How we sourced a manufacturer for our food business

The founders of muesli brand Cuckoo Bircher reflect on their early struggle of outsourcing production and what start-up entrepreneurs should consider

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Names: Lucy Wright and Anna McKenzie
Companies: Cuckoo Bircher
Started in: December 2013 (launched)
Company description: Premium on‐the‐go Bircher muesli pots

Describe your start-up barrier:

A huge challenge we faced with our start-up food company was finding a manufacturer/co-packer. We needed to outsource our production from the beginning for three reasons:

1.Automation: A main ingredient in our product was yoghurt and the pot therefore needed to be sealed by amachine to ensure maximum shelf life.
2.Time and focus:We wanted to free up our time to fully focus on sales and marketing.
3.Accreditations and scaling up: We have big ambitions for our brand and want to be able to scale up very quickly, as well as have the top hygiene accreditations required by retailers.

Finding a co‐packer/manufacturer that was interested in working with a small start-up to scale up the recipes was a challenge! Finding a partner who didn’t have massive minimum order quantities was also a challenge.

What steps did you take to source a manufacturer for your business?

We began searching UK dairies and rang up a huge number of them. We created a checklist of questions to ask. For example our product has oatsin it and contains traces of wheat and gluten – a number of dairies are wheat and gluten-free and therefore not able to produce Cuckoo. This was always one of our first questions we asked so as not to waste their time and ours.

We often came to the end of our checklist and the same question surrounding minimum order quantities was the downfall. We simply did not have the cashflow and listings to meet these quantities. We realised we may have to begin looking into hiring a kitchen and making the product ourselves which we didn’t want to do (see reasons above).

Just as we were losing hope we received an email from Rachel’s Organic introducing us to one of their old colleagues Andrew, who they said might be able to help us having had 15 years experience in the dairy industry. We spoke to Andrew that day and he introduced us to another colleague of his, David, who then introduced us to the manufacturer we work with today. If it hadn’t been for these two men we honestly aren’t sure what we would have done. The moral of the story is to not be afraid to call hundreds of people to ask for help and advice; if we hadn’t then we would have been making our products in a kitchen!

What key questions should other entrepreneurs ask themselves before trying to find a manufacturer or producer?

  1. What are the pros and cons of outsourcing manufacturing?
  2. What do I need from a manufacturer? (i.e. do they have the automation you require?)
  3. What are the closest products to mine and who produces them?
  4. How quickly will I be able to meet the minimum order quantities required?

What one piece of advice do you think entrepreneurs should take on board?

You have got to be prepared to spend weeks trawling the web, sending emails, phoning and meeting people, and walking up and down supermarket aisles studying products. To find the right manufacturer is normally quite tough, but you must get it right in order to grow your business.

Is there anything you would do differently?

When you’re doing something for the first time you’re bound to make mistakes and learn things that you would do differently next time. Meeting people, planning and researching eliminates a lot of mistakes!

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