The Supplement OWL registry adapts to support other self regulatory endeavors and accommodate business

Sep 20, 2018

The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN; Washington, D.C.) says its Supplement Online Wellness Library (OWL) registry for dietary supplement products continues to evolve as the trade group sees opportunities for growth and improvement. Most recently, Duffy MacKay, N.D., CRN’s senior vice president, scientific and regulatory affairs, spoke at the Global Retailer and Manufacturer Alliance’s (GRMA) First Annual Summit, which took place in August, about how the OWL can be integrated with other industry initiatives.

GRMA is a global nonprofit organization whose members include retailers, manufacturers, trade associations, and certification bodies, with the goal of developing consensus-based American National Standards for Good Manufacturing Practices in several industries. CRN and GMRA have been discussing how to align all the supplement industry’s different self-regulatory initiatives, including GRMA, the Supplement Safety and Compliance Initiative (SSCI), and the Supplement OWL. MacKay proposes that the Supplement OWL can act as a centralized location for documentation of a company’s participation in either GRMA and SSCI, as well as a way for them to share information confidentially.

The Supplement OWL is a voluntary dietary supplement product registry where brands can house labels, products images, as well as more confidential information that can only be viewed with permission through a paid, private-facing tier of the registry. The registry was initially conceived to provide regulators and the industry at large a complete picture of all of the dietary supplement products on the market, and a place for manufacturers to communicate with regulators who may want more information. It was also a way to get ahead of any potential federal regulatory efforts to create a mandatory registry, demonstrating industry’s desire to be responsible and transparent and even set an example should FDA decide to implement a registry of its own. The public-facing part of the registry also provided a venue of transparency for an industry that has been maligned for lacking sufficient regulation. CRN’s hope is that participation in the registry will become a prerequisite for retailers to accept dietary supplement products into their stores and even for consumers to purchase.

Recent participation in the Supplement OWL places the number of registered just over 10,000. Though the registry is still relatively young, greater participation is required to make an impression on regulators and the public that the dietary supplement industry is collectively serious about transparency. This is something CRN acknowledges and is therefore why the association is working hard to spread awareness of the OWL and the value of the registry as a tool for retailers to evaluate products, as well as a way for manufacturers to showcase their brands and sell products alongside other efforts such as participation in GRMA and SSCI.

“We find that the Supplement OWL is the one to tie them together so that when a manufacturer invests its resources into demonstrating its compliance and participation in these programs, the resulting paperwork that comes from it can all be housed in one central place and shared confidentially with the individuals they want to,” MacKay tells Nutritional Outlook. “For example, if I’m participating in GRMA, and I have the documents to prove it, I can now tell my sales force to point potential clients to the Supplement OWL, and they can be able to go from their desktop and get information about the product and its ingredients. We can also give them access to documents that demonstrate our compliance and our test results and our certification. So, it’s really trying to make sure all these pieces fit together.”

Recently, Nutritional Outlook reported on a debate within the industry about the value of a voluntary product registry over a mandatory one. CRN was rather prescient when it created the Supplement OWL with the potential future of a mandatory registry in mind. This recent debate may fuel greater participation by brands who want to avoid mandatory registry.

“That’s classic in many industries; if you want to avoid the government feeling like it needs to mandate something, get your act together as an industry and self-regulate,” says MacKay. “We’re going to need an awful lot more than 10,000 labels to convince the world that we’re doing this right. I think the industry has had enough gentle reminders that outsiders looking in feel that some type of product registry is a good idea. So, we’re really fortunate that the CRN board of directors had the vision so far in advance that they got together and developed this at the right time, so it can be part of all these conversations.”

CRN says it continues to work hard to improve the Supplement OWL through user feedback and a growing understanding of how the registry is going to be used by manufacturers. For example, while many have paid compliments to the registry’s layout and scope of information, MacKay says that there remains some work to be done with efficiency. “Right now, when you make edits and changes to your submission, it has to go through UL because they are the managers of the actual data, so the manufacturer has to get in touch with UL, make the changes through UL,” he explains. “We would like to move to more of a self-serve portal, and this is based on feedback from the users in its first year. They would rather just be able to log in with some secure password and make the changes themselves and update products.”

CRN has also renamed the paid tier of the Supplement OWL to be more descriptive. It is now called the Commercial Data Exchange (CDX). This is where manufacturers can download confidential documents not open to the public. “This is the place where you are able to upload documents so that you are able to exchange them with any potential stakeholder that might benefit from seeing them,” MacKay explains. “Most likely it’s going to be a retailer, but other companies have creative way where they’ve been thinking about they might use this. Some companies have relationships with labs where this might be useful to send information back and forth in a controlled fashion. There are healthcare practitioner companies that have contemplated selling this, use this to share test results with some of our accounts that tend to ask for that type of information.”

Changes such as this may incentivize manufacturers to participate in the OWL, because it then becomes an extension of their business.