How to approach potential manufacturing partners for food/drink brands

Business Insights

By Tom Lock, Founder, AP Brands

You may have developed an exceptionally delicious retail product but how do you find a manufacturing partner? Producing it in your home kitchen won’t take you far so, with a potential winner, you’ll need to find a manufacturing partner who can produce at scale. When you’re new to this kind of business you may feel out of your depth. However, if you take the right steps you can approach manufacturers successfully.

Over the past five years I’ve launched four snacks brands. As high-quality flavour without additives is our unique point of differentiation I’ve put a lot of emphasis on finding the right manufacturer to work with. I hope that the following tips, based on my experience will help you to do the same:

Speak to as many manufacturers as possible

Particularly if you have no prior experience in the industry it is a good idea to speak to as many manufacturers as possible.

Start with smaller manufacturers to learn the process and find out how they might be able to help with product development. Then speak to larger manufacturers to discover their volume requirements and the price difference.

Particularly in the early days you need to be able to leverage your position to get the best pricing, and the best way to do this is to have as many options on the table as possible.

Remember that small manufacturers will usually be more flexible, more willing to help with product development, and able to handle small order volumes. However, they’re usually more expensive and could struggle with larger volumes.

Larger manufacturers will often be able to deliver the best prices but often need larger volumes. As a result, you will need to be more bullish with your forecasts.

Use the language of your industry

Read books and trade publications to brush up on the relevant food law as well as general industry jargon. The more knowledgeable you sound, the more you’ll be taken seriously.

Using the wrong term or being caught out on a piece of law may seem like a relatively minor error but companies may interpret it as a sign that you’re new to the game and you might find them taking advantage. A little research is a valuable investment!

Don’t start with over-complex demands

Manufacturers don’t like hassle and generally are in the business of “making it” and then “shipping it”.

Many manufacturers are put off by complex demands. So, at least at the beginning, make your project sound as simple and easy as possible. Wait until the second or third meeting to introduce complexity.

Start by defining the absolute essential aspects of your product, things that are fundamental to your brand. With Awfully Posh, for example, it was essential for the pork scratchings to be full of flavour without any additives. Aside from these USPs, I could be fairly flexible and it was relatively easy to find a manufacturing partner.

Help them buy into in your vision for your brand

You need your manufacturer to believe in your vision, especially if you are pre-launch. Make sure you come prepared with a detailed strategy and share as much of it as you can with your potential manufacturing partners. Obviously, there will be aspects you don’t want to share, but the mission and vision need to be clear, practical and exciting.

If you can get them to buy into your growth plan you should be able to convince them to start with smaller volumes and help you grow sustainably.

Present a detailed forecast

It’s vital to deliver a detailed forecast to your manufacturing partner. Don’t be scared to be optimistic, but make sure it is still realistic. Manufacturers will want to know that your brand is likely to grow, that the price works with your commercials, and that the relationship has longevity. Remember, manufacturers will have a stake in your project, having worked out the setup and production methods for your products, so they need to know the order volumes, profits, and range is likely to grow.

Without divulging sensitive informative it will be worth breaking your forecast down by channel and month, over at least two years. Be well prepared and you’ll be taken seriously.

To grow your brand getting in touch with manufacturers is an essential step. Focus on the research and details, demonstrate a willingness to be flexible and you’ll be in a good position to find a manufacturing partner, make a good deal and have a long-term relationship as your brand and business develop.


Thomas Lock is the founder and Managing Director of Awfully Posh (AP) Brands, a FMCG snacks company. Referred to by the Daily Telegraph as "the man who made pork scratchings posh", Tom launched his pork scratching brand, Awfully Posh, in 2013. He soon launched a further three snacks brands, The British Crisp Co., The British Popcorn Co., and Create A Crisp, selling a total of over 5 million bags to date. AP Brands’ snacks are now stocked in supermarket giants such as ASDA, Tesco, Waitrose, Amazon & Wholefoods Market.

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