Marketing: Getting to Know You

September 9, 2010

In June, herbal product manufacturer Gaia Herbs (Gaia; Brevard, NC) introduced Meet Your Herbs, an industry-first herb-traceability program to provide customers with as much information as possible about the herbal products they purchase.

In June, herbal product manufacturer Gaia Herbs (Gaia; Brevard, NC) introduced Meet Your Herbs, an industry-first herb-traceability program to provide customers with as much information as possible about the herbal products they purchase.

By going to www.meetyourherbs.com and entering a unique identification number now provided on every bottle of Gaia Herbs liquid herbal extract, customers can essentially perform a background check on the herbs in the product. They can trace information such as where and by whom the herb was grown; how and by whom the herb was certified organic; the herb’s harvest date; how the herb was identified and validated, extracted, and tested for heavy metals and microbials, including the results of the tests; and details about the extract’s purity, including biomarker concentration.

It’s the type of transparency that industry needs more of in order to build consumer confidence in quality, explained Greg Cumberford, Gaia’s vice president of strategic initiatives, in an interview with Nutritional Outlook.

 

Do you feel there is a general lack of transparency in botanical manufacturing-and are consumers aware of it?

Yes. At present in the U.S. botanical supplement industry, there is a general lack of transparency. Consumers and practitioners do not have easy access to information pertaining to where their botanical ingredients come from and how they are manufactured and validated for purity, integrity, and potency.

Most consumers are not yet aware of the gap between what they do know about their botanical supplements and what they could know if botanical manufacturers supplied this information readily and systematically.

What was the goal of Meet Your Herbs?

We realized that Meet Your Herbs could help Gaia Herbs better connect wholesale buyers, practitioners, and consumers to the truly differentiating factors between Gaia’s products and other companies’ products-looking objectively from the standpoint of many value-added aspects of sourcing, cultivation, manufacturing, quality control, and education that Gaia Herbs has been doing for many, many years. Meet Your Herbs meant that Gaia Herbs could transparently relate all this information directly to our customers. Since we have the information, why not share it?

The basic goal was to educate people systematically about Gaia’s many value-added layers in every product, so that the entire supply chain will become more responsive to quality, and consumers will be ever more empowered to demand a high degree of transparency in botanical supplements. If one U.S. botanical company can do this, why not the entire industry? Such a paradigm shift would greatly increase both consumer and regulatory confidence in premium-quality botanical supplements as serious solutions for sustained wellness.

That said, how can Meet Your Herbs set an industry standard for transparency?

Gaia’s initial launch of Meet Your Herbs sets a basic framework for wholesale buyers, consumers, and practitioners to see that it is possible to know pertinent elements of a botanical supplement’s purity, integrity, and potency. Gaia Herbs will continue to evolve this framework as both technical capacity and public involvement increases.

As people come to see and expect that the Meet Your Herbs framework tells them what they are interested in knowing about botanical quality, it should cause a demand-driven response among all serious and credible botanical products companies.

Botanical extracts come from the earth. They come into commerce through definite horticultural, wild harvesting, and value-added manufacturing processes-all of which are known to the participants in a particular product’s supply chain. If this information is shared truthfully, readily, and transparently, it will tend to build more credibility with consumers.

Does this program come close to any other
product-information systems offered by other herbal manufacturers?

At this time (summer 2010), we are unaware of any other U.S. botanical supplement company that has built a system that comprehensively provides product and ingredient-specific traceability information via the Internet and smart phone apps. Obviously, this is likely to change-and consumers will benefit! One Canadian company that is doing something similar in the fish oil category is Ascenta, whose Pure Check offers batch number data related to label claim, oxidation tests, and purity tests through their website.

How does this level of transparency fit in with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) current Good Manufacturing Practices requirements for dietary supplements?

It will help to close any remaining gaps between a company’s marketing claims pertaining to their quality and their products’ real manufacturing and quality-assurance practices. It will provide this information directly to the public-and, of course, is open to scrutiny by FDA.

For companies that offer up their manufacturing and quality processes transparently, it will mean that every stakeholder in the process-especially consumers, practitioners, and FDA-can evaluate the same information for compliance. It will bring a new level of coherence to the botanical supplement industry.

Why was it important to show pictures of the people and farms (e.g., Gaia Middle Field #6) that grow the botanicals?

The chief benefit in showing this level of photographic and horticultural detail is to underscore that real botanical medicines come from the earth, in real places, from real people. There is a wider, and very powerful, trend in the natural products industry involving disclosures of fair trade and community-enriching sustainability practices. Gaia Herbs is participating in that trend by showing the actual people and places where our raw herbal ingredients come from.

Why also name the lab technicians who test the raw material?

Each product in the Meet Your Herbs program has a scanned pdf file of the product’s Certificate of Compliance to various purity and potency parameters, as attested by the appropriate Gaia Herbs employees. We are naming our laboratory scientists and quality-assurance staff to underscore the fact that real people are taking real, documented responsibility for delivering a premium-quality finished product to the end-user of each Gaia Herbs product.

While you do share information about your botanical vendors, why are some vendors’ names still kept proprietary?

Over our nearly 25 years in herbal manufacturing, Gaia Herbs has cultivated and developed key relationships with certain growers and ingredient suppliers that are proprietary in nature. As botanical supplements have gone more and more mainstream, it has become quite challenging for Gaia Herbs to source premium-quality, certified-organic, and ecologically harvested raw botanical materials beyond what we grow ourselves.

We recognized when we developed Meet Your Herbs that this program could also be used by our market competitors as a sort of “yellow pages directory” to our supply chain. To prevent much larger, much better-financed companies from threatening the integrity of our supply chain, we have had to keep certain vendors’ names proprietary for the time being.

This will change over time due to investments we are making in building our own internal horticultural supply capacity for most of these ingredients. We welcome other botanical supplement manufacturers to match Gaia Herbs’ transparency commitments, and we welcome the scrutiny of consumers and practitioners to ensure that Gaia Herbs’ degree of transparency remains unsurpassed.

What has consumer feedback been to this program?

Consumer feedback to Meet Your Herbs has been almost universally positive. They are impressed with our level of transparency in letting them access the proof about the purity, integrity, and potency of their herbs.