So you got a wicked concept for your dietary supplement formula, but now, how do you tie all the pieces together?
This overview is for those considering sourcing or buying most, if not all, of the direct sourcing ingredients for their supplements. More often than not, it’s easier and time effective to have your contract manufacturer handle these details. However, for those trying to save every penny on their production costs or those that just like having full control of well, everything, hopefully we can help you out with some guidance.
When searching for an ingredient supplier, the most common platforms to start are Google or Alibaba. Not a bad choice but you’ve heard the saying, finding a needle in a haystack right? When we need to source additional ingredients for special projects here at NuLiv Science, I often visit Nutritional Outlook’s buyers guide or SupplySide Global Storefront, produced by Natural Products Insider. Both of those will have considerable overlap, but those two trade publications cover 99% of our industry.
If you don’t have a copy on hand, give me a shout richardw (at) nulivusa (.) com
When you find whatever you’re looking for, say Cordyceps sinensis mushroom :), the next step is obtaining pricing information, specifications, minimum order quantities (MOQ), and lead time (how long it takes to fulfill your order). Pay attention to lead time if your project is nearing the final stages and time is of equal importance to cost. Some suppliers may not have stock in the US and will be shipping from their facility overseas.
Minimum order quantity is self explanatory and generally speaking, is around 25kg. Almost all ingredients are packaged in 25kg cardboard drums so you’ll see the number 25 often. For IP ingredients or more expensive products, you might see MOQs as low as 1 kg.
Specifications come in the form of a spec sheet or certificate of analysis. These forms are internally supplied, and cover basic and quality aspects of the ingredient such as organoleptic data, bacteria count, mesh size, etc.. Internally supplied is an important attribute to consider, as you’re essentially trusting the supplier’s word that everything stated on the specification sheet is true. Time and budget permitting, it’s always advisable to send any samples to a third party lab for additional testing.
Usually, this additional testing will entail some type of identity fingerprinting, to ensure the powder you have on hand is actually what the COA or spec sheets says it is. In our example, the 3rd party lab will run cordyceps sinensis sample through a high performance thin layer chromograph. They will then compare the results with a universal reference standard and if they match, you know you have real cordyceps in your hands.
Other testing might include heavy metals, particularly if it’s coming from China. Reason being is that China has been using leaded fuel for the better part of 5 decades. That’s a lot of lead buildup in local soil. Food for thought.
The next steps might entail obtaining a raw sample so you can do some water solubility and flavor testing. This is especially important if you have a powder formula that requires end-users mixing it with water at home.
Now you’ve nailed down the order volume, pricing, specification/coa sheet (which your CM will require). Ready to rock and roll, right?
You will want to save a copy of all documentation from your supplier. Also, it’s advisable that you save the raw sample as well, in an airtight container, free from extreme heat/cold and light.Per GMP rules, (link to 1st article), contract manufacturers keep a sample of production batch in inventory for record keeping. We recommend you do the same, if only to track changes in the same ingredient over time.
I remember in the early aughts, all the material coming in initially from China was extremely potent. The odor, the taste, all very profound and highly reminiscent of the botanical itself. These days, almost everything is a shell of what the ingredient once was filled with carriers and even natural coloring sometimes. It is the nature of our industry, where ever rising costs and competitiveness has lead to a dilution of once nearly pure ingredients. Can you believe at one point, you could get ginseng root powder, standardized for 80% ginsenosides for $28 per kilogram?!
Before I go more down nostalgia lane, sourcing ingredients requires more time and equal part resourcefulness on your part. But having that control, and more importantly, knowledge of this critical function will help fill out the foundation for your future, successful supplement brand.