Translating transparency into business calculus

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock/Grufnar
© iStock/Grufnar

Related tags: Dietary supplement

Being transparent is more than just the right thing to do. It can boost the bottom line, experts say.

Scott Steinford, CEO of the CoQ10 Association and the Natural Algae Astaxanthin Association has built a career on trying to convince brands of the value of being open about their operations. It’s sometimes difficult to get business executives to switch their thinking to see the benefit where they have been trained only to see risk.

There is an actual return on investment of trust and transparency.  The book I recently released (with the same title: The ROI of Trust Transparency) is based on the surveys Ive done of business leaders,​Steinford told NutraIngredients-USA.

Experience formed in Japan

Steinford first built his ideas working with Japanese ingredient supplier Kaneka. Years ago the company was attempting to keep an ultra-low profile, working mostly through distributors.  Steinford said the reasoning was that by being as anonymous as possible, it could shield the company from unwanted attention.

This was exactly the discussion I had with Kaneka back in 2001.  No one had ever heard of Kaneka. They had a position at that time that they didnt want to be known because they thought it would keep them off the product liability lawsuit radar.  I told them that if you dont build up your own brand you are risking your identity.  I convinced them with the help of some attorneys,​Steinford said.

Steinford said he has been on a mission to remove the ampersand from the phrase “trust & transparency” (and has used it for the name of his consulting firm: Trust Transparency Consulting). In other words, it’s an effort to get companies to trust in the process, rather than to see these as boxes to check off with a few web pages and so forth.

Its a process of deciding not to hide behind distributors, and now allow material to be hidden by distributors,​ Steinford said. “What I was saying to Kaneka and what Ive said to other companies is that you need to trust that visibility.  You need to become a leader, you need to become active.

Brands built on openness

Bethany Davis, director of regulatory affairs for FoodState, the makers of the MegaFood line of whole food supplements, said that company’s quest to be transparent was born of CEO Robert Craven’s experience when he first came on board at the company.

The first time he did a talk on Transparency with a Capital Twas at a trade show in 2013.  What he saw over and over at our company was that we were making decisions that affected the bottom line negatively but that we were doing that for all the right reasons, and we needed to tell that story,​Davis said.

There seemed to be a lot of consumer confusion about supplements.  Are supplements regulated?  What about the widespread use of contract manufacturers? We have a set of core values that is integral to our business and that we will hold to,​ she said.

Davis said FoodState has a set of practices it has put into place to bring that transparency idea to life.  That includes live cameras on the company’s facilities, and an open product development cycle that includes input from a panel of consumers.

Robert is a huge proponent of live facility tours. He tells companies to welcome your state attorney general in, to welcome reporters in,​ she said.

We have found this culture of openness has served our brand well,​Davis said.

Todd King, Gaia Herbs director of marketing, said his company has been involved in the traceability game for  a long time​, and has featured a “Meet Your Herbs” program on its website and its marketing materials for years.  It’s a way for consumers and retail partners to get detailed information about the medicinal aspects of the company’s products and where the ingredients are sourced and how they’re grown, King said.

We have focused on reinvigorating that platform, adding content to it,​ King said.

Other brands have been built from the bottom up on a platform of transparency.  Amazon recently launched its Elements line of supplements​, which features QR codes on the labels that take consumers to detailed ingredient sourcing information. And a supplement brand called Ritual has taken a literal tack on transparency, launching a line of products in clear bottles​.

Related topics: Markets, GMPs, QA & QC, Financial focus

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