It has become abundantly clear that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created numerous challenges to the perishable food industry. One of the farthest-reaching challenges involves how to bring new and innovative products to market.
In the past, startups could travel easily, making numerous in-person connections in order to garner interest in their new product. That cannot happen safely now. And even once a new product has sufficient interest, the quest to upscale manufacturing begins.
Finding the right co-packer for an emerging business has always been a challenge, even pre-COVID. But the industry is facing new challenges that make bringing new food products to the market even more difficult than before.
Supply Chain Instability
One of the first challenges the perishable foods industry faced due to the pandemic was the breakdown of the supply chain. Consumer demand for food staples rose sharply as families stayed home and cooked meals in the home rather than visiting restaurants. Manufacturers were not prepared for the increasing demand, and we are still feeling the effects of this today. This instability gives even less space for incorporating new, unproven products into their workflow.
Consumer Buying Habits
For the most part, consumers have been relying heavily on proven brands and products. There is comfort in the familiar, and this especially holds true for food buying. However, one could argue that reliance on the familiar is partially driven by the lack of variety. And some industry experts predict that consumers will eventually tire of their usual purchases, and will be looking for something new to try.
A short run of a new specialty food item is one of the most inefficient ways for a manufacturer to operate. By necessity, they have their eye on large production runs of reliable, proven brands. This presents a challenge to small businesses with new items to offer.
What New Food Businesses Can Do
While the current state of the industry is still unpredictable, innovation is still the best way to grow your business. Industry leaders recommend preparing new food product offerings now, to be better positioned post-COVID.
Finding an affordable co-packer is still one of the most difficult steps in accelerating your growth. But there are steps you can take to help find the best match for your business.
- Research your chosen potential co-packers ahead of time to get an idea of what they can offer in terms of equipment and services
- Know at least the general parameters of what your product(s) will need:
- type of packaging
- general product category
- does it require refrigeration
- potential allergens
- transportation needs
- Decide what kind of co-packer you will need:
- some are turnkey and provide additional services, ingredients, and packaging
- others give you more control over ingredients
Current consumer purchasing trends and supply chain challenges will continue to impact co-packers’ available capacity. However, putting time into research and planning can help you cultivate a better relationship with the manufacturer you ultimately partner with. Product development continues, even in the midst of the pandemic, with the expectation that there are better days ahead. Innovation will continue to propel growth, and creative new food companies will be at the forefront of that innovation.