Natural Products Expo West: Dietary Supplement Firms Aren’t Just Talking about Transparency; They’re Acting on It.

Transparency is a buzzword, but it’s one that more dietary supplement companies are using these days. The cliché, however, doesn’t minimize the importance of the material steps companies are taking to bolster supply-chain quality. At Natural Products Expo West, I spoke to many companies about how the industry is both talking about transparency and acting on it during the past year of negative industry scrutiny that followed New York Attorney General (NY AG) Eric Schneiderman’s investigation of herbal supplements.
Because one thing is for certain; the status quo will never do when it comes to quality assurance—not yesterday, not today, and not tomorrow.
“Dietary supplement companies are striving to restore and maintain brand integrity by demonstrating their commitment to producing safer products for their customers,” says Dr. Cheryl Luther, general manager, dietary supplements and beverages, NSF International (Ann Arbor, MI).

Documentation in Detail
“It’s no secret that the supplement industry was the subject of greater scrutiny than usual in 2015,” said botanical-ingredients supplier Naturex (South Hackensack, NJ) in a recent press release. “These recent challenges have done a lot to change both consumer and retailer behavior, both of whom want as much information as possible about the products they are buying. In this context of uncertainty, the industry has no choice but to foster maximal transparency.”
At Natural Products Expo West, Naturex announced a new, five-point traceability program, called TRACE, encompassing sourcing, sample testing, product and supplier qualification processes, risk assessment, and sustainability performance. As part of TRACE, Naturex is also rolling out ID Pack, a comprehensive test report for each botanical extract the company sells “describing all the methods used to identify each botanical (micro, macro, chromatographic, and DNA tests on raw material; TLC and HPLC on finished extracts).” At Expo West the company showcased its first ID Packs, for lemon balm, passion flower, and valerian.
At Expo West, Karen Todd, senior director, global brand marketing, Kyowa Hakko USA (New York City), talked about how the company continues to follow in detail the industry-created SIDI protocol (Standardized Information on Dietary Ingredients) to document its process—“everything,” she said. “We’re totally transparent with that, and we update those all the time.” She said these comprehensive documents allow the company to hand everything over to a manufacturer and say, “Here’s all you need for your files.”
With heightened scrutiny of the industry, documentation like SIDI’s is “even more important now” than ever before, Todd said. “If our customers need it, we want to have it before they even ask for it. We want to be proactive.”

Not Just the Ingredients
Some people might not give a lot of thought to how a supplement’s delivery vehicle plays a crucial role in allowing manufacturers to make good on their product promises. But the right capsule, for instance, can allow a company to deliver on claims of bioavailability, delayed release, vegetarian/vegan benefits, and even non-GMO assurances.
At Natural Products Expo West, I spoke to Missy Lowery, senior marketing manager, Capsugel (Greenwood, SC), about her company’s role in making sure supplement marketers have the right capsule delivery tools. “Any claims that you put on your label, you have to substantiate,” she said. For instance, it doesn’t work to have a non-GMO product formula and then put the ingredients in a capsule that isn’t non-GMO; in that scenario, she said, “a delivery system that knocks you out of the game of non-GMO doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
For this reason, Capsugel’s product lineup carries a host of certifications for whatever a company may require, everything from vegan, kosher, halal, and NSF GMP certification to non-GMO Project Verified.
Capsugel’s delayed-release and other advanced technologies also help with cleaner labels, better efficacy, and a higher-quality consumer experience overall. “When you’re talking about a move toward transparency,” Lowery said, “you don’t need to add a lot of excipients, binders, or distintegrants—all of the things that end up creating that long laundry list of ingredients. There are a number of different, natural ways that you’re able to improve solubility of the ingredients or improve absorbability of the ingredients. We have been investigating more natural excipients so we can better help our customers be able to use more acceptable, natural alternatives.”
Having a delivery-systems supplier with all of the certifications and accompanying documentation is an important part of transparency, she added. “If you don’t have the traceable steps, if you don’t have the documentation necessary, if you have something in your product that you don’t realize is in your product because whoever provided the excipient or the capsule didn’t have the right kind of paperwork to follow up, that puts your brand, your future, in real question. And that’s what transparency Build is all about.”
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