Evaluating Natural and Organic Cosmetic Manufacturers
So you think you might be ready to scale up production of your skincare, hair care and body care products. Where do you start? How do you select from all of the natural and organic cosmetic manufacturers available? What questions should you ask? What criterion should you use? Those are great questions and ones that came up recently in a Facebook group discussion on indie skincare. The team put our heads together and came up with some questions you can ask the manufacturers you’re interviewing. As you think about the list of questions you want to ask, it’s a good idea to have your answers in mind so that you’re not unduly swayed by a great answer that doesn’t meet your requirements.
Step One: What Matters to You?
What do your customers expect from you? This is where you start mapping your brand’s values to a production partner; you want a partner that can deliver. How flexible will you be on sustainability? How flexible are you working with ingredients that are or are not banned by Whole Foods, or have a high score on EWG’s Skin Deep? How important is having a USDA Certified Organic facility? Will you want to sell into California where PROP65 could be a problem? Will you want to take your product business international and if so, what countries are you interested in selling into? Will you sell through Amazon? Or through big chains? Or small boutiques? What is important about your packaging? Do you have a unique, hand-built retail presentation?
Make sure to write down your vision of a dream cosmetic manufacturer, and rank the top five must-haves. List the rest by nice to have or not important. You may want to keep in mind the phrase “minimally marketable features.” It’s a technology product management term to get something of value in the marketplace while you build the ultimate product that solves all your customers’ problems. It’s a good phrase for skincare, too. Start with something you can market and let your customers help you define the rest of your line.
Step Two: Questions to ask Cosmetic Manufacturers
The order of questions is less important and may vary based on your must-haves from step one. Keep a matrix with the answers from all the cosmetic manufacturers you interview on the same page. You may want to consider giving each a 1-5 score and then list the answers in detail.
- About the facility and manufacturing practices
- Is your facility GMP compliant?
- Are you a USDA Certified facility? Through which certifying organization?
- Are you an FDA Registered cosmetic company?
- Are you an OTC company?
- Can I get USDA Certification for my products?
- Are you Halal, Kosher, or Vegan certified?
- Manufacturing Capability
- Have you designed and produced products like the ones I want to bring to market?
- Can you fill (package type)?
- What are your minimum order quantities?
- Keeping you compliant
- Do you adhere to FDA guidelines for labeling and follow truth-in-labeling practices?
- Do you have a compliance officer or department we can work with?
- Will you review our labels and marketing materials for compliance?
- Can you guide us on compliance not only for selling within the United States, but internationally, and for Whole Foods, and Fulfillment by Amazon and California?
- Lead Times
- How long will it take to bring my product to market?
- How quickly can I get reorders?
- Do you require or allow me to get production samples of my product before we go into production?
- Do you buy sustainable ingredients?
- Do you use ingredients that are not sustainable or responsible?
- Do you use synthetic or manufactured ingredients?
- Can I supply my own ingredients?
- Freshness and Shelf Life
- On custom orders, do you pull a stock product off the shelf to customize and fill or do you make my product fresh at the time of order?
- How long will my products last?
- Do you use natural or organic preservation systems?
- Testing and quality assurance
- What testing do you perform as part of your quality assurance process?
- Have you ever had a product recall? If so, how was that handled?
- Do you retain batch samples for matching future products?
- Do you test for preservative efficacy and stability?
- Do you provide the documentation required in the US and internationally?
- Do you charge for documentation?
- How do you charge for R&D?
- What services do you offer and what are their fees?
- Are there deposits?
- Intellectual Property
- Who owns the IP when I develop a custom formulation?
- How much does it cost to purchase IP?
- If I don’t buy the IP, will you use my custom formula for anyone else?
Step 3: Putting it All Together
As you think about the products you will create, your price points, must-haves, and of course your budget, think too about where you believe your business will be in two years, in five years and so forth. Make sure you know if you are choosing a partner for the short term or if you are going to want to grow your business with them. It may be that one manufacturer can get you to market quickly with a stock product in your packaging, while another is going to be better for runs of 10,000 units of custom product. Sometimes you can find one manufacturer to be both your starting and long-term manufacturer.
You will also want to be sure the cosmetic manufacturer you chose is a customer-centric company. The naked truth is that developing and manufacturing with natural and organic ingredients is part art and part science. The color, viscosity, scent and even availability of ingredients will vary from lot to lot, from year to year, country to country. You’ll want a partner who embraces the variations in natural ingredients and knows how to work with you to get the product you want to put on the market.
My best piece of advice is to visit the cosmetic manufacturers you’re evaluating and meet the people with whom you’ll work. While that isn’t always possible, when it is, you’ll reap the rewards.
What other questions do you think should be on this list?