SOS considers itself a strategic partner and an extension of its customer’s team offering complete services from regulatory expertise to packaging, branding and ingredient sourcing. SOS sees each request as unique and takes the time to analyze process and presentation in formulating a plan that meets the customer’s specific goals and objectives.
We spoke to Michele Mullen Raske ,Founder & CEO at SOS CoPacking Solutions.
OU: Michele, did you have experience in the food business prior to starting your own copacking company?
I was actually trained in graphic design, and then worked for four years for a food broker. I enjoyed the food business but thought being a food broker was a bit boring. I realized, however, that through helping clients with packaging and design, I could continue using my creative side.
The challenges of manufacturing on the one hand and packaging and design on the other go hand in hand. Not every client wants the same kind of packaging or the same kind of product. So, you have two companies that want a pancake mix, but they are completely different.
OU: Whose pancake mix is it — yours or your client’s?
MM: So, we help the client formulate it. I really push my clients to own their own formula and not rely on a copacker to formulate for them. If the copacker doesn’t charge for formulating then the copacker owns the product. What if a customer doesn’t like a copacker and then, after a few years, the client leaves? The client will be left without a product.
OU: Do you provide the ingredients?
MM: SOS is quite flexible. We can supply the raw materials, manufacture it, package it.
Our goal is to do everything so that the customer can concentrate on one thing: selling the product. We work hand-in-hand with the client in terms of the wish list. We give the client examples. We work on the regulatory aspect of it, to ensure there are no false claims. We make sure the certifications are in line, and from there we manufacture it. All the customer has to do is focus on selling it. If there are production steps that we cannot do in-house, we outsource.
OU: Take me through the process!
MM: Sometimes a company, or really even just an individual, comes up with a dry powder drink mix in their kitchen. They want to commercialize it and put it out into the market. They come to us and we turn their recipe into a formula. For example, we will notice that most of the time we need a flavor, or a sweetener. So, we need to know what kind of sweetener they want. Perhaps they want something like ashwagandha. We bring these ingredients in-house anyway. There are a couple of flavor houses that we work with. We have to be flexible, however, because a lot of times the customers will come to us with ingredients they’ve already sourced.
OU: What kind of manufacturing do you provide in-house?
MM: The manufacturing service we provide is powder blending and packaging. The smallest we do is 550 pounds. The largest we can do is a truckload.
From there we can pack everything from a stick pack, a single serve sachet, a potato chips style bag which is a vertical form-and-fill. A lot of times, a product won’t fit into a sachet. We have to work with the density of the product and find packaging solutions for the specific product.
We do bottling anf we can do heat-induction caps. We have, for example a protein powder with a bottle and another with a zipper.
OU: What have you learned from your experiences as a copacker?
Well, I’ve been doing this for so long and there are occassions when products are so similar, there is a tendency to think “this seasoning is just like that seasoning,” but it really doesn’t turn out that way. You have to treat every product as though it’s a new idea and a new blend. We dot all our i’s and cross our t’s. We do need to reinvent the wheel. Someone will come up with something that surprises you. It’s wonderful — the creativity we see with our clients, they’ll have a vision: these, they say, are the benefits that I want people to have. A lot of the clients we see really are doing this for the good: to bring a delicious product to market, or a product that has some wonderful health benefit.
And after 20 some odd years you find ingredients and products that you really like. And then some of them you simply say “it’s another pancake mix”
OU: What brought you to OU certification?
I have worked with other copackers, and the main ones that I worked for 13 years were kosher certified. We’ve had other kosher certifiers. For me, however, the OU over the years has been the leader in kosher certification. The consumers really look at the OU as being the leader and very trustworthy.
Some other agencies — like those locally — the community that looks for kosher, don’t know these other symbols. There’s nothing wrong with them.
However, I’ve learned this, when you do something, do it right the first time. I’ve seen this with packaging. People make all sorts of mistakes with the choices they make.
OU: One last question: if your customers could understand one thing about the challenges of being a copacker, what would that be?
MM: The biggest thing that I’d like a customer to know, and especially right now, because of the Covid fallout troubles with raw material sourcing, it would help those in the industry if we can learn to pivot. For example, it used to be that when I received a purchase order for the production of a protein bottle, my lead time would be one week. Now it’s 16-18 weeks. A certain kind of lid some clients use now requires 26 weeks!
Instead of a bottle, a stand-up bag may just meet the needs a person has. My point is: I spend my days talking with clients. If you can pivot and say: this is what’s going on. We need to work together with this. The supply chain challenges are not changing anytime soon.
I feel clients need to understand flexibility. There are clients that insist on sourcing ingredients from certain countries. It is important to recognize that the supply chain is truly global and perhaps sourcing from another place will be just as good.
OU: Any comments on the new Copacker Directory?
MM: It is a great tool, and will be a great tool for the manufacturers looking for copackers.