Choosing a Copacker
September 10, 2008 · Print This Article
This packaging tip is an excerpt from “Choosing and Using a Copacker” by John E. Rushing, Ph.D. It is published by North Carolina State University.
North Carolina State University’s Department of Food Science ranks among the top food science departments in the country. This recognition is the result of excellence achieved in all areas of the university’s mission: teaching, research, and extension.
Before you visit the copacker
Before choosing a copacker, do your homework. You should have business and marketing plans in place which outline your product needs in terms of size and type of container, number of units per given period, price to the buyer and sales price. Small Business Technology and Development Center can be of assistance. Get technical help from a university, a consultant or a testing laboratory to determine needs for product stability and safety.
Once you have established the product information, write preparation and process instructions. Write specifications for ingredients, packaging materials, regulatory compliance, and finished product.
Prepare a checklist of needs you have from the copacker.
- Will you require product development assistance such as safety determinations, coloring, stabilizers and emulsifiers, or preservatives?
- What are special product concerns such as; acidity, thermal process, refrigerated ingredients, refrigerated product storage?
- Are there special ingredient concerns?
- Will the product require specialized ingredients in terms of variety, function, or piece size?
- Will ingredient preparation such as onsite chopping, peeling, coring, or sugaring be necessary?
- Can ingredients be purchased ready-to-use?
- Are there alternative sources for specialized ingredients?
Consult with your attorney and insurance carrier. What do they feel you should require of your copacker? Will a site visit be necessary for them?
Remember, scale-up of production from the home kitchen to the first plant trial may produce unsaleable or unusable product. Factors such as rate of heating, agitation during incorporation of ingredients, holding at high temperatures and pumping can affect ingredient functionality and product appearance. Adequate product development prior to the pilot run will minimize this, but unforeseen factors may still cause differences in product.
How will the final product be distributed? If it is to be shipped to a central warehouse, what requirements will you have for the copacker? Many companies are under mandatory solid waste reduction. Will the product be shipped in boxes or overwrapped trays? On which kind of pallet shall they be furnished? Should the boxes be overwrapped or glued to keep them on the pallet?
Will you need storage of ingredients, supplies, or finished products? Will you need the copacker to order or ship these materials? How much inventory will you need to have on hand?
Will the potential buyers of your product require that the food be manufactured under particular quality, safety, or certification systems such as HACCP, ISO 9000, Kosher or Halal? Do regulations require USDA compliance, or certification for low-acid canned foods or acidified foods? Is there mandatory HACCP compliance required? Is a third party audit required?