Manufacturers and distributors face many challenges. Seasonal shifts in consumer demand and promotional pushes require a flexible workforce and production floor.

Managing unpredictable ebbs and flows is only a small part of what makes up a successful production process.

Packaging expert WePack managing director Mick Clark tells Retail Insight Network how outsourcing packaging processes can help businesses build their brand with more control while creating cost-effective solutions.

What is a contract packer?

A contract packer is a company that packages products on behalf of its clients. It is also often referred to as manufacturing or co-packing.

These packaging and labelling services can be used for many types of products including pharmaceuticals, foods, beverages, industrial and household products.

Contract packing is required by businesses that do not have their own packaging workforce or internal expertise. It is essential for businesses where a high volume of distribution is required. It allows businesses to have goods packaged offsite, at a controlled cost.

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If a business is creating lower volumes of goods, then a co-packer will not be necessary. It’s important to consider the capabilities of your own workforce too. If companies have the required internal expertise to oversee packaging processes, then co-packing may not be needed in these circumstances either.

What solutions does a contract packer provide?

Co-packers are experts in creating the services and packaging solutions for an array of materials including loose bulk products, gifts, cosmetics, pet products, and a whole host of others.

There is a growing need for packaged liquid filling services too. Liquid filling involves putting viscous or non-viscous liquids – gels, creams, lotions, syrups etc. – into a variety of containers or receptacles.

As well as filling to small 2ml glass vials to 5 litre jerry cans and everything in between, we are also finding spouted pouches are trending high at present, as they arrive flat packed, which saves massive space in warehouses, increasing storage space generally.

 What are the business benefits?

One of the biggest benefits is that co-packing can be used to control your business’s costs. Work is agreed at a fixed rate, so your pricing is also fixed, which is essential in helping companies calculate clearly and simply their baseline costs on the packaging element of their products.

Co-packers are usually specialists in several fields too, which means they can steer their customers towards the most suitable packaging for their needs.

Experienced packaging partners also know when to add emerging and trending materials to their production lines. Many companies now prioritise renewable and recyclable materials for their business packaging solutions.

Regulators are moving on the issue, and retailers and FMCG businesses are leading the way, making self-assured commitments to enhance their packaging sustainability and to fundamentally re-strategise their packaging methods.

How can co-packers help companies?

A co-packer can assist companies in finding the right materials that meet both packaging and sustainability requirements.

For example, sunlight can be an issue for many products, which is why co-packers ensure certain colour or flavour-sensitive products are packaged in amber glass or PET bottles.

The brown glass or PET reduces greatly the damaging UV light, meaning products maintain their quality, flavour and colour for longer. It is this insight and expertise required, which you would only gain from working with a co-packing expert.

Using a co-packing service can resolve space constraints too, especially for those companies that may run from offices in cities. Often these businesses are mainly sales-focused and have no resources or space to put their products together.

These issues can be resolved by working with a third-party, as most co-packers have onsite warehouses with plenty of space to store your products. They can also assist in sourcing specific materials too if needed.

Compliance and spreading risk

Competition among co-packers can be fierce but it does ensure the best practices are followed, as strict compliance standards are essential to winning new business contracts.

Most co-packers have a range of quality and food packing / storage accreditations and regular audits, to ensure they meet all the correct regulations and health and safety measures.

Knowing this protocol is being dealt with by experts in their fields, takes the pressure off companies who may have been trying to organise packaging solutions internally.

Meeting the right compliance guidelines and industry regulations can be areas that take up a lot of head space and passing these tasks onto a third-party co-packer essentially frees up a business’s valuable time.

With a co-packer dealing with the complexities outside a business’s expertise, they can then get on with what they do best – picking up better business contracts, using their full inhouse resources.

What to look for in a potential contract packing partner

Knowing what to look for from a potential contract packing partner may seem daunting but there are some key points to consider.

Ideally, your chosen co-packer will be a business that has been running for some time and with staff who have years of industry experience.

For example, at WePack, we have over 50 years of combined experience in the sector and that does not include the knowledge some of our employees have acquired in previous, similar roles before working with us. Our 5-point quality control ensures clients’ finished products always reach the consumer in the best condition possible.

Another important point to contemplate is whether your potential partner has the right equipment needed for packing your products. If not, are they open to considering a joint investment opportunity with your company?

For example, we’ve worked with companies in the past who have contributed to the financing of new tools for us to use onsite, which we needed to purchase to ensure we could package their bespoke products for them to the highest standards.

Location should also not be overlooked. You want your co-packer to be easy to get to and with good motorway connections. This will help to minimise transport delays, especially if larger vehicles are being used to carry materials to and from the co-packer’s premises.

Finally, reliability is crucial. You want your co-packer to be able to assist if any problems arise during your time working together. Not only this, but it’s important they can flag any issues before they happen, and it is too late.

From material limitations to not meeting sustainability requirements and labels containing type errors – a reliable co-packer – with the right experience, will be able to point these out immediately, so problems do not escalate further down the line.