Supplement Perspectives

We Need a Better International Supply Chain

NOW Foods’ Dr. Michael Lelah has a few things he would like to see fixed.

Sometimes posts come from someone simply expressing their feelings. That’s exactly what happened when Supplement Perspectives' Pete Croatto asked Michael Lelah, Ph.D., technical director of NOW Foods, for his thoughts on the international supply game. They are presented now, with minimal editing.

Unfortunately, the global supply of dietary and food ingredients is not a game. Here in the U.S., the global supply has opened up new opportunities to source ingredients, and this is good. But on the other hand, it has brought with it an incredible set of challenges.

As a brand and a dietary supplement and food manufacturer, it’s our job to ensure the safety and efficacy of our products. Our customers – the retailers – can’t do this themselves. They rely on us. At NOW Foods we take this expectation very seriously. We do this through a number of simultaneous activities – audits, documents and testing. The biggest challenges for us are documents and testing.

Many of our suppliers know of our voracious appetite for the right documents supporting the ingredients – their source, how they are made, are they non-GMO? how is strength (potency) calculated? regulatory status, etc, etc. We find these sometimes hard to obtain. And then we – trust but verify – we test everything. We test for strength, purity, adulteration, contamination, and organoleptic properties. We find that ingredient sourcing is like “whack-a-mole.” One source may have low heavy metals but strength is poor. Another source may have great flavor, but as we dig deeper, we find that it’s made with possible GMO components.

But testing does not stop at the initial approval stage. We continue to test lot by lot over the years. We’ve found things change over time. The great-looking ingredient we first sourced now has lower strength, or contamination levels are creeping up. Many times suppliers make critical changes to their products without informing us. We find out and then are in a bind because we’ve made claims based on what they first told us. I hope that suppliers will understand that not telling us, or letting us know after selling us the ingredient for many years, that the ingredient they supply us, for example, contains wheat, an allergen, now causes us immense problems. The international supply chain is not import/distribute anymore. Suppliers need to have strong quality departments that vet every marketing claim against the facts and be able to support every item on their COAs. They need to have answers to the questions that we require in order for us to meet the cGMPs.

And we’ll help and work with our suppliers. We understand that the supply chain is a partnership. Many times we’ve had to be flexible and reduce potency claims on labels, for example, because our supplier now calculates the potency correctly, or tests for potency correctly, when marketing drove the potency claims in the past. I would encourage suppliers to get involved in industry trade organizations to better understand the challenges. We need a better international supply chain and we can do this together.

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