Nutraceuticals World: What motivated MegaFood to take the leap in unveiling its Big T Transparency initiative?
Mr. Craven: The biggest motivational factor for us to take the leap in unveiling Big T Transparency was simple: consumers and retailers are losing trust with the supplements industry. As a result, respectable companies in the industry need to do more to set a new bar for what it means to be trustworthy as we work with associations to make changes in Washington.
The goal of Big T Transparency is to begin rebuilding that trust, by peeling back the curtain and showing people that we are committed to the quality of our products. Initially we added the live cameras, so people can see what we do 24/7 online at MegaFood.com/livecams, and we’ve expanded from there to things like sharing our new product pipeline and bringing our facility audits online with the hope that other supplement companies follow suit. In general, the need to connect to brands is growing each and every day. People want to know who brands really are, who’s behind them, where the ingredients are coming from and how those products are made. It’s happening all over, but MegaFood wants to be a leading company in the supplement industry in that regard.
Nutraceuticals World: Has recent controversy surrounding the New York Attorney General’s investigation of dietary supplements, increased action by FTC and FDA, and scrutiny from high-profile critics of the industry impacted consumer perception of dietary supplements? How important is transparency to the everyday consumer?
Mr. Craven: Yes, I do believe that all the negative media—from the New York Attorney General or otherwise—has had an impact on the industry. I would say that, being in the natural retail space with a whole-foods supplement brand, we feel the impact a little less than most because our consumers have been with us for a long time. We’ve been doing this for over 40 years and there’s a bit of loyalty there. However, each and every piece of negative press around the supplement industry has an impact over time, and the noise gets so loud that sometimes it’s hard to battle.
Transparency is extremely important to the everyday consumer—now more than ever—because once you know the commitment behind producing a great supplement, then you’re more likely to trust that brand. MegaFood is unique due to the fact that we control our production process from farm to tablet—so we’re in a great position to be able to provide the meaningful transparency that consumers are looking for. If other brands will follow suit and do more around building trust with their retailers and their consumers, either through transparency or other efforts, I believe that will make for a healthier industry.
Nutraceuticals World: How did MegaFood become involved with the Coalition for Supplement Sustainability (CSS)? What are the key objectives behind this new trade association?
Mr. Craven: Bethany Davis, the director of regulatory affairs for MegaFood and FoodState, and myself founded the Non-GMO Dietary Supplement Working Group a couple years ago after visiting FoodChain ID, the certifying body for the Non-GMO Project. While visiting FoodChain ID, we found that all supplement companies were struggling with the same thing relative to non-GMO product verification. This group collaborated on standards and shared “whitelist” suppliers that were approved by The Project. This was cool because it was truly competitor helping competitor—all for the advancement of the non-GMO movement and our industry.
This working group later morphed into the Coalition for Supplement Sustainability in order to address The Project’s move toward more of a food-focused standard. Today the CSS is first and foremost committed to maintaining sustainable, independently verifiable and transparent standards across the entire supplement supply chain. These standards are manifested in the application of international best practices, validated testing and reliable scientific methods. We’re all really proud to be a part of this process, and in fact, I sit on the board with two of MegaFood’s major competitors—Garden of Life and New Chapter—which is a testament to how companies can come together and work for the betterment of an industry.
Nutraceuticals World: Looking ahead, do you think more supplement companies will follow suit and begin sharing more information about their testing protocol, supply chain management, sustainability efforts, etc.? How will this impact the industry at large?
Mr. Craven: I certainly hope so. At MegaFood and FoodState, we’re leading the charge with our Big T Transparency initiative, hoping to lead the way by showing that we can share audits and new product pipeline, while still growing and without facing significant risk. We are really excited to be out here in the front, leading some of these efforts, but we certainly don’t want to be out here by ourselves. We are trying to set a good example so that other companies will hopefully begin to follow in our footsteps. In the meantime, we are really committed to this effort and we’re excited to keep everybody in the loop on how Big T Transparency is going and where it’s all headed.