when starting a food business, one important decision you need to make (among about a million others of course) is whether you will invest in the people and equipment needed to make the product yourself, or whether you will hire an existing manufacturing facility to make it for you. this is called a co-packer.
if you decide to use a co-packer, tradeshows are an excellent place to look. figure out what the best tradeshows are in your industry; for natural products these shows are the natural product expos, fancy foods shows, sweets and snacks show, and the national restaurant association show. walk the floor, introduce yourself to manufacturers, and of course, bring a sample so they can tell you if your product could fit their capabilities.
once you find someone who’s a good fit, make some test batches (can they reliably make a high quality product that meets your expectations?) and investigate their compliance with good manufacturing processes (can they make a safe product?). together you and your co-packer will be making a food product, and therefore the appropriate food safety procedures must be in place.
a word of warning: when you are small it is a real challenge to find a willing and able co-packer. not too many manufacturers are eager to take a chance on a start up with no proven track record and very small orders. and especially at the beginning, no one is going to make capital investments to make your product, so you have to find someone with exactly the right equipment and the capacity to fit you in.