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The Clean Label Conundrum: How Can Supplement Makers Comply?

Clean Label Clean Label

For decades, physicians and pharmaceuticals were the go-to for health management—and the primary focus was efficacy. But a changing consumer goal triggered and has since underpinned the expansion of the supplements industry. Supplements have enabled people to take responsibility for their own health, and to prioritize maintaining long-term health. Transparency demands that originally began in the food industry made their way into supplements, too via the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA). With a shift in consumer expectations in recent years, consumers are paying more attention to transparency and ingredient lists.

Non-GMO Project

Clean label is perhaps the biggest. What began as a spontaneous reaction to food safety concerns in the U.K.’s meat industry has become a global megatrend whose effects are driving both new product development and reformulation throughout the nutrition sector and beyond. In fact, research commissioned by Lonza Consumer Health & Nutrition, and conducted by the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), has shown that 80 percent of U.S. consumers want to know the sources of the ingredients in the products they use. Fifty-four percent also recently said they would prefer to buy dietary supplements derived from natural sources—an increase of nearly 60 percent compared to 2013.

Conflicting Requirements

There is, however, a dichotomy between the consistent growth of the supplements market and the broadening demand for clean label. Is it possible to strike a balance between authenticity, and transparency on the one hand and increasing volumes, speed-to-market and complexity on the other? How can manufacturers ensure their ingredients, processes and end-products match the needs of their customers, while complying with the requirements of shareholders, regulators and legislators?

Leading suppliers to the nutrition industry have committed extensive resources to helping their customers overcome these issues. Solutions are now available that enable manufacturers and brand owners to ensure clean label compliance throughout their business. These allow an integrated and reliable approach to clean label in both new product development and reformulation, from raw materials and ingredients, across production, all the way through to delivery forms.

A Moving Feast

The clean label phenomenon began around 25 years ago and is now a firmly established element of the food and personal care sectors, as well as nutritional supplements. At the outset, the need was clear-cut: consumers were becoming more aware of, and concerned about, what they were putting into their bodies, where it came from and how it was sourced. This meant formulators sought to reduce the number of ingredients within the product to shorten and clarify its label, while operators sought processes to manufacture the product that ensured it adhered to clean label requirements.

While this initially might sound simple, going “clean label” is anything but. Not only has no single definition of the term been created or accepted, by consumers or the industry, but the clean label market is in a constant state of flux. What was often little more than a conversation is now a purposeful movement—a concept of many dimensions. What started as “taking out mysterious artificial ingredients” now includes vegetarianism, veganism, non-GMO (genetically modified organism) and organic, and many more characteristics that simply were not priorities in the early years. So for those supplement makers wishing to service the ever-expanding clean label segment, how can these diverse and evolving requirements be met in order to safeguard compliance?

Seeing and Believing

Better visibility and control are, without doubt, central to a clean label strategy; maintaining transparency and quality throughout the supply chain are prerequisites. This means sourcing ingredients of the highest quality from reputable suppliers with rigorous quality and testing standards of their own. Close collaboration with these suppliers about processes and methodologies, and risk management means that expectations and standards are aligned and provide reassurance to manufacturers, brand owners, retailers and consumers alike.

A commitment to quality and constant improvements are fundamental. Ensuring best practice and adherence not only to the numerous and evolving quality regulations, but also to current food good manufacturing practices (GMP), may appear a daunting challenge. But seeing this challenge as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle, enables supplement makers to raise the bar and stay ahead of competitors and regulators. Detailed forward planning, regular testing and reviews, as well as a proactive mindset, help to safeguard quality standards and minimize risk.

As well as the composition of the products themselves, a detailed knowledge of how they are used is essential for compliance. Consumer habits and preferences vary dramatically between markets, geographies—even across different ages and usage levels. Although Millennials are the dominant force behind much of the market’s development, sustainable and eco-friendly ingredients are important to all age groups, as they are seen as a reflection of the consumer’s broader values and ethics.

The Only Constant is Change

With the proliferation of nutritional ingredients and both sourcing and sales becoming increasingly globalized for many businesses, compliance undoubtedly becomes more complex. This is an opportunity for proactive and quality-driven supplement manufacturers. With a firm hand on their own quality standards, a detailed understanding of the regulatory environment and insight into the broad health concerns of consumers worldwide, personalization is a chance to develop highly tailored nutritional solutions that deliver precisely the benefits sought in each market.

The regulatory landscape is understandably a primary concern for manufacturers and suppliers alike, and rightly so. Regulations evolve over time, either in response to industry practices or processes, or as technology and consumer demands and expectations change. Acting on behalf of consumers, regulations drive a safer environment for all, and as vendors and suppliers, an open discussion on shaping these changes is essential. Despite there being no set industry or regulatory definition as yet, moving to cleaner labels requires a new perspective on processes, ingredients and labelling to ensure all parts of the process and supply chain comply with industry and consumer expectations.

Clean Label Cues

With more demands than ever being placed on supplement makers, collaboration and partnership are important. Working together with like-minded organizations not only enables each one to comply with the current standards and expectations of its markets, but also provides a solid foundation for future growth and development.

Clean label compliance can be greatly facilitated by a range of approaches that is now available to supplement manufacturers within the U.S. and beyond, including:

Raw material supplier selection: In the excitement of a burgeoning industry feeding increased demand, supplier qualification is important. In 2019, supplement manufacturers can secure the clean label status of their products by working with reliable suppliers that offer high quality ingredients from known and natural sources to support new product development and reformulation.

Upskilling: improving in-house awareness and knowledge of both regulations and quality standards, and implementing measures to ensure complete compliance with them, including timely responses to changes

Collaboration: seeking opportunities to work with complementary organizations and associations to help meet evolving demands. The creation last year of the Clean Label Alliance is a prime example of a partnership that brings benefits to the dietary supplement industry as a whole by providing access to knowledgeable resources.

Technical advancement: recent progression in ingredients, equipment and processes mean more clean label production is possible than ever before. This includes vegetarian and vegan ingredients and delivery solutions (such as capsules and tablets), which cater to the growing number of consumers looking to reduce their consumption of animal-derived products, as well as a wider choice of clean label excipients.

Coming Clean

In a rapidly evolving market, with many different dimensions, it can be difficult to keep abreast of changing consumer requirements, tightening regulations and novel technology developments. Every year, it becomes more and more evident that one size does not fit all, which explains the ongoing fragmentation of the dietary supplement market. But certain standards and attitudes prevail across the whole sector: the need for safety; the requirement for scientific proof of efficacy and the assurance of quality and transparency.

While clean label status has been demanded from ingredients suppliers for some time, delivery methods are now under equal scrutiny. Sometimes clean label ingredients are more difficult to work with—excipients are a good example—and therefore have an impact on manufacturing methods, speed, efficiency and ultimately, profitability. As a result, clean label formulation, or reformulation, needs a holistic approach to every component of the supplement, including the delivery format. This is where the expertise of experienced suppliers becomes invaluable.

Where many have worked in nutritional supplements for decades, only a small number of these suppliers have the wide-reaching capabilities to adopt the multifaceted procedures necessary for clean label compliance today. As a supplier of integrated, science-backed ingredients, dosage forms and delivery systems, Lonza has both the breadth and depth of knowledge to support dietary supplement manufacturers and brand owners in their development of clean label offerings, from concept, through processing to the final product. For example, since productivity and yield can vary when transitioning to clean label, Lonza has practices and processes in place to not only measure productivity, but also to help maintain yields throughout the transition. With the help of associated industry partners, like the Clean Label Alliance, to bring additional know-how and practical assistance, Lonza is ideally positioned to assist supplement makers in their clean label developments. To find out more, visit www.lonza.com. NIE

Barri Sigvertsen, Marketing Manager, Lonza Consumer Health & Nutrition