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Energy bars, food safety and contract packaging

Energy bars, food safety and contract packaging
Zego co-founders Jonathan Shambroom and Colleen Kavanagh

Zego co-founder Colleen Kavanagh shares her thoughts about the critical contract packaging portion of their operations in launching the next generation of energy bars with packaging that offers real-time data designed to improve consumer food safety (see Food safety bar set higher with allergen-reporting QR code).

How did you go about selecting a contract packager (CP)?
Colleen Kavanagh: We looked for, but couldn't find, a shared facility that is free of the top eight allergens that could meet our manufacturing needs.  Instead, we sought a copacker with a strong allergen control program already in place that was close to our offices in San Francisco.  Creative Energy Foods in Oakland filled both needs.  The proximity allows us to be at every production run to keep an eye on allergen cross contact potential.  We also needed a copacker that could be flexible with our desire to use organic, non-GMO and raw ingredients and would see us as a valuable client from the very early stages.  CEF is not scared to take on startups.
A product developer we had hired with a lot of experience in the field helped find them.
How has the CP experience been?
Kavanagh: It's been good so far. I think companies and copackers are always working to improve manufacturing—from your recipe to ingredients to packaging.  So, our relationship will always be one of working for improvement.  The Quick Response code system as we are using it requires some extra care.  

Since we have created something new here with our allergen transparency and QR system, we are working to develop what manufacturing standards should be in place to guarantee the integrity of our allergen test results as well as the economic viability of the product.  

Yes, we've done two runs with them so far and anticipate another in the next few months.  

What will be done differently for the next batch that’s packaged?
Kavanagh: Packaging is expensive and we run small batches, each with their own QR code. That means economies of scale are not on our side.  But our customers have told us the added cost is worth the peace of mind they get from seeing those test results linked to a specific batch. At the same time, we don't want any packaging waste to drive up costs further.

We always need to be sure to ask that all the ingredients are double-checked before the run happens and to make sure they have enough on hand. Since the QR code and allergen testing is batch specific, we can't divide the batch and make part of it one day and the rest at a later date when ingredient replacements are available.  Even though there are cheaper alternatives, a one-to-one, QR-to-batch dynamic makes it easiest and best for the customer, and we think that's worth it.  

What advice can you share about working with a CP?
Kavanagh: Talk to lots of people already in the industry about what to expect and what to ask for and keep asking them questions along the way. We were told this is an incredibly competitive market, but we've found folks in it to be very generous with their time.  There are a lot of eaters out there, after all.  We'll be happy to share with the industry what we are learning as we implement this new QR system with our CP.  We don't just want Zego to make safer energy bars.  We want all kids and adults with food allergies to be safer across the board when eating packaged or prepared foods.
Creative Energy Foods

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