Professionally designed and manufactured product packaging is an important part of any brand’s marketing efforts. But most companies lack the time and resources needed to package their own products. For smaller artisan food producers, creating a quality product is more than just a business venture— it’s a source of pride. That’s where hiring a co-packer can help.
In this post, we’ll define the role of a co-packer, describe the different types of co-packers, point out the most important things to look for when hiring a co-packer, and help you determine if your business is ready for co-packing services. We’ll wrap up by highlighting nine top US-based co-packing companies in a variety of industries.
What is a Co-Packer?
Contract packagers, or co-packers, manufacture and package products for private brands. Supplement, beverage, and food companies make up the majority of the industries that outsource their production to co-packers.
Many co-packers also produce the packaging, assemble the products, and offer product storage solutions. Co-packers in the food and beverage industry will even manufacture the products using recipes provided by the company hiring them. This offers a huge advantage, especially for smaller operations looking to get a toehold in the market without making a huge investment in their own commercial food or beverage production facility.
Types of Co-Packers
The co-packing industry is a broad one. There are hundreds of co-packers operating in the United States. Each one caters to a specific industry niche and provides services unique to the needs of companies operating in that space. It’s pretty safe to say that for just about every product on a physical or digital store shelf, there’s a co-packer with the capability to assemble, package, and warehouse it.
What to Look for When Choosing a Co-Packer
With so many co-packers to choose from, finding the one best suited to meet the needs of your business is important. Here are some of the most important factors to keep in mind as you vet co-packers.
Manufacturing certifications (including specialized certifications)
Industry certifications like HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) or GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) show that prospective co-packers are serious about manufacturing quality products in an environment that stresses safety. If you’re selling food or beverages, some food co-packers support niche certifications like kosher, vegan, gluten-free, or USDA certified organic, to ensure your finished products qualify for these certifications.
Proximity to your headquarters
Working with a co-packer within easy travel distance from your base of operations is a natural advantage. Partnering with a local or regional co-packer can drastically reduce the cost of transporting the finished goods. It also makes it more convenient for scheduling face-to-face meetings when needed, taking a tour of the manufacturing facility, and operating in the same time zone. For example, if you’re in the eastern US, working with an east coast co-packing company makes more sense than one located in the Pacific Northwest.
On the other hand, if you are an e-commerce brand that distributes products nationwide, finding a co-packer with a centralized facility may be the best choice for you. It all depends on how you’ll be distributing your product.
Experience with your product type
Co-packers tend to specialize in certain types of foods or beverages. By partnering with a specialist in your niche, you’ll gain access to a higher level of industry expertise.
Minimum order requirements
Some co-packers are geared toward working with larger clients who place orders in the tens of thousands of units or more. But when you’re just starting out, having a small inventory allows you the flexibility to test which products resonate with your target audience without a large investment. That also gives you the ability to invest your funds in growing your business, rather than being tied up in excess inventory.
Onboarding a co-packer and familiarizing them with producing or packaging your product takes time. So your relationship with your co-packer is one that you want to last for many years. One of the surest ways to find a co-packer that you’ll be pleased with is to invest the time to find one with a solid reputation in the industry. Asking for references and then following up with them gives you access to the perspectives of existing clients.
Checking the co-packer’s online reviews is another way to gauge their reputation, allowing you to see what types of experiences clients who didn’t make it onto the reference list have had.
Do they allow an on-site inspection
There’s no substitute for seeing the operation yourself. Taking an on-site tour offers a unique look at the facility and manufacturing processes that will be used to package and produce your products. When you’re on the factory floor, keep an eye out for any red flags when it comes to cleanliness and worker safety.
If you’re new to co-packing, engage an industry lawyer to review contract stipulations and verbiage to ensure you’re agreeable to the terms.
When Should You Start Using a Co-Packer
For most small food producers, eventually using a co-packer is a goal and milestone. But knowing when you’re ready to partner with one can be tricky. Here are some scenarios that indicate you may be ready to work with a co-packer.
You need access to industry expertise
Scaling a recipe up from small batches to large-scale production requires a level of expertise that many artisan producers just don’t have. Co-packers can help by providing resources to assist with the transition to an increased volume of production.
When demand exceeds supply
If your current commercial kitchen setup is struggling to keep up with the volume of orders you’re receiving, a co-packing company can help you scale up production quickly.
You’re running into time constraints
At a certain point, spending a large amount of time actually making your product starts to become counterproductive. After all, you have limited time resources. Co-packing can relieve the day-to-day product production burden, freeing you to devote more of your time to running your business.
You need to conserve capital
As your business grows, there will come a point when you’ll need to either outsource production to a co-packer or heavily invest in a manufacturing facility of your own. For many small to medium-sized food and beverage producers, using a co-packer frees up long-term capital to invest in other parts of the business that would have otherwise been spent on improving production capabilities.
You’re ready to expand your product line
Sometimes adding complementary products to your original line of offerings makes sense. If you specialize in organic teas, piloting a line of coffees or hot cocoas may be something you’re interested in, for example. A co-packer can leverage their existing expertise in producing a new line of products, saving you the time and energy of doing the research yourself.
Pros and Cons of Working with a Co-Packer
Like everything in life, teaming up with a co-packing facility comes with advantages and drawbacks. The decision of whether or not to relinquish direct control over product production is a big one. After all, you’ve successfully built your brand to this point by overseeing the process from start to finish. Turning that over to someone else is a major shift for most small business owners. To help you clarify your thinking, we’ve compiled a list of the major upsides and downsides to working with a co-packer.
- Long-term savings — Co-packers frequently have access to better ingredient pricing and offer the advantages of economies of scale. Although rarely cheaper in the short term, co-packers can offer significant savings in the long run.
- Access to niche certifications — If you’re interested in producing products with specific certifications like gluten-free, organic, or nut-free, certain co-packers have access to production lines that meet these higher standards. Co-packing provides a cheaper and more convenient means of producing specialized products.
- Shortened time frame to bring products to market — With access to large-scale production equipment, co-packing companies are in a position to produce at high volumes. If you’ve recently landed a new contract or are struggling to meet current demand, a co-packer can assist in fulfilling orders at a faster pace than a small-scale operation.
- Access to add-on services — Some co-packers offer a range of services beyond just product production and packaging. These add-on services include things like product storage, shipping directly to your customers, and R & D capabilities for refining existing product formulations or creating new ones.
- Higher upfront investment — Co-packers often require a large upfront payment in order to begin working with a new client.
- Defined quantity runs — Co-packers need some level of business certainty. They’ll require you to commit to a minimum production run in advance. You’ll lose some of the flexibility you were used to in controlling just how much and when you produced your product.
- Loss of direct quality control — When you were the producer, you maintained direct control over exactly what ingredients were used, where they were sourced, the cleanliness of the facility used in production, and a host of other factors. When working with a co-packer, you lose immediate oversight of the production process. This is why doing research before choosing a co-packer is important; choosing a reputable co-packer with high-quality certifications can alleviate this anxiety.
- Inability to adapt to custom production requirements — If your product requires some specialized process or uses novel or high-end ingredients, a co-packer may require modifications that may potentially compromise the quality of the finished product.
9 top co-packing companies
Our list of co-packers is a mix from different industries and locations throughout the US. We’ve chosen a few food co-packers, as well as some that specialize in supporting other industries like beverages and cosmetics.
1. DiscoverFresh Foods
This South Carolina-based food co-packer specializes in scaling up recipes for commercial production. DiscoverFresh Foods is an industry expert in producing foods using custom recipes, maximizing product shelf life, and securing space at retail establishments.
2. Daily Manufacturing Company
Specializing in personal care, cosmetics, and health and wellness products, Daily Manufacturing Company is capable of fulfilling high-volume orders of up to 150,000 bottles daily. Located in southern California, they assist clients nationwide with product packaging design, packing, and shipping. They also offer contract manufacturing and private label services.
3. US Beverage Manufacturing
Another California-based co-packer, US Beverage Manufacturing offers custom beverage development, formulation, manufacturing, and marketing services. They support businesses in various stages of growth with services ranging from assisting new beverage entrepreneurs as they develop their first offerings all the way to full-scale commercial production capabilities for established companies.
4. Southeast Beverage and Bottling
An east coast co-packer based in central Florida, Southeast Beverage and Bottling offers a range of co-packing and turnkey full-service options geared toward new entrepreneurs interested in developing their own line of custom beverages. Their large, cGMP-certified, FDA-registered production facility is also available to established companies looking for a quick and cost-effective way to scale up their own production capabilities.
5. Pure Bliss Organics
Pure Bliss Organics is a specialty co-packer located in Georgia. This food co-packer sources organic ingredients to produce whole food bars, bites, and granolas. They’re a GMP-certified company that implements HACCP protocols in their production facility. With runs as small as 2,500 units per month, they make it easy for small-time producers to get started.
Hollingsworth provides supply chain solutions for the food and beverage industry across the country. With extensive experience in manufacturing and distributing a wide variety of products, Hollingsworth is a reliable and trustworthy co-packer.
7. Doug Jeffords Co.
Doug Jeffords Co. provides high-quality seasoning and spices for restauranteurs, manufacturers, butchers, and more. Their commitment to quality ensures each batch of your products is seasoned perfectly every time.
8. St. Clair Foods
St. Clair Foods sources high-quality ingredients and processes their own fresh produce to guarantee consistent deliciousness in every recipe. For businesses looking for a co-packer that provides homestyle dishes, St. Clair Foods is worth teaming up with.
9. Houston-Johnson, Inc.
Houston-Johnson, Inc. is a family-owned business located in Louisville, KY that cares deeply about their clients’ needs. They are committed to improving the supply chain and distribution process of companies across the country.
Co-packing Packaging and Labeling Considerations
In addition to product production, you’ll also need to think about how you’ll handle the packaging and labeling of your products. Co-packers have different capabilities when it comes to packaging and labeling, so you’ll want to find out if they have in-house capabilities such as design and label creation, and if so, what the quality is like. You may find that you’d prefer to use another outsourced provider to handle packaging design and label production.
Level Up With a Co-Packer
Working with a co-packer has many advantages. Since co-packers specialize in contract packaging and manufacturing, partnering with a quality co-packer provides immediate access to their industry expertise and large-scale manufacturing capabilities. Especially for smaller companies, producing at scale without making a significant investment can provide easy access to new markets.
When you’re ready to start expanding your production capabilities, we can help by providing you (or your co-packer) with top-notch labels for your food and beverage product packaging. If you would like expert recommendations on label materials, knowledgeable feedback on your artwork, or even a sample of your printed designs, contact us!
You might also like:
- How to Find a Private Label Manufacturer
- What is Required on a Food Label
- 5 Best Types of Labels for Glass Bottles and Jars