By Michael Lelah, Ph.D., Technical Director, NOW Foods
Have you ever wondered why it takes months or longer from the time you suggest a new product for NOW Foods to carry, to the time you see it on the flier? Shouldn't it be a simple matter to just "put it together" and put it on the shelves? After all, many of your suggestions are for products already in the marketplace. So what's the big deal?
Well, the big deal is all about Quality. So let's talk about quality, and how this ties into all our new products.
First let's discuss what quality is. Quality means different things to different people. To the consumer, a quality product is one that perhaps looks and tastes good, does what it is supposed to do, makes someone feel good, is in the right form, is safe to use, etc. To the retailer, a quality product is one that perhaps that is in demand by consumers, is well packaged, is available when needed, is of the right size and shape, etc. To the government, a quality product is one that is safe for consumption, meets labeling requirements, has ingredients that match the label, is safe for consumption, etc. Addressing all of these needs makes for a quality product. So you can quickly see lots of things need to be taken care of before that quality new product rolls on to the shelves.
Let's now talk about three important systems that we have for ensuring quality: Quality Assurance (QA), Quality Control (QC) and Continuous Improvement. Do you know what they are and what are the differences between them?
Quality Assurance (QA) is building in quality from the get-go. Assuring that this new product that NOW Foods is going to offer to you for sale meets the needs of our customers. The way we translate these needs into actionable procedures is to create a set of requirements, or in our language, a set of product specifications. A product specification will list all the ingredients and their amounts. The product specification will define the packaging (tablet, capsule, etc), the bottle size, etc. The product specification will also have all the special requirements, such as all organic components, vegetable capsules, etc.
At NOW Foods we use this product specification document as a rulebook for finding ingredient suppliers that can supply the right ingredients that meet all our requirements. Then our R&D group will formulate all the ingredients into a tablet, capsule, lozenge or whatever we need. At this point we want to make sure the product will be fresh, not just right after manufacture, but also by its best use date as well. We will do what is called an accelerated stability study, where we subject the product to harsh conditions of high temperature and high humidity. If we get good results after an appropriate time under these extreme conditions, we will then be ready to go to manufacture. These are all parts of the QA process.
Quality Control (QC) is the second part of our quality system, where we test our incoming ingredients, as well as our finished products after they have been manufactured. This is to ensure that, after all the work we have done ahead of time, that our new product still meets our requirements. If not, it's back to the drawing board - you won't see the new product until the critical requirements are met completely.
The third quality leg is continuous improvement. Internally, we are striving to do even better, and to continuously improve our quality systems. We are also always on the look-out for new improved technologies to help us do a better job. For example, new test methods are always being developed for our products. We monitor various compendial organizations for these new methods and try to implement them as soon as possible, thus improving our checking (QC) function. We are also leading the effort in new methods. For example, we have been chosen by AOAC to complete the development and validation of new methods for glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. These new methods will ensure better testing of our products and bring better quality to you.
We invest a lot in quality. We spend much more on quality than we do on marketing (quite the opposite of most dietary supplement and nutrition companies). We have 5 PhD's that are involved in ensuring the quality of our products. We have a number of experienced formulators and quality professionals who are excited by new products and want to see them be successful. And one of the best predictors of success is quality. At NOW, we take the time to evaluate our formulas, our product offerings, our vendors, product packaging etc.
Have you ever noticed the "GMP NNFA" symbol on our labels? Have you ever wondered what it means? GMP (Good Manufacturing Procedure) is a designation recognized by the NNFA that assures the consumer that industry accepted QA and QC standards have been met. The NNFA inspects our facility and our documents and our procedures, and determines that we are up to the best quality standards in the industry. We are proud of this designation. It is a testament to the hard work we put in every day.
So, to make a long story short, the road to new products is quality. We are working hard at delivering quality new products to you. So please sometimes excuse our delivery time for new products. We want to make sure that we deliver to you the best products that we can.