What is traceability?
February 16, 2023
Do you know what the term traceability means? Chances are many more people are saying yes to that question now than if it were asked some years ago.
Traceability is knowing where your products come from and how they are made. It’s being able to follow—or trace—the path of products or their ingredients from the raw materials to the finished item you hold in your hands.
Traceability can be applied to whole foods, like meats, produce and coffee, or parts of items, like the plant ingredients in supplements or skin care products. Some people may refer to it as food traceability, product traceability or supply chain traceability. It’s also been translated into phrases like farm to table, seed to supplement, bean to cup or bait to plate.
The origin of the term can be traced back to at least the 1930s when some European producers wanted to tout the provenance of certain high-end products. (If you’ve ever been educated on the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine, then you get the idea.)
The concept of traceability has been growing in popularity in recent years and companies are responding by touting their traceability efforts.
People want to be able to trust the companies they buy from. They want to know that the products they’re purchasing are safe, effective and produced in a responsible, sustainable way. They also want to know where the ingredients or raw materials used to make those products came from.
Polling* shows that 87 percent of North Americans would be more likely to buy something if they knew and understood all the ingredients in the products they purchase. In fact, the same percentage felt that companies aren’t transparent enough about the ingredients they put in their products.
And 63 percent would be willing to pay more for responsibly made and transparently sourced products—more than a third above what they pay now.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is requiring more traceability from manufacturers, as well. Previous FDA regulations required components of a supply chain for certain foods to only keep careful records of where they got their incoming materials and where they sent them, also known as one-up, one-down.
New rules from the FDA require records from several points throughout the supply chain of a product for manufacturers, processers, packers or those who store designated foods—from growers to retailers.
When it comes to food traceability, these records are key in preventing and investigating food contamination. The CDC estimates that 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness each year. Extensive record-keeping not only makes the manufacturing process safer, it makes it easier to track down the source of problems when they arise.
For consumers, the trend of companies being transparent about product traceability is especially key when it comes to vitamins and supplements, even though they may not realize it.
While the FDA ensures the safety of the country’s pharmaceuticals through regulation, the organization does not regulate vitamins and supplements in the same way. However, 68 percent of North Americans believe it does.* That makes a supplement company’s commitment to product traceability and transparency all the more important.
While traceability may be an emerging trend for consumers and some companies, for others it’s been a key part of their operations since the beginning. The Nutrilite™ brand of plant-based supplements is one example.
“Traceability has been a priority for the Nutrilite brand since its inception more than 85 years ago,” said Sam Kilgore, manager of Supplier Quality Development at Amway, maker of Nutrilite products. “From the very roots of Nutrilite we have held traceability as something core to our brand.”
In fact, the Nutrilite traceability process for sourcing ingredients, quality control and sustainable practices goes above and beyond government manufacturing standards and requirements.
“Every one of our botanicals goes through an extensive nine-step traceability process unique to Nutrilite,” Kilgore said. “We test, re-test and test again to make sure each and every product is safe for you and your family. With all our products, we ensure the presence of good things and the absence of bad things.”
The process begins with a farm-level view of the botanicals used to make ingredients for supplements, whether it’s one of Nutrilite’s four certified organic farms or a trusted supplier. Every ingredient from outside suppliers must be proven to comply with the same strict Nutrilite quality and traceability standards.
Extensive records are kept on how the botanical and specific seeds were chosen, where and how they were grown, how they were harvested and processed and by whom, where they were shipped, how they were used in manufacturing and packaging and what testing for safety and quality was done all along the way.
When the tablets reach the bottles, the labels applied include information that can be traced back to the who, what, when, where and how of what’s inside, Kilgore said.
Ensuring the safety and quality of the product during manufacturing is made easier for Nutrilite because it manufactures nearly all of its own products at its facilities in the U.S., China, India and Vietnam, only outsourcing when certain capabilities are required to make them—like gummies.
And even then, the company requires that same level of traceability, quality, safety testing and documentation from its suppliers.
“Because of our traceability process, we can assure our customers that our supplements contain exactly what we say they do – no more, no less,” Kilgore said. “Knowing where your ingredients come from and seeing each step in our process gives you the confidence you need to make smart choices for you and your family.”
*A poll of 2,000 North Americans conducted by OnePoll in conjunction with Nutrilite
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