the right co-packing partner is one that will deliver on time. Few things hurt a growing brand more than running out of product and losing sales. When vetting your potential partner, it is great to establish a relationship with the point of contact who will be managing the day to day operations of your project. Sales teams can differ from those who are on site and part of the production planning team. Setting clear and reasonable lead times. Having visibility to your production timeline can be tricky as delays can take place at multiple stages, however when and how they communicate delays to you will be crucial. Some reputable manufacturers provide their customers with an on time report outlining their success at hitting the agreed to lead times. Finding a manufacturing partner that won’t hold you hostage and can deliver to you on the agreed to timelines.

When searching for the right co-packing partner there are many things to be considered. It pays to do some due diligence before jumping into this crucial relationship. By spending some time to vet your future partner, you can avoid some of the costly common pitfalls.