You want to create a dietary supplement. You have your concept, you’ve done the homework, and now you’re finally ready to start working through your list of (potential) contract manufacturing partners. There’s just one tiny problem – you have no idea how you’re going to find the right manufacturer for your project…
While there’s no official book or guide to vetting dietary supplement contract manufacturers, there are certain tactics, tips, and trick that have been proven pretty darn effective time and again.
Tip #1: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Lots and lots of questions.
Even though any contract manufacturer worth considering should (ideally) be open with you from the start, it’s unbelievably important that you bring your own questions to the table.
By working with a potential contract manufacturer to open up the conversation from the get-go, you can begin the process of gathering all of the information you need and they can begin the process of learning everything they need to know about you, your potential customers, and your product.
Now, at this point you may be saying, “Okay, I get what you’re saying about questions being important, but which questions am I supposed to ask?”
Once again, there really isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way when it comes to which questions are worth asking. Many of the questions that are worth asking have to do with details that are unique to your order (think factors like ingredients, ingredient sourcing, and delivery methods).
Fortunately for us, there are certain questions that anyone and everyone looking to manufacture a dietary supplement should ask their contract manufacturer (here’s where tips 2-6 come into play).
Tips #2: Learn the manufacturer’s story.
Along with being able to rattle off all their technical capabilities, certifications, and specifications, a manufacturer should be just as willing to share their story as they are to learn yours.
In almost any industry, it can be all too easy for a manufacturer to claim that their team has the resources and experience necessary to win your business. There’s just one glaringly serious problem with this reality – a contract manufacturer’s goal should be to win your business, they should want to earn it.
Even though it can be incredibly tempting to go with a manufacturer based on some great sounding claims or an enticingly low price, there’s so much more to consider! You might want to consider questions like:
- How long have you been a contract manufacturer?
- How experienced is your staff?
- How is your staff structured?
- What types of facilities do you work with? Certifications?
- Would it be possible for me to speak with an existing client?
- What’s your track record like?
And the list goes on! Throughout the quote process, a manufacturer and their staff should be willing to earn your trust through attentiveness, top-notch customer service, and a willingness to help you craft the best product possible.
Tip #3: Find out who you’re speaking with on the phone.
Just like learning your contract manufacturer’s story, you should know exactly who you’re speaking with when you’re one the phone “with your contract manufacturer.” Knowing their name isn’t necessarily enough. Here’s why….
Consider the following facts:
- Fact #1: There are a few noteworthy differences between a trained product specialist, a member of the administrative staff.
- Fact #2: More likely than not, a production specialist who’s fresh out of college will not be able to offer you the same type of service as a specialist who’s worked in the industry for the last ten years.
- Fact #3: There are many noteworthy differences between a real person (regardless of their role) and an automated answering service.
- Fact #4: Most automated answering services aren’t capable of holding a good conversation.
- Fact #5: Generally, people prefer talking to other, real people (and having their calls returned).
While some contract manufacturers and their staff will offer up full disclosure from the start, there are other manufacturers that – unless you ask them first – won’t necessarily be willing to share all the information.
Bottom line when it comes to knowing who you’re talking to: Chances are, the right manufacturer for you will put you in touch with a living, breathing, and (most importantly) qualified member of their team from the start.
Tip #4: What does their certification and compliance situation look like?
Here’s the first compliance question you should ask: Are their facilities and any other facilities that they work with NSF registered and certified? The answer to this question should always be “yes”. No exceptions.
Along with being up-to-date with all of the nutraceutical industry’s good manufacturing practices (GMPs) the manufacturer that you ultimately decided to work with should be able to get your products the certifications that you want them to have.
Depending on what type of supplement you’re looking to make and who you’re looking to make it for, there are a number of different certifications/specifications you might want to consider. Some of the most popular certifications include vegan/vegetarian, kosher, gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free.
Along with giving you all the information you need concerning certifications, industry best practices, and compliance, many (but not all) contract manufacturers will even allow you to visit their facilities, although these types of visits usually need to be scheduled in advance.
Tip #5: Can they help you with the logistics of packaging, shipping, and storage?
Especially if you’re just starting out, there’s a good chance that you still need to figure out how your product is going to be labeled, packaged, stored and shipped.
While it certainly isn’t the standard package, there are supplement manufacturers out there who will be able to help you take care of all of these components – and even those who can’t offer you all of these components should absolutely be able to offer you the resources and the guidance necessary to help you find the best solutions for you.
An Important Note Concerning Graphic Design: One of the most common mistakes a new brand owner can make is choosing to work with a graphic designer who doesn’t know dietary supplement labels and who doesn’t work with print – and you can learn all about this (and several other potentially disastrous mistakes) here.
Tip #6: They should be willing to say “no.”
Is there really a situation where you want a manufacturer to tell you, “No, we can’t/won’t be able to do that for you?”
Why, yes. Yes, there is. In fact, there are several to many situations where the difference between a good manufacturer and the right manufacturer is the ability to say “no.”
3 Situations Where You Want Your manufacturer to say, “I’m sorry, but we can’t/won’t do that for you.”
- What you’re asking for isn’t possible – Even if it seems like an incredibly good idea in theory, if it isn’t logistically possible (and they know it) your manufacturer should be confident enough to tell you so, immediately.
- What you’re asking for doesn’t make sense from a financial/ROI-focused standpoint – Ideally, your manufacturer is there to help you and your business succeed, not flop. Having the industry earned experience and knowledge to know when the numbers will and won’t play out in your favor (and the willingness to tell you when they won’t) is incredibly valuable.
- What you want wouldn’t be in compliance with the current FDA or industry-implemented regulations – Even though it’s ultimately up to a brand owner to ensure that all aspects of a product are FDA-compliant, having a contract manufacturer who knows the regulations is a major plus.
Sometimes, not getting what you want up front can be enough to save you from lost resources, time, and money further into the production process.
On the flip side of this, you may want to be wary of a contract manufacturer who’s comfortable with a “yes you to death” approach. Any good manufacturer should be able to recognize that: a) there are some things that simply can’t be done, and b) there are certain products and tasks that other manufacturers may be able to do better.
The key for any contract manufacturer is the ability to be as transparent as possible with their potential clients (and their clients) from the very start.
Finding the right contract manufacturer for your dietary supplement project may take time – and that’s okay. If there’s any aspect of the dietary supplement manufacturing journey worth investing additional time and effort into, it’s this.
Ultimately, whichever contract manufacturer you chose to work with will be responsible for shaping your dietary supplement product and for shaping your experiences and understanding of the supplement manufacturing process – for worse or for better.
By taking the time to find the right manufacturer the first time around, you’re effectively laying the groundwork for a long-term business relationship that will play a major role in the success of your dietary supplement journey.