Branded ingredients have a tacit acknowledgement of superiority compared to commodity ingredients — published research to vouch for its safety and efficacy, probably proprietary, perhaps patented, with a nice name and a fancy logo to round out the package.
But a funny thing happened on the way to product quality. Only in the last year or so, commodity ingredients have begun donning the outward mantle of being branded — clever name, snazzy logo. But lift up the hood, and there's no one there. No research, no intellectual property, nothing special.
"You're absolutely right that's what's happening," said Suzanne Shelton, president of PR agency The Shelton Group. "Companies had been putting forth the effort and investment in science, innovation, patents, trademarked logo and education work around what makes an ingredient proprietary and real. Now, other companies say we can sell more stuff if we just give it a name, and it's not the same thing. You might assume if it's a branded ingredient it has science behind it. But you can no longer assume that."
Reputable ingredients suppliers agree with that assessment. And they are not amused — threatened is a better word.
"It's easy now to register a name, so any brand name ingredient does not immediately translate to superior quality," explained Ron Udell, president of OptiPure Brand / Kenko International. "There are some companies that rush to market, take a generic and give it a name, but do not have the platform to support the ingredient."
Eric Anderson, brand manager for ingredients supplier PL Thomas, agreed. "Imitators have followed the model of ingredients with a funny name on it and call it unique," he said. "It's muddying the water. When a truly legitimate, unique product comes onto the market, they have to convince the industry it truly is unique and not another me-too product."
Anthony Almada, CEO of GenR8 new product development consultancy, said valid branded ingredients need to go one better than an IP portfolio with published research on it, and should also demonstrate in head-to-head studies against competitors that the branded ingredient truly is superior.
"People are selling almost all the same things, so which is better?" said Almada. "Very few emerge because very few studies are done head-to-head against each other. Fast-C is one exception to the rule."
That ingredient, supplied by Scientific Food Solutions, pairs vitamin C with Sabinsa's branded Bioperine, a black pepper extract that increases the bioavailability of other ingredients.
"The clinical study we did was against a leading vitamin C that proved Fast C was in the bloodstream quicker than the competitor," said Gretchen Reece, president of Scientific Food Solutions.
But we get ahead of ourselves. Integrity speaks to raising the bar to justify branded ingredient quality. Quick bucks speak to making ordinary ingredients seem better by dint of a simple marketing scheme. These fast-cash artists threaten the entire branded ingredients enterprise. This, too, is becoming apparent as we enter the new year.
"A number of companies are putting in policies that they are not using brand logos," observed Anderson.
With GMPs, the onus to maintain quality officially falls on manufacturers. With branded ingredients, it's the same story. Manufacturers must maintain quality by doing their due diligence before ballyhooing their branded ingredients — especially when they're not.