Changes are coming in 2024, which in the world of contract packaging is nothing new. What’s also not new is that our ability to execute in such a dynamic market will be incumbent upon us continuing to care about our team members and supporting their needs, wellness and safety. We’re fortunate in that our core team has remained so stable in 2023, with over 94 percent retention from the prior year, and we will be counting on them again this year to help us and our customers navigate a challenging landscape.
So, in the spirit of proactive thinking, what are the top six challenges that our team members and our customers can expect in 2024 – and how will we need to respond?
We don’t know if we will have a recession or have a soft landing in 2024, but we do know the US consumer will have fewer dollars to spend. With savings now depleted, consumers are starting to shift their buying to more “as needed” or “when needed,” if possible, and they are being more judicious in their shopping. In response, our CPG customers will need to create greater differentiation at the retail point of purchase to battle against consumers trading down, and they will need to focus on more value-based offerings – like bundled packs and variety packs – to entice finicky consumers to choose their products.
At the same time, we have to play our part as an economically feasible co-packer, which is why we will continue to strategically place our multi-client facilities in locations with cost- effective labor that also are close to supply routes and consumers to reduce shipping costs. According to this CNBC ranking, all of our locations are in the top 15 states to do business.
Some analysts expect supply chains to normalize in 2024. However, we believe differently. Large retailers are shifting back to just-in-time inventory management, while the world still deals with weather challenges, geo-political conflicts, labor disputes, and one-off events that can paralyze a supply chain. The onus is on us as next-gen co-packers to stand ready to respond to customer challenges and still get the right product to the right place, at the right time. As evidenced by the Houthi missiles effectively shutting down the Suez Canal, the challenges will come from left field and may be acute. We’ve successfully run customer projects simultaneously in two-plus facilities since 2020, and we’re confident our team will be asked to do this at a record level in 2024.
Providing this resiliency will require common systems, culture and tight collaboration across facilities – while at the same time maintaining the entrepreneurial mindset that agility requires. Our job will be to support and enable our team members to continue excelling at their crafts.
We have seen influencer marketing create spikes in our customers’ product demand, sometimes by a factor of 50 percent, overnight. Now add in AI and targeted product drops, coupled with more sophisticated search engine optimization, and we’ll see demand waves in greater spurts and with greater magnitude in 2024. On top of that, our customers – and their competitors – will be using AI to launch new products and/or kill programs at faster clips, which will require that we respond with even greater agility and scalability.
Having the right managers who are properly trained and motivated, the right staffing resources, and the necessary facilities, equipment and software will all increase in importance in 2024. In the world of co-packing, scale and scalability up/down will both matter even more to master the growing spikes and valleys.
More consumers across the country care about sustainability and choose products accordingly. As a result we can expect many of our CPGs to require more reporting and active management from their co-packers. As a baseline, we have been calculating and publishing our Scope 1, 2 and 3 GHG (Greenhouse Emissions) since 2020, and that has helped us better manage our business.
Now, to help our customers who need even more insights into the carbon footprint of their full supply chains, we will start parsing out the data for individual customers, projects and even units that we co-packed.
The bar for food safety continues to go up, for good reason. Costco, for example, is now requiring its Kirkland food suppliers to undergo unannounced SQF audits in 2024, and other leading retailers are pushing for their suppliers to achieve high marks with third party certifiers as well.
We received our first SQF certification in 2018 and have received “Excellent” SQF ratings in all of our facilities assessed to-date (to include two unannounced), which we attribute to an “everyone owns quality” culture. As we move forward, we will need to maintain that level of excellence and continue delivering projects that meet or exceed our customers’ quality expectations.
3PLs and contract packagers are so synergistic yet so different culturally and process-
wise. Versus a 3PL, co-packing requires a unique culture, flexibility, focus, structure and expertise. Yet our customers’ inventory may often be warehoused and managed by a leading 3PL, meaning there are benefits to us physically working together on the customers’ behalf.
So, as we move into 2024, expect us to leverage our experience with 6+ embedded solutions to truly partner with qualified 3PLs – by creating a best-of-breed solution for our mutual customers while retaining our unique 3PL or co-packing DNAs.