Labs Strive to Lead Positive Change

Dedication to quality, transparency, and collaboration is making a positive impact that is helping to lift the industry up.

lab beakers on table

Dedication to quality, transparency, and collaboration is making a positive impact that is helping to lift the industry up.

Read on for some of the major achievements of 2022.

 “Labs are the gatekeepers of quality. We need to stay one step ahead of adulteration, so consumers don’t get sick.”

Elan Sudberg, Alkemist Labs

In recent years, testing laboratories and certification companies have become drivers of positive change for the natural products industry. In addition to working to help brands ensure safety and quality, these industry partners have addressed issues affecting inventory. A few of the ways labs are setting themselves apart:

  1. Raising the Bar on Quality

  2. Innovating Transparency

  3. Collaborating with Mission-Based Corporations

  4. Investing in Technology

Raising the Bar on Quality

One way labs are acting as key drivers of positive change is through top-notch quality systems. Sandra Lee, CEO, NJ Labs explains, “Labs should implement quality systems and SOPs [Standard Operating Procedures] based upon accepted science such as following the USP guidelines. Recently, we highlighted the importance of TOC (total organic carbon) water testing analysis after a flood of letters from the FDA were issued to companies on water system suitability. Staying on top of issues like these for manufacturers is essential for good partnerships with labs and better outcomes for the consumers who use their products.”

Joseph Dever, Director, Toxicology Services, NSF, adds, “Nutraceuticals are typically complex mixtures containing hundreds or even thousands of different compounds. This complexity presents a challenge in ensuring purity and quality. Laboratories around the world are helping the natural products industry analyze these complex mixtures with increasingly sophisticated analytical tools. At NSF, our toxicology team even takes it a step further, using laboratory data to better understand potential health risks.”

Katarzyna Banaszewski, Director of Quality for NOW Health Group, agrees that the extra attention is important. “Labs specializing in analysis of natural products help vendors and manufacturers achieve and maintain high quality standards and compliance with current regulations.”

And the stakes are high. Elan Sudberg, CEO of Alkemist Labs, explains, “Labs are the gatekeepers to quality. We need to stay one step ahead of adulteration, so our beloved clients don’t stumble and get hurt and most importantly, so their consumers don’t get sick. Implementing these systems and measures leads to quality. At Alkemist Labs, our job and mission are to make sure our clients’ products are safe and effective by confirming identity, potency, and lack of contamination. We are proud to play a small, but significant role to some of the industry’s best large and small brands.”

Helping brands be at their best means being at your best. What that means to Alkemist Labs: “We are pursuing B Corp status, which requires a slew of additional operational considerations based on ethics, equality, and sustainability, and we plan to be the first and only B Corp lab in the industry,” Sudberg says. “This is a huge undertaking, but we feel strongly about it.”

In terms of certification, David Trosin, Senior Director, Global Certification, NSF, says they can make the positive difference for companies. “Certification by an independent, third-party accredited organization like NSF helps ethical brands differentiate their quality from less reputable brands. It proves they are doing things the right way and operating in a compliant, customer-forward environment.”

Nutrasource has much to offer on this front as well. Read up on the company in special coverage on page 45. 

Innovating Transparency

Another achievement in the testing space: improving transparency around operations. Educating consumers and manufacturers was one way labs achieved this. Alkemist Labs is creating consumer-friendly Certificate of Analysis (C of As), says Sudberg. “This will be a competitive advantage to those brands willing and able to share their quality, and in turn increasing consumer confidence and sales.”

In addition, sharing data puts consumers at ease. Sudberg says, “Product innovation can come in many different shapes and sizes. We usually expect such to be in the form of new ingredients, but an innovation in transparency is gaining momentum. The good brands are finally taking their quality out of the closet. For too long, the industry has spent millions of dollars with a handful of labs only to tuck the reports away in the drawer of a mid-level quality control employee. As the buying habits of the consumers accustomed to finding whatever information they seek right from their phones change, they are seeking more, better reasons to buy your product. The most innovative brands are beginning to share their quality data with the consumer in a style they can understand.”

Labeling is another factor that comforts consumers. Sudberg offers, “The next step in marketing is to make it perfectly clear that what’s on the label is in the bottle and nothing more and that it’s been independently verified by an accredited laboratory, and here is all the data. If all labs and brands did that, I believe the credibility of this industry would be stronger.”

Alkemist Labs Alkemist Assured  is a two-tiered program to help suppliers and brands operate with transparency:

Level One – Next Generation Transparency Reports for Consumers: Participating companies display test results and C of A reports in Next Generation Transparency consumer-friendly formatting on their website for either B2B customers or consumers to see, and refresh them at least every six months.

Level Two – Alkemist Assured Seal: Brands wishing to further demonstrate their quality commitment and assurance may also apply for the use of Alkemist Assured seal on product marketing materials, website, sales materials, etc. In addition to the requirements for the level one NGT program, level two requires that participant companies utilize Alkemist identity, potency, and contaminant confirmation testing services for raw material and blended ingredient quality.

NJ Labs is investing in transparency as well. “It’s important for labs to educate both the public and manufacturers,” Lee says. “NJ Labs dedicates a lot of time to educating both manufacturers and consumers about the importance of testing products. This year we launched a podcast series called “Going Beyond Testing” to give companies and consumers an insider’s look at testing practices and what should be tested to keep products safe and effective.”

For its part, NOW has been holding the industry accountable. The company works with third-party testing labs and alerting Amazon that bad actors featured on the site are misleading consumers.

Consumers want to see these efforts. “Both consumers and retailers have an increasing desire for clean, simple products that support a healthy lifestyle,” says Trosin. “Consumers are not interested in products that over-promise, or long complex proprietary blends. It’s simple: people want to know that they can trust the label on their nutraceutical and that it is safe for them to integrate nutraceuticals into their health routine.”

And these days consumers don’t just want this…they expect and demand it. Dever says, “Customers expect unprecedented transparency from the products they use, especially consumables. Some brands now share laboratory analysis data for their products directly on their websites. The more you know, the more you can share, and the better you can connect with your customers and earn their trust. ”

Supporting the Mission

Greater collaboration with mission-based companies allows for increased good. Sudberg explains, “We play a small role in leading these changes by working with mission-based companies like True Grace who themselves live these values with their ingredients ethically and sustainably sourced using regenerative agriculture, and even their packaging, which is sourced from ocean waste.”

Lee agrees, “NJ Labs makes a positive difference for brands by partnering with manufacturers that make products consumers use. We provide our nutraceutical/dietary supplement customers with this kind of added value by not simply giving a testing certificate that is stamped as reviewed and approved to the manufacturer, but by also being a collaboration partner for the lifetime of the products they produce.”

Investing in Technology

Properly running a lab includes recognizing any limitations, and finding solutions. “It is important to understand the lab’s limitations and work on resolving them ahead of time,” Banaszewski acknowledges. “Many labs struggle with proper staffing, space, and analytical capabilities. They should target those deficiencies in anticipation of the future growth.”

Ideally, Banaszewski says, labs should be one step ahead. “It’s important to participate in industry forums and follow research and consumer product trends in order to make investments in the right testing technology and stay ahead of the curve.”

Spending more on staffing or technology makes a difference. Sudberg says, “We kept up well with the growth we experienced during the pandemic because we staffed up and tooled up. At Alkemist Labs, we are active in nearly every industry and/or scientific committee possible.”

Dever makes another point: “Advances in cell-based and chip-based technologies now enable product developers to gain unprecedented insights into the safety and efficacy of products. Likewise, chromatography and mass spectrometry techniques, which can be used to characterize complex nutraceutical products, continue to advance. NSF prides itself on using modern and advanced laboratory approaches to support clients’ needs.”

And at NJ Labs, Lee says, “We are investing in the latest testing instrumentation and technology especially in the area of amino acids testing and heavy metal testing, which our research shows is a key growth area in the nutraceuticals market.” WF