My experience trying to find a contract manufacturer (co-man)…..

When I started my business in the summer of 2016, I was making three flavors of our nut mixes, pies, cake pops, cookies and nut butter cups…  That’s a lot…

After finishing up a business accelerator program from November 2017 through April 2018, I narrowed my focus and decided to create a brand around the nut mixes that was a bit more treat-like, dessert-like and “gifty”.  The packaging and messaging that I had were beautiful, but through my learning and customer feedback, I realized it needed to be different.  Making these changes would allow me to bring back my desserts at a later time in a more cohesive way.

I had a plan, I had a direction, and I was moving forward with a new look and more decadent flavors. Posh Nosh would soon be born.  With the connections and the resources that I had obtained from the business accelerator, I was ready to stop producing the products myself and find a contract manufacturing facility to do it for me in a scaled way.  Having a lot of product would now allow me to sell in more places, operate on line, and reach more people.  Makes sense, right?? 

So, I went ahead and hired a co-man consultant and went full steam ahead.  He identified a paleo company that made similar products for themselves.  They had just acquired more facility space, so while they were growing their brand, they wanted to start manufacturing for other brands.  Sounded like a good fit, right?  Well, I traveled (by plane) with my consultant to the facility to do my first test run.  It didn’t go very well….  Why?!?! I had provided the weights of my ingredients so that we could scale the batches.  A small test run batch of 50 pounds would help get ready to do regular sized batch runs of 150 pounds.  This is still small scale for manufacturing facilities, but is a lot more than the 12-pound batches that I was making in my shared commercial kitchen up to this point. Also, being more of a recreational baker prior to starting this company, I baked using cup measurements and not weights. When I converted my cups to grams and provided my weights to the co-man, I thought all was set and this would work out great.  Well, I later found out that the scale I was relying on for this information was not calibrated correctly, and it was too industrial for what I was measuring and wasn’t capturing the true weights….

Toward the end of the day at this co-man, after several small attempted runs and a lot of waste, we figured out the problem.  It was late in the day and I had to fly back to Chicago that night.  A lot of things had to be changed moving forward for them to manufacture my products in the right way.  I went home, measured my ingredients again, made some changes to my sourcing and was ready for the facility to try another test run (this time I would not be there to oversee).  Weeks went by before this test run was done because of many factors. 

Finally, the test run was done for the Honey flavor, and samples were sent to me.  It was delicious.  Yay!  Now I could have them do a test run for the other flavors.  I reached out and requested that, but I didn’t hear back. Days went by without hearing from anyone.  I reached out to my consultant for help and to find out what was going on. 

I was then informed that their brand products had taken off and they now didn’t have the time to produce this for me any longer in the way that was discussed.  It boiled down to the fact that it would cost me a lot more to continue forward with this facility and I still didn’t have a guarantee that it would be done….

I get it, stuff can happen. I just wish that there had been more upfront transparency so that I hadn’t put all my eggs in this basket (facility).  By the way, just days before, I had been accepted to participate in the One of a Kind holiday show in December in Chicago and I had paid a large deposit to secure my spot.  It’s an arts/crafts/gift show that draws about 70,000 people, so I thought by launching Posh Nosh there I would reach a great audience.

I’m pissed, now in scramble mode, and so frustrated by the whole situation.  I began reaching out to other facilities both near and far to see what capabilities existed.  I needed a gluten-free facility that also allows nuts.  Seems simple, but it isn’t.  My products are also baked, so the facility needed to have ovens…. Again, not so simple….

After calls and discussions with a few other possibilities, I am finding that the minimum runs for these places are so much higher than I need and can afford.  I would have to mortgage out my house for one of these places – not going to happen.  Why is this so difficult?

I had been telling myself for so long that the only way to grow and reach more people is to have a facility that has the machinery to do large quantity runs.

Well, I am back to the same place I was before this process and down thousands of dollars in time, energy, and money to try to get where I wanted to go.

While I am still in talks with a few facilities, I am tired of waiting and need to regain some control…. I have decided to launch Posh Nosh myself and not wait to get established with a contract manufacturer. I look at this as a stepping stone to get there.

I will be heading back to the shared commercial kitchen while I look for a dedicated space where I can begin hiring help and get the appropriate gluten free certification to go on our packaging...  My hope is that I can grow this little business to a size that will then naturally be able to transition into a larger facility.  It will take a bit longer and more physical sweat, but I am finally comfortable with this decision. I  will continue to look for a manufacturer along the way.

This has been a frustrating and humbling process that is not just specific to me.  I have watched my peer enteurprenuers in the food space go through the same headaches.  Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t.

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