Many start-up bar companies will come to a point where they need to engage with a co-packer as a crucial step in the success and growth of the business.

At this stage, the co-packer handles the production of your nutrition or snack bar, while you focus on growing your sales and brand. Finding the right fit might seem challenging but the following steps will equip you with the knowledge and direction to start the search and find the right co-packing partner for your nutrition bar business.

Lay the Groundwork

Before beginning, be sure to have a solid knowledge foundation. Having a grasp on the basics before starting the initial search will simplify the process, help you add the right co-packers to your list, and prepare you for the first conversation with them.

  • Know your product. If you already have a nutrition bar formula, make sure you know the details of not only the ingredient list, but the processing instructions, too. If you plan to develop a product with the co-packer, have in mind the type of bar you want, including ingredients, macronutrient targets, and how it will be made (raw, baked, filled, enrobed, etc.).
  • Know your budget. It’s important to be clear on how much money your company can spend on this next step of expanding your business, so a co-packer can be found that fits those parameters.
  • Know your timeline. How quickly do you want the finished product to be ready? What expectations do you have for the length of the launching process? Even though it’s likely you will need to be flexible with your timeline, it’s good to still have one in mind to communicate to potential co-packers.
  • Know your values. What are your business’ core values? Do you value vegan ingredients, clean foods, ethical sourcing, or good communication? Finding a co-packer is like adding a vital employee or department to your business. Aim to find a co-packer that shares similar core values.

Have the Conversations

With an established foundation and a short list of co-packers that meet your initial criteria, it’s time to get in contact. In early conversations with potential co-packers, communicate the four essentials above—your nutrition bar product, budget, timeline expectations, and core values. Then, find out more specifics of the co-packer’s processes and what they offer.

Here are nine questions to ask co-packers during that first meeting:

  1. What MOQ do they require? Most co-packers have a minimum order quantity (MOQ). Make sure you can meet that and also be sure the co-packer can handle increased orders once sales begin to grow.
  2. What do lead times look like? How long does it take to receive a finished product from the day an order is placed?
  3. What certifications does the co-packer offer? Do your products require certifications such as gluten-free, kosher, non-GMO, organic, etc.? If so, you need to talk with your co-packer about the costs and requirements of obtaining these.
  4. What food safety certification do they have? Ask to see how they did on their last audit. Keep in mind, if planning to sell in any major grocery chains, a co-packer with an SQF (Safe Quality Food) certification will likely be required.
  5. Does the co-packer handle the purchasing of ingredients and packaging? Some do and some don’t. You might save money by opting to work with a co-packer that takes care of the ingredients and packaging. Co-packers typically have lower costs for these materials because they’re able to buy at larger volumes than small companies often can.
  6. What capabilities do they have? What machines and tools are available and do they match your needs? Are there certain nutrition bars they specialize in making?
  7. Do they provide custom formulation? If you don’t already have a formula, you need to know if they offer private label or white label nutrition bars. What does that product development process look like? Do they offer product testing?
  8. Do they offer other services, such as package design, FDA compliance, or shelf life testing? If they don’t offer these extra services, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider working with them. Other businesses and labs do provide these services but, depending on your business’ needs, it might be beneficial to have it all under one roof.
  9. Are they easy to communicate with? Does the co-packer prefer email, phone, or video chat? Find out if they allow in-person visits. Seeing the facility, meeting face-to-face with the co-packing team, and experiencing the manufacturing process firsthand helps keep you connected to both your product and the people making it.

Plan for the Future with Your Nutrition Bar Co-Packer

After discussing the answers to those questions, you should have a good idea if a co-packer is a good fit for you right now, but what about in the future?

It can be helpful to consider what your goals and growth plans are in the near and far future, and how your chosen co-packer can or can’t support these. If you grow too large for their services, what’s the next step? Keep in mind that outgrowing your co-packer isn’t a bad thing, as you might need to start with a smaller facility in order to reach your larger goals later.

No matter which co-packer you choose for your business, doing your homework before you sign a contract will save you a lot of time, energy, and money as you begin your partnership.