After the pandemic hit, major consumer packaged goods companies turned to their co-manufacturers to assist in meeting the unanticipated surge in demand as stay-at-home households stocked up on their core products. Today, many co-packers are still running their production lines at full tilt to keep retailers’ shelves full. That’s made it challenging for startup brands that often turn to outside manufacturers to bring their products to market.

“There is a risk to small brands that when it’s time to reach out to co-manufacturers, they won’t actually have any capacity,” said Jessica Cristadoro partner, Food Business Consulting.

Finding the right co-packer has always been one of the biggest challenges that incubators face. It has just become more difficult since the coronavirus (COVID-19) struck.

“With so many new companies started over the last 10 years, finding capacity can be daunting,” said Linsey Herman, vice president, product development for Factory LLC. “Some co-packers want equity for the effort along with tolling.”

Tolling, she said, is the cost per unit produced on a production line — similar to what cars pay on a tollway. Some co-manufacturers are turnkey and charge more because their services include everything, including providing ingredients and packaging. Others allow their customers to control the ingredients used in their products. Typically, co-packers require payment about 15 days after the products are made.

“There’s no single model out there, so research is vital,” Ms. Herman said. “The best co-packer relationships are ones where both sides have realistic expectations for the other and are willing to grow together.”

That’s the best way for incubators to bring much-needed innovation to the market these days.