When you're provided with the daunting responsibility of selecting a contract packager for your latest product launch or an existing product, it's easy to get overwhelmed. After all, a lot rides on proper packaging, safety, compliance, security – not to mention structural design and marketing graphics. Finding just the right contract packager can seem intimidating.

Here are a few tips to help ease you through the selection process of finding the right packager for your project.

Packager Profile And History

1. Find out what the packager's strengths are. What's their specialty? Where are they strong? Make sure they can actually do what they say and they're not just saying what you want to hear in order to get your business. Are they aligned with your requirements throughout their entire organization? Some packagers focus on big pharma while others might focus on the niche markets with creative solutions. Bottom line: do their culture and capabilities fit your needs?

2. How established is the packager? Is it a true bricks-and-mortar operation or is it a company that intends to subcontract many of the components of your business to others? How complex is their supply chain? What are their core competencies? You need to know. Make sure the packager offers you full, turnkey solutions, all under one roof and has very tight controls over their supply chain. After all, it's your product for which they are being held responsible.

3. Look at the experience of their management group. What do they bring to the table? How long have they been around? You should be partnering with a strong, experienced, capable team – not one that's a bit green. Also, find out how accessible the top leadership will be. Here's a quick test: call one of their top executives on a Friday afternoon and see if he or she is able to take your call. If not, how long does it take for your call to be returned?

4. Look for Value-Adds: Marketing continues to be a pivotal requirement in the selection of a contract packager. Does that contract packager offer the messaging that you require for your product? Ask the packager if they have capability with design, graphics, labels, inserts, cartons, and various print needs. Additionally, ask if the packager's structure will be designed in its own facility or if they intend to ship it out for structural engineering.

Regulatory Capabilities

1. Ask about FDA audits and how the packager performed. When was their last audit? Are they cGMP compliant? Were there any 483s? If a packager declines to tell you any audit information or claims that it's proprietary, consider that a concern. You need open communication with the director of Quality Assurance.

2. Ask about the breadth of their customer base. Does one customer account for half of their business or do they work with a variety, like brand and generic pharmaceuticals, OTCs and nutraceuticals? Caution: if the company does mostly nutraceuticals, check into their regulatory status to ensure they are FDA-audited and DEA-registered so that they can handle your pharmaceutical needs.

3. Does the company measure and regulate its own performance? If the packager isn't measuring their own performance capabilities, they really don't have metrics in place to determine for themselves how they are performing, whether it's quality deviations, delivery rates or something else, so they won't be self-checking and they won't be working on continuous improvements.

Project Management

1. Ask the packager to describe their project management system. You have a right to know who will be managing your project and how it will be managed. Who is the primary person responsible for shepherding your project from beginning to end? Is there a system in place to establish a production plan, examine each project element, and provide consistent and continual communications? You should be treated as a partner, and should expect expert project management coordination.

2. Find out what kind of turn-around time you should expect. How quickly can this packager turn the project around? Will they have a dedicated line just for your product's run – and for as long as it's needed? Look for a commitment to dedicated resources, and ask them to show you how that will work. Equally important: ask the company to demonstrate how they can work within your production budget, and how they intend to stay within budget throughout the life of your project.

3. Look for dedicated resource availability throughout the project. Depending on how many lots you anticipate running, the packager should be able to tell you whether or not they have the right equipment and tools needed to produce and manage your project.

4. Determine their flexibility and capacity. How flexible is their production? Do they have several lines to run your product or just one? Ask for success stories and references on product launches. Tell them you'd like to hear about their most successful launches and existing-product case histories and how they handled them.
About the author: Scott Garverick is vice president of Sales for Carton Service-Packaging Insights, a pharmaceutical packaging company that delivers original, turnkey contract and compliance packaging solutions for mid-sized and virtual pharmaceutical and nutraceutical companies throughout North America. By creating customized, original, solid-dose pharma packaging that's compliant, safe and secure, CS-PI helps pharma and nutraceutical companies increase product sales, reduce overall production costs and increase ROI. CS-PI, founded in 1926, will be announcing a new corporate name this year. A cGMP compliant packaging provider with DEA Schedule III-V approval and FDA registration and licensing, CS-PI is the nation's top packaging company in its class.