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Contract Packaging/Customer Relationships: Is Confidentiality Attainable?

When it comes to confidentiality, we all seem to align to the need to protect information that is exchanged between contract packagers/manufacturers and their customers. But perhaps we should be open to just how we protect information.

Robby Martin, Bush Brothers
Robby Martin is Engineering Specialist for Bush Brothers & Company.

Much has been made of our work-from-home world over the last year. There has also been much made of how we communicate with one another. Perhaps this is because, like the email explosion of the 90s, our online, on-screen, bad-connection, “You’re-on-mute” world has more opportunity for miscommunication and misunderstanding than ever. We’ve been given glimpses into homes, home offices, beach condos, and more as so many people have learned to work from “where they are.” How many of us could now recognize a co-worker’s pet if we saw it running down the street?

Well, regardless of our times, and how they are a-changin’, many aspects of great business relationships remain intact. As a reminder, we have been discussing great relationships and what affects them in our continuing series in Contract Packaging magazine, including:

·     The provision for SAFETY

·      The power of TRUST

·      The purpose of HONESTY

·      The place for NEGOTIATION

·      The price of “SKIN IN THE GAME”

·      The protection of the BRAND

·      The promise of CONFIDENTIALITY

As we again return to our discussion about great relationships in the contract packaging/contract manufacturing (CP/CM) world, we reach the end of our list as the subject of confidentiality comes up next.


Confidentiality? In today’s world? Really? It has been said that “There is nothing new under the sun.” If that is true, and knowing we now have so many ways to learn things about others, can we really expect confidentiality? There are more sources than ever before for gathering intel, observations, and information. Moreover, you don’t have to look far or long in the journals and trade publications, not to mention observations made on the trade show floors, to begin to understand a lot about who is up to what…and where…and when… .

Great relationships have more give than take, and it comes from both sides, says Robby Martin. Read his column on “Risk & Brand Protection: A Two-Way Street”

So, is it really worth talking about confidentiality at all? Well, of course it is! We just need to consider what that may need to look like in a relationship with a CP/CM partner (or for your Consumer Packaged Goods customer if you are a CP/CM partner). I’ll make a couple of arguments here, and maybe they can at least provide some conversation fodder around your conference tables (or in your online meetings)!

In my 35-plus years in industry, I have found the following two things to be true:

1.     Secrets about big things don’t stay secret. They just don’t. No matter how hard economic development professionals work to maintain confidentiality, once a new facility is announced, a lot of information is let out for public consumption. This is true in CP/CM partnerships; it just happens a little bit slower. Eventually though, people with an interest can, and do, learn about where that new set of products is being produced, who installed the equipment to produce it, or whether there are plans to add to the capacity for producing it. While these “feel” like secrets, they’re not really all that secret. I’ll also submit that they are not really all that important, either. Why? Well, let’s talk about truth #2…

2.     Secrets about little things can stay secret, and secrets about the little things are the difference makers! Little secrets are the key to where competitive advantage is found. Little secrets are how one company makes something work better, or work at all, when others continue to struggle to do so. Little secrets can be the difference in why or how someone makes a cost and profit model work while others abandon a proposition altogether. You may not sweat the small stuff, but you probably don’t want to talk about it, either!

When it comes to confidentiality, we all seem to align to the need to protect information that is exchanged between parties. But perhaps we should be open to just how we protect information. Maybe we should be careful to craft our confidentiality paperwork, and our expectations, in a way that leans into the relationship instead of inhibiting it. There should be, and I maintain that there usually is, room for trust, honesty, and even negotiation in a healthy relationship. Maybe a conversation about what the big things are and what the little things are can feed the relationship instead of putting confidentiality in a position to threaten the relationship.

Watch this video,  “Contract Packaging Growth Through 2025,” which features an interview with Bush Brothers and Pretzels, Inc., to learn about  the expanding role of contract packagers/contract manufacturers during the pandemic.

As we wrap up our series on solid relationships, perhaps we need to approach confidentiality with some of these other attributes in mind. I believe doing so will allow us to build confidentiality into a relationship. Building in confidentiality won’t eliminate the need for Non-Disclosure Agreements and clauses. But, maybe it could make them much simpler in the long run, especially when we’ve built the whole relationship on mutual benefit, value, and understanding.

Robby Martin is Engineering Specialist for Bush Brothers & Company.

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