Your first production run?

It’s kind of like the first day of school. You need to have all of your paperwork in order, dressed in the right clothes, and make new friends. And not to mention those lists you get of the stuff your kid needs.

If you think of your kid as your company and the list preparer as your co­-packer, here’s the list of things you need. By the way this is one chapter in an in-depth series I’ve published called The Complete Guide to Profitable Co-Packing. This guide explains everything about the food manufacturing process and is completely free!

mustard on display

Me with my mustard at a local farmer’s market.

What your food manufacturer needs from you are:

1. Scheduled process (​optional for some, but recommended for all)

If you make an acidified food (like mustard, jam, pickles, salad dressing), you need a scheduled process. A scheduled process is a document that states your production methods are sound. It also states critical control points, like pH and fill temperature. Scheduled processes can be completed at several college campus across the US like Cornell, University of Maine, and NC State.

Scheduled process are needed by your co­packer so they know how to produce your product. Plus, they’re going to want to know any “production secrets” you may have like prep of fresh produce, order of operations, etc.

2. Certificate of Insurance

food manufacturing

Food Manufacturing Facility.

From day one, you should have $1 million in product liability insurance and $2 million in general aggregate. This products you, your products, and your company from a lawsuit (which hopefully never happens).

You may also have to name your co­packing facility as additionally insured. This is sometimes included in your annual premium. If not, it’s $25­ – $50 per additionally insured party. This protects your co­-packer from liability of your products.

3. Your production dates

How often are you going to need space? How much product will you be producing? Should you schedule these dates ahead of time? Communicate all of this to your co­packer because you need to get penciled (err…pened) in to their calendar. The last thing you want is to not be able to meet demand because you can’t get on your co-­packer’s schedule! That would be killer.

I like to forecast demand (or at least try) 6 months out and schedule productions accordingly. To give you an example of how crazy I am, I have production scheduled for the entire year­ 3 months ahead of time. It’s better to have more production dates than you need and cancel them than not enough.

4. Information about incoming shipments

I like to provide my kitchen manager with a heads up when big shipments are coming in ­like hundreds of pounds of mustard powder or pallets of glass. I ask her when a good delivery time would be and order accordingly. This not only helps her to anticipate when large deliveries will be happening, but it’s respectful and puts me on good terms.

5. Honest and Open Communication

While this isn’t a tangible item, it’s incredibly important. Why? Because you could forget to tell your co­packer about a process change or be upset with something and hold a grudge ­ neither are good. I tell my co­packer pretty much everything if it relates to our working relationship. She helps me solve problems and I help her solve problems. The relationship was built on honest and open communication ­­ and it should always stay that way.

You Might Like This: Download My Food Business Model Canvas with Template

With all of your paperwork in, you’re ready to get your first production run at your new facility under your belt. But, don’t just let it happen. Be proactive and show up at your production. See how everything works and where there could be improvements.

Before you walk in that door, here are a couple things to think about before, during, and after after you fire up the kettle.

How to make your first food manufacturing experience a success


Ever go on a mustard flight?

Note:​ You may be using your first production to test and scale up your recipe. This is a critical step if you don’t have scaled recipes. From weighing out your ingredients to making sure your spice blends are right when you increase production, d​o not skip this step.​ Sure, it might cost you money, but it’s better to screw up a 5­ gallon batch of product than 200, right? Glad we agree there.

Produce what you need:

Similar to above, produce what you need, even if this means an increased per unit cost. Producing excess product puts you in a bind because then you have to sell that product. And if you don’t have retailers, distributors, or customers lined up to take the product off your hands, it’ll sit there and go past code.

Produce to demand. If you need to increase by 10­20%, that would be fine, too. That way, you have a little extra in case you get a spike in demand.

Stay calm and collected:

Your first production can quickly put you in a state of frantic hair­pulling. Take a deep breath. Your co­packers have years of experience under their belts. You’re in good hands. Of course, that doesn’t mean problems aren’t going to happen. On my first production day, I brought in the wrong salt (yeah….). I panicked because I needed a significant amount.

Luckily salt is cheap and my co-­packer has extra on hand. Learn from me. Everything will be ok. You’ll get help and figure it out.

Audio Lesson: The 6-Step Marketing Plan for a Home-Based Bakery

Don’t critique:

Your co-­packer is going to do things differently ­­ simply by nature of who they are and the equipment they’re using. Let them work through your recipe. What you do on your stovetop at home is going to be significantly different to how you make your product in bulk.

And you never know, your recipe may end up better in the end because of it. Several of my mustards have better consistency and texture after being made in bulk. All thanks to ideas my kitchen manager had. Watch and learn. Don’t critique until you’re finished.

Debrief at the end:

When you’ve cleaned the kitchen up, talk with your production manager and kitchen manager to review what went right and wrong. Bring up the success of the days and areas you think need to be improved ­­ either on your end or the co-­packers end. This opens the door with honest communication. While some of it may be tough love, when you drive home you’ll be glad you got everything you wanted off your chest.

Your first p