Navigating organic certification – articleNavigating organic certification – article
Amidst the growing consumer demand for organic products, Protein Research provides a comprehensive solution from source to certification for brands seeking to enter and navigate the organic market.
September 8, 2023
It’s true, achieving USDA certified organic status as a farm, ingredient producer or product developer is a journey of commitment and stringent work. Between following the National Organic Program (NOP) standards and adjustments to the rules, updates and recommendations made by the National Organic Standards Board, or suggested by organizations such as Organic Trade Association (OTA), there’s a lot to track. And, in this dynamic landscape, inspections and recordkeeping are just the tip of the iceberg.
Consumer demand for organic products continues to grow with the marketplace reaching an impressive $67.4 billion in sales in 2022 according to OTA. Yet, this increasing demand for organic hasn’t translated into a proportional surge in organic production. According to the USDA, the number of conventional farms transitioning to organic production dropped approximately 70% from 2008 to 2019 with less than 1% of U.S. farmland dedicated to organic production. The result? The challenge of procuring organic ingredients has intensified, leading to heavy reliance on global producers and, contract manufacturers like Protein Research, who act as bridges between the expanding organic market and brands aspiring to meet the burgeoning demand.
“Our team at Protein Research thrives in translating dreams into reality, particularly when it comes to organic products. Often, clients know they want to go organic but they're not entirely sure of the specifics—the level of organic certification or the ingredients involved,” says Cynthia Troetschler, Technical Specialist at Protein Research. “This is where our expertise comes in. We're adept at understanding a client's aspirations, looking at the different angles, explaining how the process would work, and adjusting it to align with their vision. If they can't achieve what they want with certain ingredients, we can provide alternatives and guide them through the whole process. The aim is to shape their idea into a viable, market-ready product with the desired organic label."
Navigating a Complex Organic Marketplace
Located in Northern California, Protein Research boasts more than four decades of expertise in nutritional and supplement manufacturing. As pioneers in organic contract manufacturing, the company received its USDA organic certification in 2003—only shortly after the NOP and USDA organic certification went into effect in 2002. From that time forward, the team at Protein Research has been committed to making the journey towards organic certification straightforward and seamless for brands by utilizing the company’s in-depth industry knowledge and extensive experience.
In today's natural products landscape, this experience is invaluable. With mass market grocers, club/warehouse and convenience stores driving more than half of organic food sales according to the OTA and national, regional and independent natural products chains and stores accounting for just over one-third of organic food sales, the organic marketplace is more complex than ever. When you add the ever-growing online sales channel into this mix, competition for sales is intense.
And as sales channels jockey for their place in the marketplace, consumer demand for organic and sustainable products continues to rise with the organic food market growing at a rate of 4.3% in 2022. To meet consumer demand, innovate and stay on shelf, brands depend on reliable supply chains.
This is where Protein Research shines. Amid this evolving landscape, brands often struggle with the complexities of creating an organic product, from understanding regulatory requirements to sourcing organic ingredients. Protein Research's decades of experience means they understand the pitfalls brands come up against when trying to attain organic certification or in sourcing and maintaining a consistent supply of organic ingredients. The Protein Research team is well versed in helping brands navigate challenging environments from concept development to labeling.
Crafting Organic Excellence
A snapshot of the depth of experience Protein Research has to offer can be seen in the company’s impressive portfolio of 300 + certified organic ingredients, covering a wide range of proteins, herbs and spices. This broad palette provides ample choice for brands seeking to formulate or transition their products to organic. Yet, as passionate as the company is about organic, it’s also dedicated to upholding the integrity of organic standards. The company maintains a rigorous audit process and refuses to compromise on quality, even if it means disqualifying certain ingredients or suppliers. Such a stand can be challenging in a globalized supply chain scenario, especially when uncertified handlers pose a risk of fraud[CT1] . As of March 19th, 2024, the Strengthening Organic Enforcement ruling will be targeting this, and other supply chain integrity issues, to increase transparency throughout the industry.
One example of this commitment came in 2021 after the USDA National Organic Program revoked its organic recognition agreement with India, stating that it needed greater oversight of products coming out of India. This caused a shortage in available USDA certified organic ingredients coming out of India. Protein Research had to advise a customer to remove the organic certification from a product sourced from India due to the scarcity of certified organic farms in that region. "We experienced a significant shift when a customer, who was heavily reliant on organic material from India, chose to transition away from their organic certification towards a conventional product. This decision was primarily driven by the sudden realization that India only had a handful of farms that could pass the NOP standards. From a supply chain standpoint, the risks were just too high,” explains Ashley Matheson-Scholl, Protein Research’s President. Such instances showcase the lengths Protein Research is willing to go to ensure supply chain transparency and the organic integrity of their client's products.
Navigating Intricacies: Organic and Beyond
Creating an organic product isn’t just about replacing conventional ingredients with their organic counterparts. The process often uncovers layers of intricacies. A brand may desire an organic product with botanicals, which implies the inclusion of herbs and spices. However, these components could potentially contain heavy metals, raising safety concerns.
Protein Research’s Research and Development team excels at such complexities, ensuring safety and quality while meeting various other product requirements like Non-GMO, gluten-free and more. The team believes that organic certification is often the starting point and not the final destination.
“Securing top-quality organic products begins with a stringent vetting of suppliers," says Troetschler. "We meticulously inspect and validate our supplier list for organic products, ensuring each vendor and manufacturer meets our high standards. Upon receiving the ingredient shipment, the first thing we do is check the appropriate documentation. Following this, the products undergo rigorous quality testing, including sample collections and verifications. We've had instances where we've refused to use materials that didn't pass our identification testing, prompting us to restart the sourcing process. We believe in third-party testing to uphold our high-quality standards right from the get-go.”
Protein Research’s dedication to organic is more than just about meeting market trends—it’s about contributing to the planet's health and making the organic dream a reality for brands and consumers alike. And as the demand for Non-GMO, sustainable and clean ingredients rises, Protein Research is equipped to guide brands in these areas as well, while helping them to leverage organic as the foundation of their product quality and sustainability efforts.
Brands can benefit from Protein Research’s expertise in creating products that meet not just organic, but also functional demands, making the contract manufacturer a one-stop solution for diverse product needs. “Our attention to detail extends to all stages of the process, including formulation, bench testing and beyond. I can confidently say that I feel good about the products we make," says Troetschler.
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