Transparency isn’t a buzzword. It’s a core value and set of practices redefining how dietary supplement companies do business. Responsible players are stepping up—self-policing the industry, rigorously testing ingredients and products, implementing technology-based tracking practices and enforcing open communication across a complex supply chain. “Transparency is a tool to drive trust,” says Scott Steinford, managing partner of Trust Transparency Center (TTC). “That is the ultimate goal.”
The supplement industry, so intimately tied to consumers’ health, must take this goal seriously. “Increasingly, consumers are demanding greater transparency from brands,” says Kathy McKnight, vice president of sales and marketing at Natural Factors. “They expect the brands they support to consistently deliver quality and efficacy, offer value for money and to be committed to positively impacting the world.” While the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) reports that approximately 75% of adults take supplements, less than half of millennials trust supplement companies, according to New Hope Network. Collaboration and transparency are needed in order for the dietary supplement industry to tell its story effectively.
Supply chain transparency
“You can’t build in transparency or quality at the end of the manufacturing process,” says Shaheen Majeed, president of Sabinsa Worldwide. “If a store buyer asks about chain of custody for the ingredients in a finished product, a brand has to be able to answer that question accurately and honestly.” Testing ingredients for identity, purity and potency is essential and required by law, he notes.
Responsible companies test products at every step, from ingredient to finished product, according to Len Monheit, managing partner of TTC. “A supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Third-party testing, adverse event reporting, having a quality control person in the organization—that is the price of admission, which needs to be enforced,” he says.
In the world of supplements, there’s often truth to “you get what you pay for,” and those immersed in the industry are attuned to signs of adulteration: if ingredient prices are noticeably lower than others of the same type or when demand for a botanical ingredient increases rapidly without time for growers to catch up, for instance.
Contract manufacturing and online retail
Supply chains get particularly tricky at the contract manufacturing stage. Choosing responsible contract manufacturers—and being open about them—is critical. “It is vital that contract manufacturers develop protocols for testing and qualifying individual batches of raw materials, as they carry a good chunk of end product responsibility,” says Steve Holtby, president and CEO of Soft Gel Technologies.
Plus, oftentimes a product will go directly from the contract manufacturer to online retailers without manufacturers laying eyes on it, let alone testing it. While Amazon’s Elements supplements line features full transparency of ingredients and discloses its contract manufacturer, Amazon doesn’t require this level of transparency from the other brands it carries (and it now sells more than 16,000 dietary supplement brands).
Kappa Bioscience tackled low-quality mislabeled products after purchasing 48 vitamin K2 products from Amazon Germany and finding that only one product met label claims for active ingredient K2 and half contained no K2 at all. Kappa started testing products to verify ingredient quantity and publishes an annual study about the findings. The result: industry education on K2 stability and quality. Now Kappa is working on an initiative to help companies meet promises to consumers, comply with legal and regulatory requirements and have transparent documentation throughout the supply chain. The concept is being embraced by others committed to traceability.
For Michael Modjeski, vice president of sales and marketing at Wakunaga, it’s all about the consumer. “How can you put something into consumers’ hands that you haven’t evaluated? People have a natural curiosity. As we share information, we expect that consumers will seek out more on their own, making authenticity and transparency key considerations.”
Related content: Collaboration to fuel supplement industry growth