A commitment to red, white and blue has suppliers and manufacturers seeing green.
Worries about food contamination, water treatment and crop fertilization in other countries, as well as wanting to support family farms and local economies, have led some U.S. consumers to view “Grown in the USA” as a symbol of quality and a way to help fellow Americans. The distinction also carries a halo overseas. A recent IndustryWeek study found that 82 percent of Chinese consumers believe that goods made in America are top notch.
While some ingredients can’t be sourced in the U.S., the companies who can, and do, are reaping special American-made benefits. Nutrition Industry Executive magazine asked suppliers and manufacturers who are having success with their home-grown ingredients and products to share their stories.
Sweet Green Fields (SGF) has led the stevia industry with its agriculture investment in U.S.-grown stevia. SGF has developed more than 70 stevia plant varieties (all non-GMO) and grows both conventional stevia as well as certified organic stevia crops in the U.S.
“In addition,” said Michael Quin, senior vice president of sales and marketing, “SGF is pleased to announce another industry milestone with the commencement of a U.S. finish purification facility utilizing our U.S. patented Fast Precipitation Process. We are now offering two stevia compositions, Sweetesse Stevia™ and ultra-high purity Altesse Stevia™ finish purified in the USA.”
From its inception, SGF has invested in stevia agriculture in the Unites States with the goal of establishing a U.S. stevia supply chain as an option for it’s customers, said Quin. “SGF has been breeding and growing its own proprietary stevia varieties (more than 70) in a commercial setting in the U.S. and abroad for more than a decade and is the recognized industry leader in North America for stevia crops.
Point of Differentiation
According to Quin, there are many benefits for customers to take advantage of in partnering with SGF locally, including quality assurance and supply chain transparency. “For more than two years SGF has offered our customers a unique opportunity to participate in our ‘USA Select Crops’ program. Customer response has shown they value the assurance of quality from U.S. grown stevia leaves, traceability and reduced supply chain risk in this age of heightened awareness of food and safety issues.”
SGF is also supporting economic development in rural farming communities and helping to create manufacturing jobs in the U.S.
“Large retail chains have shown interest in supporting companies that source locally by visiting SGF fields and visually inspecting the ingredient supply chain, something that is cost prohibitive overseas,” Quin added. Companies participating in SGF’s ‘USA Select Crops’ have enjoyed increased retail distribution.
In addition, food and beverage companies have been able to leverage their U. S. supply chain commitment by promoting their commitment to quality and support of U.S. farmers through marketing programs that have been well received by consumers, Quin said.
When SGF began to develop stevia more than a decade ago there were no established protocols or blueprints to follow. Stevia as a commercial agriculture crop was new to the U.S. and therefore the initial learning curve was steep.
“We conducted a significant amount of research and development and testing to determine the highest yielding plant varieties, created transplant and production protocols, as well as cropping plans,” Quin explained.
One of SGF’s founders and current research and development partners is the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center (HARC), with more than 100 years of sweetener growing and processing experience. This partnership allows SGF to utilize HARC world-class facilities and to constantly innovate new agricultural methods of growing and processing stevia.
Today, SGF has multiple crop science locations and partners, as well as a multiregion growing locations and a diverse grower base. The company works with the Georgia Department of Agriculture, North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, along with the Colleges of Agriculture from both states.
SGF recently expanded its stevia crop production to the Southeast U.S. The expansion marks the first ever commercial stevia crops planted in the states of Georgia and North Carolina and supports SGF’s commitment to focus on stevia crop development within the U.S. Quin said SGF has a strong commitment to FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States) GAP (good agricultural practices) principles to ensure sustainability and high quality stevia supply to meet the demands of its customers.
In addition locally grown stevia helps the local economy by:
• Creating jobs and new opportunities for farmers
• Providing tobacco farmers in the southeast with a more health oriented crop
• Creating U.S. manufacturing jobs to support local stevia extraction
• Significantly lowering transportation requirements, resulting in a lower carbon footprint
Growing stevia in the U.S. also significantly reduces water usage requirements compared to growing sugar cane, Quin added.
SGF is currently working on developing a primary U.S. extraction, which upon completion will allow customers to claim “Made in the USA.”
Recent GDP (gross domestic product) economic data shows the U.S. economy is still struggling and many Americans are connecting the dots regarding the impact of purchasing traditionally cheaper imported products and the linkage to the reduction in U.S. manufacturing jobs, Quin pointed out. “In addition, there are other drivers including affecting consumer behavior to buy locally such as the perception of quality (nutrition and fresh) as well as assurances of safety and health benefits, sustainability and a reduced carbon footprint.”
There is also continued growing interest to support for local economies and farmers and farmland preservation. Consumers are more aware of the tradeoffs of cheap vs. quality and “Made in the USA” on a product label resonates both trust and quality to U.S. consumers, he added.
“Social media is also raising awareness along with websites such ‘Made in the USA’ and ‘USA Love List,’ Quin noted. “That indicates a growing consumer movement to read a product label and consider the manufacturing location as part of the purchase decision.” According to Sam Wiley, CEO of Wiley’s Finest LLC, a family owned, closely held manufacturer of Alaskan fish oil supplements, it has always been the intention and focus to be a U.S.- based manufacturer.
“Our family has purified natural compounds, flavors, fragrances, natural ingredients and dietary supplements for over 25 years. It’s what I grew up doing—I’m third generation—I’m proud to work every day with my father, my uncle, my three brothers, my wife, and a huge number of other talented individuals who help make our products,” he said.
In late 2011, the company saw an opportunity to bring its parent company’s best-in-class, industry leading fish oil ingredients direct to the natural channel consumer and jumped on it. “Very few supplement brands actually purify or concentrate their own ingredients,” Wiley explained. “Many supplement brands source ingredients from a short list of third-party suppliers. These brands then formulate products and operate their own bottling lines or encapsulation lines. Our difference is that we actually perform the base manufacturing of the fish oil ingredients in our supplements. It’s technically demanding and capital intensive and takes a lot of skill and scientific expertise to perform.”
The brand has received overwhelmingly positive response from retailers, which Wiley said the company found quite surprising. “When we started we thought that MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certification or our affordable high dose formulas will be the main selling points. Those are certainly important factors for many, but ultimately they are not what sell our line to consumers or retailers. It’s the understanding that this fish oil supplement is made in USA by a familyowned and operated company that brings it home and closes a sale. We have done consumer events where we talk about all these different great aspects of our fish oil—people’s eyes glaze over or they don’t know why they would pay more for a premium health food store brand when they can just go get something cheap at a big box store or pharmacy chain. But if we shift up the conversation to buy American—bam! We have their attention.”
Caught in the USA
Wiley’s Wild Alaskan Fish Oil is produced from wild-caught Alaska Pollock, solely caught and sourced in U.S. Alaskan waters on U.S. flagged vessels. The vessels are operated by American fishers working for the company’s trusted fishing suppliers, according to Wiley. “It’s a great story of a truly caught, purified and concentrated fish oil—all within the United States of America. Fish oil is really all our brand does right now—we’re proud to say that our fish oils are 100 percent caught and made in the USA.”
According to Wiley, the company is the first omega-3 supplement brand to have a 100 percent focus on responsibly and sustainably caught fish oil ingredients –all certified sustainable. “It’s true that some brands have dipped their toes in the water by launching a single MSC certified salmon oil or a krill product, but nobody has been really willing to wholly commit to the MSC vision, especially when it comes to formulas with high concentrates of omega-3 EPA and DHA. We believe quite strongly in the message of the MSC, ‘together we can protect fish stocks for the future.’”
Wiley noted that being a U.S. manufacturer means the company has the opportunity to create American jobs to help support its community. “If we were outsourcing this critical ingredient to a foreign corporation, we would be paying a premium for the ingredients which would be reflected in the price of our products. Instead we make the investment in our local community.
For our family business, we’re the little guys. We successfully compete with some of the world’s largest companies, which dominate the market in omega-3 fish oil concentrates, which is our primary focus.”
Since Wiley’s fish oil isn’t imported it doesn’t go through customs have import tariffs or custom duties. “Many brands are sourcing ingredients from China, Chile, Peru, Norway, E.U. member countries— most of these countries don’t have U. S. free trade agreements with so it’s more expensive, and it takes a lot more effort and planning to maintain these complex global supply chains,” Wiley explained.
Challenges and Gratification
The regulatory burden faced in this country specifically for supplements is not particularly burdensome, Wiley said. “It’s really all of the other requirements to be a manufacturer. The FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) cGMP (current good manufacturing practice) supplement guidelines are something that a responsible supplement manufacturer is going to be doing anyway, with or without the FDA requiring it. Complying with the myriad of federal, state and local requirements, which is really required of any manufacturer whether you’re making wrenches or pillows or fish oil is probably the biggest challenge.”
Wiley’s Finest is a major employer in a rural part of Ohio that’s technically considered to be part of Appalachia, in an area that has 7.1 percent unemployment. The ‘Made in USA’ logo is on every bottle the company sells and is core to the brand marketing claims, Wiley said. “We think it carries a halo. Our extensive consumer feedback and testing tells us consumers value supporting American jobs and American workers.”
Though not everyone is on board, of course, with a higher price tag. “It’s always a struggle to get American consumers to value higher quality—some do, some don’t—you can have rhetoric from all sides of the political spectrum about the importance of supporting American jobs, then the same person will walk into a big box store and purchase a pre-packaged food product or supplement without even stopping to consider the source,” Wiley said. “What the average consumer doesn’t realize is that many food and supplement ingredients are sourced outside the U.S., predominantly from Asia. I’ve had store managers or supplement managers tell me that that they don’t give a **** about sustainability or made in USA—it’s all about price or efficacy. But that’s not everyone.
“In general, many consumers are willing to pay maybe a little more, or at least the same if they can understand more about where it comes from. Most people go through life in a fog about how food, supplements, and pharmaceuticals are sourced, produced and made. There’s very little transparency—and big multinational food brands have very little incentive (or even the ability in most cases) to be fully transparent to their end customer.”
One company with a history of offering a great variety of products that are grown in the U.S. is Illinois-based FutureCeuticals.
“Our TRIM™ line of beverage-ready grains, our VitaBlue® North American Blueberry Extract, SproutGarden® cruciferous sprout powders, tart cherry, shitake and maitake mushroom, beet root extract, kale, spinach, and many more fruit, vegetable, and grain powders and extracts are available from U.S. growers,” said Hartley Pond, the company’s vice president of technical sales.
That includes ingredients from its own operations of more than 3,000 acres of conventional and more than 500 organic acres of farmland in the states.
“Van Drunen Farms, the sister company to FutureCeuticals, began as a family farm in the 1850s, so our roots in American agriculture run deep,” Pond explained. “We are the American Heartland, and take great pride in the American farmer. We recognize that we operate in a global environment, and source product from all over the globe, including the USA. However, we still grow a great deal of our own products, so in this sense, we feel connected to and actively promote the American farm on the world stage.”
According to Pond, there are a growing number of the company’s partners who are looking for American grown materials, and are attempting to standardize and promote around these Americangrown products. “There is a ‘wholesome’ undertone to this messaging, and with adulteration and efficacy concerns stemming from imported ingredients and products, we see a definitive opportunity to capitalize on a core strength we have. An example could be our North American (NA) Blueberry extract. To our knowledge, there is no other standardized NA Blueberry extract on the market, so we sell a great deal of this material based on the country of origin.”
FutureCeuticals has a strict vendor auditing and quality program that allows the company and its partners to say the products is what it is and comes from where it says it comes from, Pond noted. “We process in-house, and stock a great deal of these materials so supply chain is rarely an issue on most common U.S. sourced/grown ingredients. Obviously, growing season and low demand sometimes create an outlier to this, but for the most part, we have what is commonly expected of us.”
FutureCeuticals operates manufacturing and farming operations in Illinois, California and Indiana, and employs a great number of people dedicated to the production of fruit, vegetable and grainbased material. The company is a major contributor to its local communities in terms of jobs, vendor relations and civic participation, Pond noted, adding that it also operates a probiotics manufacturing facility in Wisconsin.
“As I mentioned before, there is a certain wholesome cache that comes with ingredients that are grown in the USA, and we drive certain opportunities by utilizing something that consumers are comfortable with and will make brand choices based upon,” Pond added. “There are some customers who don’t really care about where the blueberries come from, or if the blueberries are actually bilberries, but more and more country of origin is a major issue for consumers.”
As for future demand of American sourced ingredients, Pond said the company feels it is only going to increase. “As overseas markets mature, and more consumers across the globe demand American grown materials, new opportunities emerge. We are already seeing some of this today.” Helping to maintain sustainability and traceability, all of Nutegrity’s fishing and manufacturing operations are located in the USA, according to April Lewton, category director—lipids with the California based company. Nutegrity’s omega-3 ingredients—OmegaActiv® and OmegaPure®—are sourced from menhaden harvested off the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts and manufactured in the USA. Nutegrity uses its own fleet of refrigerated vessels that transport the menhaden into the company’s production facilities located in the U.S. as well.
In addition, Nutegrity’s fresh whey protein comes direct from artisan cheese makers in the heartland of Wisconsin, Lewton added. “These cheese makers source their milk from small family farms that adhere to grazing requirements in the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) organic standards. By working directly with these cheese makers, it ensures that we always know where our whey is coming from and customers can have that same confidence when they purchase our products.”
History of USA Sourcing
The company’s fishing operations first began more than a century ago in Reedville, VA and the business evolved into the Gulf of Mexico several years later, Lewton explained. “We have always derived our products from Atlantic and Gulf menhaden harvest, which are abundantly found in the United States.
“Our ‘Made in the USA’ operations provide us with a great sense of pride that we are producing the most reliable, highest quality products. It also provides our customers with the confidence that the U.S. stringent regulatory standards will ensure that only quality products hit the marketplace.”
Lewton added that the company believes that its U.S. based operations grants it the advantage of closely monitoring the sourcing, processing and manufacturing of its products to guarantee their efficacy.
Nutegrity is aware that it is the people and the local community that allow it to thrive, Lewton said, “therefore, we feel an obligation to give back to those who continuously contribute to our success.” The company has develop a charitable giving program that provides much needed resources to groups focusing on a range of issues including, education, vitamin deficiency, childhood hunger and veteran’s groups, among others.
“We are the largest private employers in several of the regions where we operate and have significant economic impacts in all of the locations,” she noted. “Since we are a large manufacturer it is our mission to reduce our environmental impact. We have several environmental initiatives to reduce our footprint, which includes switching to a fuel source with lower emissions and to reuse water captured during our processes.”
From a macro level, consumers are “going local” as much as they can and continue to use their purchasing power to support causes they believe in, Lewton noted. “Having a supply that is harvested and manufactured entirely in the U.S. is a great benefit for our partners to talk to their consumers about and an avenue to harness some of this momentum.
Additionally, with the increased concerns with some import products, ‘Made in the USA’ is an indicator of quality and safety to consumers, which certainly plays into purchasing decisions.” With 13,000 acres in Central California, POM Wonderful is the largest grower and producer of fresh pomegranates and pomegranate juice, and the highest quality pomegranate ingredient supplier in the United States.
“All of our ingredients and products are grown, sourced and manufactured in the U.S.; in fact, all in California,” said Kyle Redfield the company’s general manager—industrial sales.
For the company’s POM industrial ingredients, 100 percent pomegranate juice concentrate is pressed from whole, handpicked POM pomegranates. The juice is turned into concentrate—available in both liquid and powder forms. All of its concentrate is produced exclusively from POM’s own renowned California orchards. “Two years ago, we launched POM Industrial with two products,” Redfield said. “Now we offer seven products that are used as ingredients to develop new products and flavors.”
A growing list of companies, from small food and beverage companies, to multi-billion dollar corporations are incorporating POM Wonderful’s 100% Pomegranate Concentrate into their products, Redfield noted. POM is currently being used in a variety of products including yogurt, smoothies, premium ice cream, craft beers, distilled spirits, smoothies, chocolates, salad dressings, spreads and jellies, as well as many other food, beverage and nutritional supplement applications.
From the start, POM intended to grow its product in the U.S. “For POM to become and maintain its position global leader in pomegranates, we oversee every step of the process—from growing and picking to processing, packing and shipping. In doing so, we are able to offer several assurances to our partners including: California, USA Origin; single source and single variety; unique antioxidant profile; pure ingredients (no preservatives, artificial colors, essences or flavors added); consistent quality from lot to lot; and a year-round sustainable supply.
“We feel this is a big point of differentiation for POM Wonderful,” Redfield added. “By managing the entire production process, POM Wonderful produces a sustainable year-round supply of this highly seasonal fruit and guarantees that its products come from only one source. To ensure maximum quality control over all of our products, we manage the entire process from cultivation to extraction and packaging, utilizing the latest technology and good manufacturing practices at our state-of-the art facilities.”
The company’s GAP and GLOBAL GAP inspections and certifications show its current and future partners that its orchards meet or exceed all the standards, codes and regulations put forth by these and other food safety organizations, Redfield explained. “While these are voluntary programs, it is important to us that our partners know that we hold ourselves to these standards.”
Redfield added that POM is aware that social and global responsibility cannot be overlooked when resourcing ingredients. “From the management of natural resources to their preservation, it is all connected. At our orchards and production facility in California, we have systems in place to maintain and manage resources without compromising the production or quality of the fruit,” he said.
“People are attracted to POM Wonderful because we grow, handpick and juice our own pomegranates,” Redfield concluded. “We guarantee our customers consistent quality and provide complete traceability of our products.”
As the largest supplier of botanical ingredients in the U.S., BI Nutraceuticals offers a couple dozen ingredients that are grown, sourced and manufactured all over the United States—from Florida (hydrangea, passion flower, sugar cane fiber) to the Appalachians (black cohosh, slippery elm) to the Midwest (barley fiber, echinacea) to the Cascades (cascara sagrada, Oregon grape root) to California (asparagus, carrot, kale) to Hawaii (noni) and everywhere in between.
Was it the company’s original intention to source in the U.S.? “In regard to manufacturing, yes,” said George Pontiakos, the company’s president and CEO. “In regard to sourcing, no. This industry has a global footprint unlike any other; with more than 400 ingredients in BI’s product line, we alone source from more than 45 countries,” he added. “With the diversity of our products, sourcing within just the U.S. is impossible. Each botanical has specific conditions (climate, soil, etc.) in which they thrive—plenty thrive in China and India, and a good amount thrive in the United States.
With three of the four company facilities located in the United States, U.S.- grown ingredients simplify BI’s supply chain and streamline its operations by:
• Eliminating differing currency, language, and regulation barriers
• Shortening transit distance and time
• Lessening modes of transportation and quantity of individuals handling material
• Removing customs delays
“In simplifying the supply chain, there is less opportunities for contamination and disruption to occur,” Pontiakos explained. “In addition, U.S.-made ingredients allow for easier traceability and visibility—this is the point of differentiation that is currently appealing to our customers. As the safety of our foods remain in the spotlight of media attention, transparency is becoming increasingly important to both the consumer and manufacturer, especially with the new FSMA (Food Safety Mondernization Act) amendments, which will require greater surveillance up and down the supply chain.”
U. S. Availability
As with almost every other manufacturing industry, higher costs (labor, rent, etc.) pose a disadvantage for sourcing and processing in the U.S. “In this particular industry, availability and a dwindling population of collectors are also challenges,” Pontiakos noted. “As mentioned before, each botanical has specific conditions in which they thrive and since not all can thrive in the United States, the variety of U.S. grown botanicals is limited. Even if the botanical is grown in the U.S., it is usually seasonal. While consumers demand product throughout the year, material is typically in abundance only during a certain time of the year and even more so if sourcing elsewhere is not an option.”
According to Pontiakos, there are no environmental issues involved for making the company’s product in the U.S. “To begin with,” he said, “most of the botanicals we domestically source are sustainably wild-crafted, which means they naturally grow in the environment. Furthermore, our rigorous vendor qualification program guarantees that all BI vendors exercise ethical and safe practices in growing and/or collecting our raw materials.”
Although “Made in the USA” has always been a marketable claim, it is becoming even more so now due to increased consumer awareness on overall health and the role food, beverage, and dietary supplements play in it, Pontiakos noted. “Ultimately, it comes down to the transparency of the product; consumers desire to know what exactly they are consuming. As mentioned above, U.S. made ingredients allow for easier traceability and visibility, contributing to the rise in popularity of the ‘Made in the USA’ claim.”