Market demand drives Country Life's push for Non GMO Project Verified certification

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Organic food Cheese

Country Life has achieved Non GMO Project Verifed certification on its Biotin skus and has other products in the certification pipeline.
Country Life has achieved Non GMO Project Verifed certification on its Biotin skus and has other products in the certification pipeline.
Country Life Vitamins has joined the ranks of supplement companies that have achieved a non GMO Project Verifed certification. Getting there wasn’t easy, but the effort has become necessary because of the rising demands of consumers, the company said.

Country Life’s product educator Tracey Kreider, ND, spoke with with NutraIngredients-USA at the recent Expo East trade show in Baltimore, MD about the process.  It’s time consuming and expensive, Kreider said. The company’s certification on its Biotin supplements is the first product of a slew it hopes to have verified.

“We sent in information on about 30 different products about two years ago,”​ Kreider said. “The biotin is the first one we got a certification back on. People tell us that once you get the first certification done the others fall into line more quickly.”

Country Life has a history of pushing transparency and has relied on third party certifications to demonstrate this to consumers.  The company has more than 500 products bearing one certification or another, including approximately 400 certified vegetarian, more than 240 certified vegan, more than 10 certified USDA organic and more than 150 certified kosher products.

Nearly all of Country Life’s products are manufactured at its wholly owned NSF-GMP compliant manufacturing facility in Hauppauge, N.Y. The facility is also the first by a supplement brand to be certified gluten-free by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO), meaning all Country Life manufactured products are certified gluten-free.

While Country Life has obviously seen the advantages of third party certifications in its 40-year history in the natural products business, the interest in these imprimaturs in the marketplace now is unprecedented, Kreider said. It’s her job to communicate to the company’s retailers about the important information that is conveyed by the various certifications and to give retailers ways to best present that to consumers.  Vegetarian and vegan certifications play into lifestyle decisions important to consumers who form a big part of the company’s core constituency, and gluten-free is vital information for celiac disease sufferers. 

“These days I spend the entire first part of my presentation to audiences just explaining the certifications and taking questions from the audience about them,”​ Kreider said.

Market demand

The situation with non GMO certification is less clear, Kreider said.  It doesn’t say anything about the products’ quality, and it isn’t entirely clear what, if anything, it says about the healthfulness of the product. But it definitely is on consumers’ minds, and is therefore of interest to retailers.  Kreider said Country Life is committed to meeting the needs of the market, even if this might mean she gets to spend less time talking about the actual health benefits of the products.

“It’s the No. 1 thing that people are asking for, and I’m not sure they even know why they are asking about it,”​ Kreider said.

Many supplement companies have observed that the Non GMO Project’s requirements for certification have evolved in such a way that they have become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for supplement companies to meet.  That question has led to the formation of a new organization called the Coalition for Supplement Sustainability​ to sort through those tangled supply chain questions to come up with a standard that is feasible for the industry for those companies who want to verify that their products are free of traces of genetic engineering. Many supplements by their very nature are much more complex than foods and have ingredient supply chains that are heavily comingled. Fermentation, the source of many ingredients in the supplement business, is an especially difficult sticking point, as all of the feedstocks would need to be verified under the current scheme, and all this for an ingredient such as citric acid that might be present in the finished product in only minute quantities.

Organic certification

Organic certification is another very difficult standard for supplement companies to meet, but it has not achieved the same sort of almost cult status in the marketplace as has non GMO, even though it says more about how a product was produced. Country Life has a significant presence in the sports nutrition marketplace with its Biochem and Iron-Tek brands, and Kreider said supply constraints are a significant bottleneck for this protein-packed sector. Whey protein has long been the benchmark for protein quality, taste and ease of formulation, and now it is becoming more cost effective again because of the recent sharp drop in the price of milk.  But because its raw material is itself a byproduct, the whey market is always at the mercy of other market forces, Kreider said.

“Whey is a byproduct of cheese manufacture.  That’s why we don’t have a lot of organic whey in the market because the amount of organic cheese production is not high,”​ Kreider said.

“A couple of years ago we say this surge of vegan proteins that were taking over. Now we are beginning to see that whey protein is rising again,”​ she said.

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