Contract Manufacturer: How to Choose a Co-Packer

By Gayle Gardner

Hot Sauce in a Co-Packing Facility

Hot Sauce in a Co-Packing Facility

Contract packaging, also known as co-packing, is the increasingly popular option of having someone else produce and package your product. This method of manufacturing is a growing segment of the Fiery Foods Industry as more cooking stores, gourmet and hot shops and even supermarkets carry a wider variety of unique and small house brands. Even restaurants are taking their homemade salsas, sauces and spices, having them co-packed, then retailing them. What were once “family secrets,” are now becoming available to many households across the United States.

Some co-packers start out as general manufacturers, while others begin with a recipe that they decide to manufacture themselves. Some co-packers will let you put your private label on their products and market them as your own; if you are entering a market where your best chance at success is to go in with multiple products, then this might be a good idea. Also, if you are interested in retailing, but have not yet developed your own product, this might be the way to make a name for your company. The best ingredient for a successful partnership between a co-packer and an entrepreneur is trust. Both of you are interested in a profitable venture, and achieving this goal means working together to do the best job possible.

A properly chosen co-packer will provide the bridge between your basement or commercial kitchen and the mass manufacturers. Given the pace with which the hot and spicy market is growing, using a co-packer gives you a good chance to cross that bridge successfully.

Finding the Right Co-Packer

They might be housed in a small building or have multiple warehouses and plants. Their equipment might be as simple as manual machinery or as sophisticated as automated lines. Whatever their mode of operation, these people can help you expand your business by providing the labor, equipment, facility and know-how to customize, formulate or completely assemble the best packaging and recipe for your product. Here are some sources and suggestions for finding a co-packer who will best suit your needs:

It is one of the most commonly asked questions: do you know of a contract packer in my area? We now have some resources to help answer that question.

  • The Contract Packaging Association has 116 members and a searchable database. They are located here.
  • The Packaging Services Expo is a show featuring contract packers and others that is held in May. Information is here.
  • Contract Packaging Magazine is a quarterly publication for that industry. Information is here.

Gather Names

  • Go to a grocery store or a gourmet shop and locate a product similar to yours. Identify the manufacturer and contact them.
  • Consult the Thomas Food Industry Register, which lists co-packers by state, and can be found in many libraries. Greg Deneen, of Deneen and Company, a co-packer and processor in Santa Fe, New Mexico, advises that it is important to find a co-packer near you because in the beginning you will be working closely together.
  • Contact the Department of Agriculture
  • Contact specialty food associations. Joe Brent, owner of Jo B’s in Waterbury, Vermont says that he belongs to the Vermont Specialty Foods Association and has found that people who consult this association for information often become his customers.

Check for Quality

Visit the companies and make sure they have sanitation and quality controls on site. Look for things such as:

  • A pH meter
  • A sugar brix scale
  • Record-keeping of ingredients and nutritional values.
  • Charts of date and batch coding data for all products.
  • Insist on certification. According to Dr. Al Wagner, a Food Processing Specialist with Texas A&M University, co-packers need to be certified in the processing of acidified foods, and should have a certification from the Better Process Control School.
  • Investigate more than one company.
  • Check for reputation. Mad Coyote Joe of the Mad Coyote Spice Company in Cave Creek, Arizona, says, “The number one thing to look for when choosing a co-packer is the longevity and track record of the business. Find out who else they package for and call them for details.”

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