Where does trust live? Does it live in the brand, with happy consumers confident in their purchase? Does it live in the ingredients, with the careful reading of labels to parse formulations and sniff out lower quality? Maybe it’s in the soil, or the air, or the mysterious clanging neurons of the consumer psyche. How about all of the above?
NBJ honors this year’s winner of our Supply Chain Transparency Award for digging deep to create a systemic approach to quality that builds trust up and down the chain. We acknowledge PLT Health Solutions for doing the smart thinking around supply chain management that posits trust as a fundamental tenet of supplement manufacture and design, to the betterment of the entire industry.
For 60 years, PLT has operated out of Morristown, New Jersey as a leading developer and marketer of dietary ingredients to the health and wellness space. The company now offers more than 20 proprietary, branded ingredients, with a multi-generational story of family ownership that moves from Marvin Flowerman to Paul—his son and the current president—to Seth, Paul’s son and an accomplished, serial entrepreneur in his own right. With the launch of PLT360 at SupplySide last year, PLT takes this rich tradition and re-envisions it for the realities of today’s world.
The four pillars
PLT360 is a quality assurance platform that extends across the business by examining multiple aspects of each ingredient brought to market. Four pillars ground the thinking—integrity, quality, sustainability, and efficacy—and bring structure and message to values already in place. “When we sat down and thought about these concerns around transparency and quality, we did a gap analysis and figured out we were doing a lot of this in our daily course of business,” says Dr. Barbara Davis, PLT’s VP of medical & scientific affairs. “We just needed a way to actively communicate that these were differentiating points about PLT.”
Communication is essential to a methodology so in synch with new consumer demands, and it helps create an authentic tool to highlight the good actors in the industry, like PLT, who are already doing the right thing for the right reasons. “To internally develop, execute, and then communicate this 360-degree view—that’s a real contribution to the industry,” says Loren Israelsen, President of the United Natural Products Alliance. “PLT deserves a lot of credit for messaging the work they do so well to build a durable, value-added ingredient enterprise.”
The integrity pillar speaks to traceability and chain of custody. Quality speaks to spec review and GMPs. Sustainability—especially important, given the intercultural nature of PLT’s business—speaks to ethical sourcing and social impact. Efficacy speaks to scientific excellence in clinical trials and claims. Each of these pillars carries specific checks and balances that can adapt to global markets, and can continue to raise the quality bar over time. “I like to think of PLT360 as a living process,” says Davis. “The people doing the legwork both hate and love me for that. We never check off the lists. We keep adding to the dossiers.”
Case study: Zembrin
Zembrin, a botanical extract that carries promise in the “brain space” as a stress-reliever and mood-enhancer, provides a good example of the pillars and plan in action.
“Zembrin is the world’s first patented, standardized and clinically studied extract of a natural cultivar of Sceletium tortuosum,” says Davis. PLT360 ensures the ingredient’s integrity by standardizing to total alkaloid content and conforming to a defined alkaloid profile for four main actives. The local supplier, HG&H Pharmaceuticals of South Africa, maintains a seed bank of more than 100 million seeds to ensure supply chain security. “It took five years to select the right species and get all of our horticultural practices honed to be able to grow this crop on a commercial basis,” says Davis. The unique chemical fingerprint of Zembrin is now quantified with a wide range of analytical methods, including botanical matching, HPTLC, HPLC, and DNA.
The quality pillar around Zembrin stretches from detailed chain-of-custody records to extraction in a facility approved by NSF, with audits passed for dietary supplement GMPs, NSF/ANSI 173 food safety, ISO 9000, and PLT’s own 100-point supplier evaluation process. As with all of PLT’s ingredients, Zembrin carries a SIDI (Standardized Information on Dietary Ingredients) dossier with more than 150 checks on quality.
On sustainability, Zembrin highlights several successes with increasing relevance to the supplement industry. “Zembrin was awarded the first-ever export and bioprospecting permit—#001—to be issued by the South African government. Zembrin is the impetus for Africa’s first prior-informed consent benefit-sharing agreement, signed with the South African San Council after two years of negotiation, to formally recognize the primary indigenous knowledge holders of Sceletium.” The cultural sensitivity and generosity of spirit behind this benefit-sharing agreement is a flag in the sand that many global suppliers are now forced to reckon with.
Apart from the social impact of Zembrin to the San people, PLT360 also drives environmental stewardship by qualifying the cultivation of the ingredient—as opposed to wildcrafting—in accordance with EU and Global Good Agricultural Practices, which include no insecticides or herbicides. For its efforts to protect biodiversity in the region, Zembrin was formally recognized at the U.N. Nagoya Conference by the Minister of the Environment.
For a product like Zembrin, the efficacy pillar looms large.
“Sceletium, known by the San people as ‘Kanna,’ has been used for millennia for its stress-relieving and mood-enhancing benefits,” says Davis. “Our scientific review of its traditional uses led to the development of the specific cultivar on which Zembrin is based.” The efficacy pillar of PLT360 includes a 2011 RCT demonstrating cognitive and mood benefits, as well as a 2014 study performed in conjunction with HG&H that dialed in on Zembrin’s anti-anxiety benefits in the amygdala and its associated circuitry. As a result of this research, Zembrin was awarded a U.S. patent that protects the dual mechanism of 5-HT and PDE4 inhibition, and the application of mesembrenone as a PDE4 inhibitor.
Setting the bar
All those lessons in one product can be applied across multiple products, categories and companies.
“What we’re really hoping for with PLT360 is that we can help set the bar for our industry,” says Davis. “We can make sure that solid science is going on, we can push for more quality, more safety, more integrity. It’s been quite gratifying to see likeminded people respond to the platform. These are the kind of folks who aren’t scared by the requirements we all feel are important to move forward.”
That rigor is also good for business. “With Zembrin, they’ve learned the approach, so look for more interesting products to come through that pipeline,” says Israelsen. “There are lots of stories like this that end up on the rocks, but not here. All four pillars came together.”
In this way, PLT360 is a roadmap not only for the company’s future, but for the future of the industry. According to PLT, the 360 platform will inform their work on the current portfolio of ingredients, as well as new ingredients brought to market. It’s a framework that now helps define the company and how the supply chain in dietary supplements can begin to effectively address consumer concerns around quality and transparency.
“We need a lot more of this,” says Israelsen. “You see this kind of effort more on the food side—the ‘field-to-fork’ of organic, Whole Foods educating around non-GMO verification—but it’s hard to find an equivalent in dietary supplements. PLT’s 360 platform is the right thinking, and that alone is commendable. It’s a system for other companies to build from, and they will, because it’s working.”