One of the biggest decisions you will make as a startup liquor brand is whether to build a brick-and-mortar distillery or outsource the production to another company. There are certainly benefits to having in-house control of production, but if you choose not to go that route, you can still start a brand by working with a contract producer.
There is a vast network of contract producers, or “co-packers,” in the U.S. that offer a variety of services so Park Street University is kicking off a series of interviews with co-packers to help you learn more before deciding on the alcohol contract producer that is right for you.
Wildpack Beverage is one such co-packer that operates two production facilities and five packaging facilities for canned products. We spoke to Rebecca Hunsberger, the Manager of Business Development at Wildpack Beverage to learn more about the services offered by Wildpack and how they can potentially work with you to meet your brand’s goals.
Our Interview with Wildpack Beverage
Tell us a bit about Wildpack Beverage.
Wildpack is a can supply and co-packing company with five facilities across the US. What makes us unique is our industry-disrupting approach to vertical integration within the aluminum packaging and co-packing spaces.
Our co-founders are three friends who originally set out to start a beverage company themselves. They quickly realized how hard it was to find mid-market Co–Packers who were responsive, modern, and fit their needs. The contract manufacturing industry existed on two ends of a spectrum with nothing in between. On one end, there were small co-packers who weren’t ready to produce more than a couple of thousand cans at a time and couldn’t provide or store packaging or ingredients. On the other end of the spectrum, there were large co-packers whose minimum order quantities were too high.
Recognizing a hole in the industry, they pivoted to create a solution: a nationwide network of co-packing and packaging facilities built to grow with brands. They founded Wildpack in 2017 and have grown to five facilities and counting. We now operate two co-packing facilities and five packaging facilities where we supply sleeved, printed, and brite cans. We work exclusively with aluminum packaging and are one of only six value-added providers through Ball manufacturing.
What are the primary benefits of co-packing from your perspective?
When beverage brands are just starting out, there is a choice to be made: build your own facility or choose a contract manufacturer. Choosing the latter can be a huge gain for beverage brands. Even the largest beverage brands in the world (Coke & Pepsi) use some level of contract manufacturing. The reason is that building, operating, and managing your own production facility requires a huge time and money commitment. Unless you’re already at the point where you’d need a facility dedicated to producing your beverage 24/7, there is no need to make the investment in owning a facility outright.
What Wildpack has done is take what could be a complicated journey in understanding beverage manufacturing and make it seamless, a one-stop-shop service. The reason to choose us as your co-packer is that we have simplified manufacturing processes so that you can spend your time and money focused on your brand, marketing, and sales.
What Services does your company offer?
We can help beverage entrepreneurs from ideation all the way through to the finished product. We offer private label development, packaging, and co-packing. Our private label development arm works with large brands to formulate new products. We can help get you connected with everyone from flavor houses and formulators to graphic designers.
Typically, we work with brands that already have packaging designs and formulas in hand. Once we have both of those pieces of the puzzle, we can help with ingredient and packaging sourcing as well as co-packing. We have in-house quality assurance and testing teams and are constantly ensuring that your beverage meets the specifications and standards needed. We do not function as a distributor or warehouse.
What information do you recommend a supplier have ready when approaching a co-packer?
Before going to any co-packer, brands should have a manufacturing-ready formula in hand. We recommend using our private label offering or going directly to a formulator or flavor house. Folks will also need to procure a Process Authority letter from a food scientist. This letter will state what needs to be done to your beverage in order to make it shelf-stable.
In addition to a formula and process authority letter, it’s best to come to a co-packer with an idea of your budget/ideal volumes. Many co-packers have different minimum order quantities and some are set up to do larger runs than others. Some co-packers are set up to do pilot runs (a couple thousand cans) while others won’t run less than a few million cans. We aim to be a mid-market solution and, for that reason, we’ve kept our minimums low (4,000-6,000 gallons per SKU). We also offer pilot runs but don’t recommend running anything less than 1,000 gallons per SKU at a time with us.
Finally, you’ll need to have an idea of what kinds of packaging you want to use. You’ll want to take a look at what’s on the market and decide what makes the most sense for your product. Start thinking about the ideal can size/volume and ideal pack-out (4 pack, 6 pack, grab & go singles). You’ll also want to think about the ideal type of decoration for your cans whether that’s a sticker label, sleeve, or direct printed can.
Is there a minimum order quantity (MOQ) at Wildpack?
We aim to be the best solution for mid-market beverage brands. For that reason, our minimum order quantities are 4,000 gallons per SKU for multiple SKUs and 6,000 gallons for a single SKU. For 12oz cans, that’s around 42,000 units for multiple SKUs and 64,000 units for a single SKU.
We supply all packaging for our co-packing clients as well as many breweries and other brands who cannot co-pack with us. Our MOQ for packaging varies based on the finish. For sleeved and brite cans, our MOQ is a half pallet per SKU. For printed cans, our MOQ is a single truckload per SKU. We often supply packaging to customers who are not co-packing with us.
Does your team take care of the delivery?
Wildpack can help arrange freight for any finished goods or packaging. We do not offer long-term storage of finished goods.
How does Wildpack determine pricing for its services?
When you reach out to Wildpack, one of the first things you’ll receive is our transparent and easy-to-navigate price sheets. Pricing will vary based on the customer’s needs – kill step, packaging decisions, additional manufacturing steps and testing, and certifications. As a brand orders more, pricing goes down. The vast majority of our co-packing customers sign annual contracts based on projected volumes. This allows them to take advantage of volume-based price breaks over the course of an entire year.
What is the average lead time from agreement to completion?
For new products going through Private Label Development, the process of ideation and formulation can take anywhere from a few months to a year. For brands coming to us with all documentation and design prepared, the lead time from signed orders and deposits made to finished products is usually 90-120 days. Lead times for packaging is much shorter.
What are some common mistakes you see in the contract packaging process?
One of the biggest mistakes we see is not consulting with a co-packer early on in your formulation or ideation process. Making sure your beverage will be scalable from the beginning can save brands time and money in the long run.
I’d also recommend thinking about packaging ahead of time and consulting with a packaging supplier. Many folks come to us with dreams of putting their beverage in a certain size or design of can without understanding the limitations of their supply chain. If brands can understand these limitations early on, they can avoid creating costly mistakes.
Do you have any suggestions on how to get a successful outcome?
Call us! We understand that most co-packers and packaging suppliers don’t pick up the phone. They make it hard to get a hold of them and, therefore, it can be intimidating or just downright difficult to plan ahead and get clarity. We are built to solve that issue.
The Business Development team at Wildpack is always happy to take a call. For that reason, our suggestion is to reach out while you’re ideating and/or formulating so that we can help you make the small, early decisions that will serve your business in the long run.