Got a food biz? If so, you’ll probably need a copacker sometime soon.
Whether you’re selling your grandma’s famous lemonade or a delectable muffin recipe of your own, food businesses are thriving in the US. As an entrepreneur working on a small regional scale, you’re probably handling everything from manufacturing to packaging.
But you probably want your kitchen back at this point.
After all, more sales are great, but at a certain point, it’s just not reasonable to fulfill 5,000+ units from your apartment.
As your business grows and becomes more successful, you need room to grow (and we mean that literally). You’re at a crossroads: you want to outsource manufacturing and labeling to save yourself the hassle, but how in the world do you make the right decision?
At this point, you can either continue doing what you’re doing (and stop growing in the process, by the way) or go with a copacker.
Chances are, you want to grow your small business into something mighty, and that means taking your biz to the next level.
Let’s look at the ins and outs of copacking, which businesses benefit from it, and the top 18 copackers in the US.
How does a copacker work?
A copacker is a company that specializes in manufacturing and packaging your products.
Whether you’re selling beverages, frozen foods, or baked goods, there’s a copacker out there that handles everything for you.
If you want your cookies to arrive in a certain package (or even at a certain temperature), the copacker works with your specifications to make everything happen.
You have plenty of options for copacking, too:
- Full-service: These copackers do everything for you. They handle manufacturing, packaging, warehousing, and even order fulfillment.
- Packaging: If you want to handle the manufacturing yourself, you can hire a copacker to do the packaging and that’s it.
- Private label: These copackers actually sell their own products and packaging. You pick a product from their catalog, slap your logo on it, and sell it like it’s your own.
Basically, copacking is a great option if you’re running a food or beverage business that’s grown beyond what you can handle in-house.
At first, this might sound like a godsend for your business! But hey, nobody does anything for free these days.
The price you’ll pay for your copacking service varies a lot. That’s because it’s dependent on the type of copacker you work with and the level of service you need.
Generally speaking, the more help you need, the more expensive it is (but the tradeoff is that you save more time and hassle).
You’ll see several types of pricing in copacking, but the most common are:
- Flat day rate: This is the rate you’ll pay for a day of copacking service with all of the fees rolled into one. So, if you have a copacker help you every day of the month, you’d pay the flat day rate times 30.
- Per unit: Some copackers charge by the units they produce. A good cost is $0.25 - $0.50 per unit, but it really depends on your level of service and the complexity of the product.
- Per hour: Maybe you don’t have enough demand yet to keep a copacker busy all day. That’s fine! You can pay an hourly rate so you get help as needed. You can always try increasing to a flat day rate once you get more business.
If you want to know how much a copacker will charge your biz, just hop on the phone with one. They’re more than happy to offer free estimates so you can pick the service that works best for you.
The benefits of a copacker
Maybe you got a quote already and had a mini heart attack after hearing the price for a copacker.
We get it: it’s hard paying a vendor to do something that you’ve been doing yourself.
But sometimes expansion is just a reality of business, right? You do have to pay for a copacker, but you’ll enjoy a lot of benefits in exchange, like:
- Scalable production: Honestly, copacking is the quickest and most cost-effective way to launch a food brand. Copacking gives you scalable production without the massive overhead costs of owning your own factory or warehouse.
- Food safety improvements: Food safety is a big concern, especially if you’ve been making your product at home. Let your manufacturer take on the burden of food safety instead of obsessing over it yourself.
- Getting your time back: As a business owner, a lot of things are competing for your attention. Instead of worrying about manufacturing, you can focus on growing your business, finding customers, and making more sales. Let the experts handle the finicky logistics of product sourcing.
Look, a lot of businesses use copackers.
The global contract packaging market is projected to reach nearly $119 billion by 2025, which is a huge leap from its $52.3 billion value in 2019.
Even if you aren’t investing in a copacker, we guarantee your competition is. Stop torturing yourself with self-fulfillment and outsource these tasks to stay competitive.
4 situations where you need a copacker
We do think copacking is a smart solution for food brands, but it isn’t right for everyone. Copacking is a good decision if any of these 4 situations apply to your biz.
1 - You have a scalable recipe
Does your grandma’s secret recipe have to be made in a small batch by hand? If so, it’s probably not going to be a good idea to hire a copacker for that.
Copackers are best used for products that aren’t super unique.
They use machines to make the majority of their products, so if you have a product that can’t be made by a machine, you might be better off handling it in-house.
Your recipes also need to be very precise. For example, most manufacturers will measure ingredients by weight instead of by volume (since weight is more reliable at scale).
If you “just wing it” every time you make your product, it’s going to be hard to achieve the same quality with a copacker at scale. Make sure your recipe is top-notch before you go to a copacker.
2 - You have enough consumer demand
Is your business ready to grow? Because once a copacker takes over manufacturing, packaging, and logistics, you’re ready to fulfill much more customer demand. Keep in mind that copackers often have minimum requirements to accept you as a new client.
Make sure there’s enough customer demand so you aren’t sitting on thousands of unsold TV dinners.
3 - You have enough capital to cover paying your copacker
Demand is one thing, but you need cold, hard cash to pay a manufacturer. Copacking is an investment in your business’s future, but the pricing varies a lot depending on the level of service you need.
Copacking covers the bulk of manufacturing to reduce your cost per unit, which is great. But you still have to cover other costs like:
- Research and development
Don’t let a copacker stretch your budget too thin.
Get a few quotes and make sure you have enough breathing room in your business’s budget to take them on as a vendor.
4 - Your lead times make sense
What’s your lead time like right now?
If it takes weeks to ship products to customers, it might be faster and more efficient to use a copacker.
Reputable manufacturers work very fast, helping you get through production quickly while still hitting your performance standards. Manufacturers are ruthlessly efficient, so any current lags in your lead times will probably disappear (or shorten) with a copacker.
The 18 best copackers for US food brands
If copacking makes sense for your business, you might wonder, “What’s the next step?” There are hundreds of copackers in the US to choose from.
Fortunately, we’ve done all of the digging for you. Check out our 18 favorite copackers for beverages, baked goods, frozen foods, and condiments to find the right manufacturer for your food brand.
For beverage brands
Are you selling kombucha, a zany new soda, or tasty lemonade? Partner with a copacker that specializes in beverage manufacturing to make your dollars go further.
APPC is a major contract manufacturer in the southwest US, but it works with brands from around the world.
Need bottling help? APPC does teas, infused water, energy drinks, and non-carbonated bottle drinks. It can even do specialty bottles made from PET and HDPE, if that’s important to you. They also provide canning for cold-fil carbonated beverages.
If you’re worried about food safety, Arizona Production & Packaging offers full lab services for testing.
It’s also Kosher, Halal, and non-GMO friendly, if your products rely on any of those formulations.
Stapleton’s does both hot and cold fills in PET bottles. You can go to them for private label services, too, if you want to sell a beverage from their huge catalog.
Their other services include bottling, bulk aseptic, and process development.
With an insane 99% order fill rate and on-time delivery, Stapleton’s is a solid choice for beverage copacking.
Oh, and they’re also certified by the FDA, USDA, and BRC; Stapleton’s is also Kosher and Organic certified.
“Garage” might not make this sound like a reputable copacker, but Joe’s Garage Coffee is a great option for new beverage brands.
We like Joe’s because they have low minimums, so if your small biz is just starting to scale, they can help you out.
But don’t worry: Joe’s also has high capacity for larger enterprise businesses, too.
Enjoy short lead times with Joe’s Garage Coffee, getting your product on shelves in a matter of a few weeks. Businesses rave about Joe’s great customer service, but they also love its Organic, Kosher, and BPI certifications.
Carolina Beverage Group is massive. It has locations in North Carolina, Texas, and Minnesota, so it can serve brands from across the country.
CBG specializes in non-alcoholic carbonated and non-carbonated beverages. But if you sell alcohol, they’ve got your back: CBG also manufactures distilled spirits, malt beverages, and wine.
Because of its sheer size, CBG has state-of-the-art labs, high-speed production, and even custom warehouse management systems. Fancy, eh?
The Drink Ink is great for brands that want to create a beverage formula and sell it to the masses. Rely on them to help you:
- Fine-tune your formula.
- Source materials and ingredients.
- Manufacture beverages.
- Get ongoing support as you grow.
If you want to private label a beverage product, The Drink Ink lets you do that, too. With low order minimums and fast turnarounds, this is the perfect option for small, scrappy beverage startups.
For baked goods brands
Cookies, muffins, and bread—oh my! You might be an accomplished baker, but there’s an art and science to getting your baked goods in the hands of thousands of shoppers. Rely on these copackers to grow your baked goods brand.
Bake Works offers contract manufacturing as well as private labeling. You can partner with these folks to either make your existing recipe or to collaborate on an entirely new product.
They boast an impressive laundry list of certifications, too:
- SQF Level 2
This might sound random, but GFI has specialized equipment for manufacturing whoopie pies (which are hard to make with normal machinery, apparently).
If you’re amassing your fortune with whoopie pies, these are your people.
Aside from that, GFI also specializes in high-volume baked goods production as well as private label gourmet foods, if you’re fancy AF.
Gagne’s specialty is in the frozen laminated dough world. If you’re selling croissants, puff pastry, or pie dough, these are your people. They offer contract manufacturing as well as baked goods product customization.
We like Gagne Foods because they’re not messing around.
They offer chef-led research and development and have a handful of certifications under their belt as a copacker:
- GFSI compliant
- SQF Level 3
Montana Cookie Company is all about—you guessed it—cookies. But more specifically, they’re a co-manufacturer for gluten-free, soy-free, and nut-free cookies.
So if your product caters to cookie-lovers with allergies, MCC is a great option.
They offer labeling, ingredient sourcing, manufacturing, and distribution for cookie companies across the US. MCC does require a daily minimum volume of 2,000 pounds, though, so make sure you’re ready to produce at scale when you give them a call.
For frozen foods
The frozen foods market will be worth $404.8 billion by 2027. Make sure you’re getting a piece of that pie by partnering with an experienced copacker who knows a thing or two about frozen foods.
Want to offer green packaging in all of your frozen foods? Hudson Blaise is the right copacker for the job. They specialize in frozen meal production and delivery.
Whether you want to deal with 200 pounds of goods or 200,000 pounds, Hudson Blaise scales flexibly with your business.
If you’re catering to vegans and vegetarians, Sun Leaf Foods is the perfect frozen meal copacker for your brand.
They specialize in frozen plant-based foods.
Sun Leaf Foods acts as a copacking project manager on behalf of your company. They source copackers from their network as well as storage options that are specifically designed for plant-based ingredients.
Gray Growth offers refrigerated and frozen food contract manufacturing.
They actually work as a consultant on everything from product development, logistics, manufacturing, and marketing.
Basically, if you’re new to the frozen foods game and need someone with extensive experience (and contacts), Gray Growth can help you out.
Hey, we couldn’t forget about ice cream! “Snoqualmie” might be a mouthful, but it’ll give a big assist to your ice cream brand. They offer copacking and private label manufacturing for:
- Ice cream
- Frozen custard
… and more. They also specialize in plant-based, keto, paleo, and gluten-free options if you want to serve a more discerning customer base.
For condiments, sauces, and jams
The US condiment market has grown by 1.5% every year from 2016 - 2021. Just look at how many sauces, jams, and condiments you have in your fridge!
Americans go gaga for the latest hot sauce, and that’s good news for your biz. If it’s time to scale up production, check out these 5 condiment copackers.
IPAC is a copacker that specializes in manufacturing sauces and dressings. It offers services like:
- Shipping and storage
- Research and development
When it’s time to convert your home recipe into a scalable, production-friendly formula, IPAC can help you design a product that’s safe and shelf-stable.
They don’t have order minimums, which is awesome for small brands. However, you do get price breaks when you order in larger quantities, so keep that in mind as you grow.
HOF is a family-owned and operated farm in the mountains of Georgia.
It sounds like a weird pick for a copacker, but this family farm also offers private label and copacking services.
Hillside Orchard Farms is an “acidified processing plant” which means it helps brands produce things like:
These folks know a thing or two about preserves, so if jelly is your game, this copacker is for you.
Tulkoff works with condiment brands for development, ingredient sourcing, packaging, production, and distribution.
These guys have over 85 years of experience as a copacker, so they definitely aren’t messing around.
In fact, Tulkoff is the largest manufacturer by volume in the US for condiments, sauces, and other ingredients. Because of that, Tulkoff does have higher minimum requirements than other copackers, so it’s better for more established brands.
Braswell’s handles jams, jellies, preserves, sauces, and seasonings for copacking and private label services. They offer hot and cold fill lines as well as a wide variety of glass and plastic containers for packaging.
Since safety is a big concern with preserved goods, Braswell has an in-house laboratory to test for shelf life and microbiological quality control.
With a low minimum order of 350 cases, Braswell’s is a great option for growing brands.
Duke Foods specializes in all things dips and deli spreads. It’s known for transforming popular local brands into gigantic regional and national household names
(If you’ve ever bought brands like Hidden Valley or Texas Pete, you’ve seen Duke Foods in action).
Duke Foods bills itself as a single solutions partner for research and development, brand strategy, and even fresh food production. It can help you with darn near everything, including:
- Private label
- Product development
Scaling your business is one of the most important but stressful things you’ll ever do. You’re free to continue baking hundreds of muffins in your apartment every week, but if you’re ready for a change, go with a professional copacker.
Remember to do the math and see if you’re ready for a copacker. Your business should have both demand and cash flow to stay profitable as you start outsourcing.
Oh, and make sure you choose a copacker who’s experienced in your niche. Choose from these 18 best copackers in the United States to put your business on the road to easy street.
But copacking is just the beginning. You have the volume to service thousands of shoppers; but how do you find them?
Partner with an influencer marketing platform like Trend. We help food and beverage brands connect with engaged shoppers to make a bigger splash online. Create your free Trend account now.