First, the definition: A contract packager (also called a copacker) is a company or organization that provides packaging services, and/or facilities, and/or equipment. Many copackers are specialists, focusing on a specific type of packaging, such as shrink wrapping or blister sealing, or on a market, such as pharmaceuticals or beverages. Some utilize very sophisticated high-speed machinery; others primarily use manual labor. A few contract packagers provide total turnkey solutions (see the Gillette story, page 28), while others may provide labor only. At the recent Packaging Machinery Management Conference, organized by the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute, Thomas Bacon presented a session on What To Look For When Selecting A Contract Packager. Bacon is president and founder of Aaron Thomas, a large contract-packaging firm, and current president of the Contract Manufacturing & Packaging Assn. According to Bacon, contract packaging is a strategic
business option, undertaken for numerous reasons, including cost reduction, decreased time-to-market, increased flexibility or internal “right sizing.” A copacker should be considered when the packaging volume either under (or over) utilizes current packaging lines; for a short-term requirement that requires packaging equipment you don’t have; for short runs or promotions; during plant closings; when the work is too labor-intensive; or to meet regulatory requirements. Factors to consider in selecting a contract packager include location (close proximity is preferred); experience and expertise; financial strength; staffing; and equipment. References are encouraged.
Bacon recommends a five-step approach to qualifying a contract packager for a project or longer-term relationship. First, locate possible candidates through the Internet, directories, yellow pages or trade magazines. Next, conduct a telephone interview with questions that qualify or disqualify candidates. Once the field has been narrowed, send a written vendor survey that evaluates, among many factors, ISO or GMP status, safety record and organizational chart. Step four is the on-site visit and audit; by the end of that audit, you should be ready to either award the contract or hold the contract until after improvements are made. Lastly, make the evaluation and communicate the project or business opportunity to the contract packager. In the final analysis, Bacon says, how you and your management team feel about the copacker is as important as the facts you have gleaned.
Read more: When and how to choose a Contract packager