Dealing with regulators has always been a touchy subject within the dietary supplement industry, as it is within other regulated industries. Regulators are like cops or IRS agents; for a lot of companies, having to talk to one means you’re having a bad day. So it’s a natural reaction to want to fly under the radar as much as possible, and only deal with government officials when you’re forced to.
But in the wake of the assault on the industry that began last year and which was led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a number of industry stakeholders have stepped forward to say that that notion is outdated and misguided. Former attorneys general from Arkansas, West Virginia and Maryland have all advised the industry in the wake of Schneiderman’s attack that actively engaging with state AGs is a more productive strategy.
“Industry members should consider establishing relationships with the attorneys general offices in the states where they do business. Establishing such relationships based on collegiality, cooperation and transparency without the specter of a possible enforcement action or investigation could go a long way toward smoothing the road should an issue ever arise,” said Doug Gansler, former Maryland AG who is now in private law practice with the firm BuckleySandler LLP.
Embracing the ecosystem
Whittel, who is CEO of Twinlab Consolidation Corporation (the company’s full, legal name) took that advice to heart and set up a recent event in which Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes visited the company’s manufacturing facility in American Fork, UT. Whittel said she saw the move as part of being a leader in the dietary supplements industry, and making sure that Twinlab was fully connected to all parts of its value chain.
“I chose to do this because I strongly believe that we as an industry need to embrace our ecosystem. By that I mean regulators, legislators, consumers and suppliers. They are all part of that and we need to embrace every part in order to regain consumer trust,” Whittel told NutraIngredients-USA.
Whittel said the event was conducted mostly by the manufacturing plant’s employees themselves. After a sit down in the front offices where Whittel and her staff introduced Reyes to the company, which has been manufacturing supplements in Utah for many years, it was off to the shop floor, where the day shift mostly ran the show.
“We took him through the plant just as if he were an ingredient,” Whittel said. “We focused on our eye health product, and he played the part of FloraGlo, (from Kemin), the branded lutein that’s in the product. We took him through receiving, testing, blending and ultimately ended up with a finished product.
“He finished with a speech in which he said he has the same goals we have, and that is to make sure people have healthy, safe products,” she said.
Whittel said the positive nature of the meeting made it easy for her to recommend that other companies follow Twinlab’s lead.
“My advice for any company is to absolutely to get on the phone and invite your AG into your facility. It’s an important relationship. If you are on the fence and are not sure you want to do it, maybe you need to look a little more carefully at your operation. Maybe there is something you’re not proud of that you need to improve,” she said.
Whittel said a side benefit of the event was the morale boosting effect it had for her own staff. It reinforced that what they were doing was important, and that the company was a vital part of local community and of the Utah economy, she said.
“For the entire organization it was such a great day,” she said. “This was the highlight of my five months as CEO of the organization (Whittel recently replaced Tom Tolworthy in the role). I got e-mails from the entire team.”
Whittel said that positive feeling spilled over into a number of Twinlab employees asking for information as to how they could volunteer for a suicide prevention initiative that Reyes is promoting. The rate of teen suicide has tripled in Utah in recent years and is now the No.1 cause of death for boys and girls in the 10-to-17 age range. Reyes is seeking to address that, including by launching a mobile app through which at-risk young people can find immediate help.