Excerpt from Nutrition Business Journal
By Melaina Juntti
In the May issue of Nutritional Business Journal, NBJ announced the winners in their prestigious annual awards program. Natural Factors is delighted to have won the NBJ Supply Chain Transparency Award, recognizing the commitment Natural Factors has demonstrated consistently over many decades to transparency, quality, and excellence.
Transparency may be the biggest buzzword of the last decade, but Natural Factors embodied this ethos long before it was cool. Founded in the 1950s by Swiss herbalist Jacob Gahler, the British Columbia-based dietary supplement company has one of the tightest supply chains in the industry. But unlike brands that crow about transparency and vertical integration without much to back it, Natural Factors has 1,000 acres of its own certified-organic farmland, plus its own laboratory, extraction, encapsulation and production facilities, as proof.
For many years, this heritage brand may have flown a bit under the radar. The company certainly wasn’t hiding its sprawling fields of non-GMO, organic crops or closeting its extensive R&D and testing protocols, but chairman Roland Gahler, Jacob’s son, believes in conducting business quietly. According to Yolanda Fenton, director of product development, Natural Factors does what it does for the benefit of people and the planet and drawing attention to its work just wasn’t a priority.
“Roland doesn’t boast too much, which is the complete opposite of many companies,” Fenton says. “Only in the last few years have we been more public about what we do. But it’s rarity for a supplement company to own farmland and do this much testing, so those of us who’ve been in the industry for a while have always said that Natural Factors is the best kept secret.”
Now the secret’s out, and the industry can only benefit from knowing the high bar this company has set. To commend its seed-to-shelf responsibility and commitment to producing consistently high-quality, safe, efficacious products, NBJ proudly presents Natural Factors with the 2019 Supply Chain Transparency Award. “This award is an honor,” Fenton says. “It validates the hard work everyone in our company does every single day.”
The Farm Factor
Roland Gahler started Natural Factors Farms some 25 years ago with 60 acres in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. The goal was—and still is—to grow medicinal plants organically from nonhybrid seeds and handpick them when mature to yield the most potent extracts possible. Today, the company grows a wide variety of herbs, including hops, valerian, echinacea and lavender, as well as fruits and vegetables. In2014, Natural Factors launched its Whole Earth & Sea line of non-GMO whole-food supplements, consisting mostly of ingredients cultivated here.
“There is quality attached to our farming,” Fenton says. “You have more control when you’re not relying on other farmers and their processes. A lot of change has happened in the organic movement, in that it has been co-opted by biotech companies and governments, so being able to actually control organic farming is very important.”
Immediately after the plants are hand-harvested, the actives are extracted. “That’s a big difference from what other companies do, which is to dry the plants, causing them to lose a lot of activity,” Fenton says. “That’s what makes botanicals ineffective, and when not dried properly, mold and mildews can form.”
But the farms have other important functions besides providing raw materials for products. “A key advantage, more than the farming itself, is on the R&D side,” Fenton says. “Because there are so many issues we’re now facing, such as the decline of the bee population and its impact on crops, [Gahler] wants research dedicated to understanding bees, their relationship with crops and the mites killing them off.” Natural Factors’ research also focuses on plant species on the verge of extinction and preserves heirloom seeds.
“We invest a lot of money into R&D that doesn’t translate into profit,” Fenton says. “If anything, it costs money, but that’s the legacy Roland wants to pass on. As a whole, it benefits the industry and speaks truth to sustainability. We’re always battling against naysayers of natural health products, so the more scientific support we can offer for our products, the better we’ll all be.”
The Testing Factor
Even though Natural Factors controls many of its ingredients from seed to bottle, the company validates each component’s integrity and ensures its safety. The same rules apply to raw materials sourced elsewhere. More than 50 scientists in the company’s R&D labs, quality control, quality assurance and product development departments put every single sample through the paces, using multiple assays, including mass spectrometry, to determine identity, purity, potency and safety.
“All raw materials are rigorously tested, and then once a formula is put together, it is tested again, because things can obviously change,” Fenton says. “We go beyond what is required by the Canadian GMP standard, one of the highest in world. Like it or not, a lot of players in the supply chain don’t test products, and many companies just rely on documentation. Because unless you manufacture your own product, it can be very costly to keep sending it out for testing.”
Although Natural Factors has long been extremely thorough in its in-house testing, it sees the value in third-party validation. In 2014, Gahler worked with a team of outside experts to develop ISURA, Canada’s only independent nonprofit certification organization for finished natural products and the raw materials used to make them. ISURA uses advanced technologies such as mass spectrometry and DNA testing to validate identity, screen for contaminants, detect genetic modification and confirm safety. Every Natural Factors supplement bears the ISURA seal, showing that it meets the strict standard.
According to ISURA spokesperson Marisa Nichini, Natural Factors sets a high mark for other supplement companies to follow. “They stand out for their transparency and willingness to comply with the ISURA Standard and work with us to verify their own supply chain by direct-testing raw ingredients through to finished products,” she says. “Natural Factors goes beyond the basic regulatory requirements to achieve their commitment to providing high-quality dietary supplements.”
Transparency isn’t a buzzword for Natural Factors. It’s standard operating procedure.