In Response: From Farm to Tablet

October 6, 2010

Judging by the popularity of the farm-to-table movement that’s sweeping the country, it’s safe to say that consumers are demanding to know more when it comes to what they put into their bodies.

Judging by the popularity of the farm-to-table movement that’s sweeping the country, it’s safe to say that consumers are demanding to know more when it comes to what they put into their bodies. As they learn more about the hidden costs of industrial agriculture-including pollution to our soil and waterways, in addition to the effects on our own health-they want to know where their food was grown, how it was grown, that it was grown sustainably, and the environmental impacts. They want fresh, seasonal, and local foods grown without synthetic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers. They want farmers and artisans to go back to traditional methods. Essentially, they want to bridge the gap between them and the people producing their food.

There is a huge opportunity to carry this concept over into the supplement world. By controlling every step of the process in creating our nutrients, from farm to tablet, we can embrace this movement as supplement manufacturers and deliver a product that offers real value to consumers.

Vertical Integration

The key to achieving farm-to-table concepts in the supplement field is vertical integration. A vertically integrated company has full control of its operation, from farm to tablet. It sources its own ingredients and creates its product from scratch. This includes blending, drying, tableting, bottling, labeling, shipping, and storage. Eliminating outsourcing of any of these steps not only allows a supplement company to ensure that quality-control standards are being met every step of the way, but also creates the opportunity to show consumers exactly where their product is coming from.

For a company that produces 100% whole-food nutrients, for example, it starts with fresh foods sourced from local and organic farmers within the United States. It is important to be familiar with the farmers who supply the fruits, vegetables, and herbs, and to perform vendor audits to make sure vendors maintain your standard of quality in food handling and growing methods.

Using traditional artisan practices in manufacturing supplements is another farm-to-table concept that translates into value for the consumer. Combining advanced technology, such as drying or tableting methods, with traditional, small-batch hand-blending and hand-measuring techniques ensures that the ingredients were handled with precision and that the finished product is of the highest quality.

Health Benefits

At the root of the farm-to-table movement is the concern for health-our own health, that of the environment, and even the model of the traditional family farm. Using these ideals in producing supplements certainly translates into health benefits for consumers.

With food-based supplements, for example, extreme temperatures diminish nutrient value. By controlling the drying method in house, whole foods can be dried into nutrient-rich concentrates, without diminishing vitamin C levels, carotenoids, flavonoids, and micronutrients essential for maintaining long-term health. Controlling every step of the creation of a supplement ensures freshness, purity, and nutritive value for the consumer.

The environment also benefits from a vertically integrated approach. By not outsourcing any step of production and sourcing raw ingredients as locally as possible, transportation is kept to a minimum. Using organic ingredients ensures that toxic pesticides and herbicides are kept out of our soil and waterways-and our bodies.

Beyond the Product

Offer opportunities for consumers to view your facilities and even meet the farmers who grow your raw materials. Sustainable business practices are also a part of the farm-to-table movement. Consumers want products packaged for ease of recycling and shipped in protective material that can also be recycled.

Like farm to table, farm to tablet is also about community. Support projects that lead to healthier lifestyles and spread awareness about how sustainable living benefits individuals, communities, and the planet. Producing supplements in a holistic way-with regard to every step of the process, from farm to tablet and beyond-delivers a potent, exceptionally high-quality product that health-conscious consumers can feel good about.

In-House Control

If delivering a quality product means personally monitoring as much of every aspect of production as possible, MegaFood aims to practice what it preaches. In 2004, the company installed a Refractance Window (RW) dryer from MCD Technologies (Tacoma, WA) in house. RW technology allows MegaFood to dry its whole-food botanical ingredients while retaining more of their nutrients, the company says.

“Foods dried using a RW dryer have been shown in studies to have higher rates of retention of nutrients and compounds that impart the foods’ color, taste, and flavor,” says Stacey Gillespie.

“We saw an ad [for RW technology] and were intrigued by the claims made,” adds Richard LaFond, MegaFood’s vice president of marketing. “It appeared to fit our goal of being able to produce the highest-quality dried powder from a raw-food form.”

According to MCD Technologies, the machine dries product by using water as a heat-transfer medium. A puree of food, which naturally has a high moisture content, is placed on the machine’s belt. Under the belt lies a reservoir of heated water. Infrared energy generated from the water passes through the belt to the moist surface of the product puree.

As the infrared energy reaches the puree’s water molecules, the molecules become “excited” and evaporate. Eventually, as the puree’s water content decreases and the product is dried, the energy transfer ceases.

“It helps prevent the product from being exposed to high temperatures and for prolonged periods beyond the point of dehydration,” says LaFond. The technology is able to dry fresh, whole foods, without overdrying them and degrading their nutrients.

Do consumers appreciate the difference that an RW dryer can make? “Consumers in general are confused over the differences between the various brands of whole-food supplements and are seeking ways to understand how each brand is differentiated, or of better quality,” says Gillespie. “What is of value to our core customer is that all the nutritive compounds, including amino acids and antioxidants, which are inherently contained in a fresh, whole food, are actually delivered to them in each and every bottle. Initially, a consumer may not know the benefit of a RW dryer, but with further education and comparison to other methods, they understand the value of drying this way.”