Myths and Realities of Co-Packing
Co packing, or contract manufacturing in other terms, is generally looked with an inferior eye. It is generally misunderstood that co packing is just a back-end production grunt work with no interest in the business of that product. However, truth cannot be far from this. Co packing is a highly competitive, engaging business that provides a lot of value to its clients. Here are some of the common myths that surround the co packing business.
- Co packing increases costs: Co packers are focused on manufacturing process optimization. They employ best and latest technology and developments to optimize their processes and reduce the cost involved in their processes. This subsequently means lower costs for their clients.
- Co packers do not have expertise: Co packers focus only on Manufacturing and Production of a subclass of a product. (e.g. in food processing, one co packer would specialize in processing of fruit products and a separate one in meat products) All the resources of the co packer are focused towards optimizing their manufacturing processes, increasing efficiency and quality of output and reducing costs and process times. Co Packers usually have the best talent focused on the process.
- Co packers do not invest in business: On the contrary, co-packers always strive to have the latest and the best machinery. One of the key differentiator for the co-packers is their technical infrastructure. The more modern and efficient machinery they have, the higher product quality and throughput they can achieve. It is in their own interest to invest in improving their manufacturing processes and they regularly do so.
- Co packers do not provide additional services: There is a general impression that contract manufacturers simply manufacture in bulk and deliver the whole bulk. However, reality is that Contract manufacturers provide many value-added services and final packaging is one of them. They provide retail size packing, labelling and collaborate with shippers to transport directly from their premises to distributor and other intermediaries.
- Co packing requires management overhead: The management overhead requirement really depends upon the requirement of the client. A good packer would have processes set and optimized, not just for manufacturing, but also for receiving order, raw material procurement, production, packaging, dispatch amongst others (i.e. the management processes). They would have efficient reporting already in place for their management, which is also shared with the clients. Clients gain high visibility into processes related to their products, with these reports. There really is no requirement for any overhead unless you are not confident about copackers processes.
- Certifications are irrelevant: Authorities issue the certificates only if the co packers adheres to the stick rules and regulations set by the authority. Certifications such as HACCP, OSHA, ISO 22000 (in case of foods) etc. ensure that there is no hazardous element in the food when it is manufactured. Certifications such as Six Sigma, GMP, TQM etc. ensure that the manufacturing practices followed by the co packer adhere to the best in industry standards. The benefits of all these certifications, which result in safer food, higher product quality and higher consistency, reduced wastage are passed on to the client of the co-packer.
- Co packers do not focus on quality control: Co packers are in business of manufacturing. They operate in B2B environment, where the focus on product quality and value gained from the engagement is higher relative to the B2C engagement. This means that the cost and the quality become two key parameters to differentiate on. Needless to say, co packers actually pay extra attention to the quality, simply to stay competitive.
- Co packing is slow and time consuming: Co packers or contract manufacturing business is a capital-intensive business. They install expensive machinery which has high fixed cost and limited operating life. It is in the interest of the manufacturer to make the most of their infrastructure to earn profits. Thus, it is in their own interest to be fast and agile churning the products quickly.
- Co packing means giving up control of operations: This is probably a myth from days when IT was still evolving. Today with advanced systems and deep integration into systems, the clients can have as much visibility as they desire into their outsourced operations. The limit here is client’s own bandwidth required for the oversight.
- Vertical integration may be a problem: Vertical integration, which means seamless transfer of material from one process to another, used to be an issue when the raw material used to go from client’s premise to co packer and the finished product used to come back to client’s premises for further packing and onward delivery. Today, the raw material can be directly shipped and stored at co packer’s premises, processed, packed and shipped to the downstream supply chain point of the client. Co packers, suppliers and logistics providers can be quickly integrated to give a seamless view of the process flow of the client.
- Co packers cannot scale up: Co packers are into business of manufacturing. For them growth in scale is growth in business. They keep abreast of latest developments in the field of production. Provided there is a justification for investment, co packer can scale up faster than an in-house manufacturing unit.
- You need to manage multiple relationships (vendor, shipper) with co packers: Co packers are not just contract manufacturers. A good co packer will have existing relationships with various other service providers in the value chain, right from raw material supplier to end shipper. If you so choose, the co-packer can work with the suppliers of your choice, or provide you with the option of working with their suppliers so that you have single point of contact for all your end to end needs. The downstream relationships are managed by the co packer himself.
- Co packers are only interested in transaction business: Co packers invest heavily into machinery. They like to maintain focus on improving their manufacturing capability, spending less resources on business development. They value long term strategic relationships more than transaction oriented business. Strategic long term partnership is where they can provide best value.
- Co packers do not do any research and development: Anyone who needs to stay competitive in any business needs to improvise. R&D is one of the key areas where co packers invest not only to improve their processes, but also to improvise on the products, should their client choose to.
- Lowest cost co packer is best co packer: Cost in an important factor, but as any businessman knows, it is only one of the factors of a successful business. Efficiency, quality and consistency are equally and sometimes more important than cost. Low cost product does not necessarily mean the best the best value product.
- I and my competition cannot use same co packer: Most co packers work with multiple clients. This helps them increase their utilization, keep the costs low and absorb and evolve best practices in the industry. Co packers are professionals who maintain segregation of not only your product but also maintain the secrecy of your formula from your competitions. In fact, since same machine is used for both, you and our competition the cost actually goes down, if you and your competition use the same co packer.
- Large co packers are the cheapest co packers: The general perception that bigger is cheaper is hardly true. Large units need large piece of lands and are located at remote locations. The transportation cost alone can eat up any gains made due to large facility. Further, a large setup needs to have a large number of units made in a single production run, otherwise it is not economical. If your production runs are smaller, the large unit will actually turn out to be more expensive.
- Co packers don’t understand the Market: Co packers are heavily dependent on the market environment. They understand that if the market of their client goes down, their business goes down too. So, they keep a constant watch on the markets of their client and also recommend changes and future direction to their clients. It is in their own best interest to understand where the market is heading, to manufacture relevant products.
- There’s no need to consider the Co packer in your strategic growth plan: A good co packer, will work with you to define and refine the production process, best suited for your product. He will make investment in his plant to accommodate your growth needs. Sharing and including him in your growth plans, not only helps him to plan his growth, it also provides you the benefits of reliable partner and ongoing reduction in costs.
- They are just a co packer: They can be much more than just an outsourced manufacturer. They can take up both upstream and downstream activities in value chain. They can make investment to scale up, as your business grows. They can also provide research and development facilities right next to manufacturing facilities. This makes a lot of sense as R&D can have direct input from manufacturing and vice-verse. You can leave all of these to your co packer, while you focus your energies into your core skills. They can be your true business partner.
Co packers add value when a business wants to focus its energies in its core competitive skills and delegate the product manufacturing operations to the experts. In fact, that is how many of the successful businesses operate today. Can you imagine, how Nike would operate if there was no co packing?