COVID-19 provides another reason for US supplement brands to source locally

The novel coronavirus sprung out of China, but now the spread has disrupted manufacturing and logistics around the globe. Iowa farmer Andrew Pittz says it's time to bring the supply chain home.

Andrew Pittz

March 27, 2020

3 Min Read

There has been a growing trend, a demand, a promise—albeit unfulfilled—for augmenting the supply chain to support domestic, reputable sources. Supplement industry leaders have raised our awareness of adulterated ingredients, spurring the advent of public and private initiatives such as the American Botanical Council’s Botanical Adulterants Program and New Hope Network’s Inside the Bottle campaign.

It is clear we have a deficiency in ingredient quality—particularly from China and other countries with limited controls in place.

And yet we continue to import a number of our botanical ingredients from countries notorious for adulterated ingredients and sub-par processing methods. In some instances the only thing worse than these countries’ food safety standards are their human rights abuses. It’s hard to be an exception to a profitable rule. 

Enter COVID-19. It is no longer simply a “want” to relocate the supply chain for quality issues. It has become an economic necessity. To maintain a viable and reliable supply chain, the supply chain must be closer to home. A global supply chain is too easily rocked by global events, and COVID-19 will not be the last of them.

Repatriating the supplement ingredient supply chain does not create a provincial supply chain. It instead creates one where the means and the motive are in harmony. We already portray home-grown values and ingredient efficacy on supplement bottles, and now we have the opportunity to genuinely represent them in the supply chain. 

And at the same time we can build a supplement industry that is more resilient to crises that go beyond pandemics to also include political instability, trade wars and climate change.

It makes business sense from multiple standpoints. If an ingredient, especially a native crop, can be grown in the United States, why not grow and buy it in the United States? If a product is packed in the United States—where our supplement companies are governed and regulated by GMP—doesn’t it make sense to grow, source and process more of the supplement's ingredients within the United States?

With or without massive supply chain disruption, there is economic efficiency in sourcing from reliable supply partners in proximity to manufacturers. Domestically sourcing ingredients provides the same business value as domestically sourcing packaging and the manufacturing of the bottle itself. Plus, there is an inherent marketing benefit with regard to extolling a more virtuous supply chain, and this could further drive marketing ROI.

One can look no further than the docuseries “Rotten” to understand the problems with and created by imported ingredients that are un- or under-regulated. In addition to investing in ethical supply chains, we as an industry have the opportunity to grow and self-police as we wish.

What’s needed is an agenda that converts a massive supply chain problem into a genuine opportunity that supports all stakeholders, from growers to processors, brands and consumers.

Let’s cultivate an ethical supply chain where it’s most feasible—at home—and then spread those values. This isn’t an “us-versus-them” mentality, but rather a call for working together to create efficacious products. Producers in Bolivia and Peru are just as concerned as a farmer, like me, with their native botanical ingredients being adulterated by Chinese competitors.

It is time to write the supply chain story many of us desire, as well as the one that our consumers expect to see. COVID-19 isn’t the only reason to source closer to home, but it surely highlights the need for it. The viability of our businesses and industry might just depend on it.

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