ZPD - The price of quality

ZPD is a global leader in the production of sodium chondroitin sulphate - one of the most common dietary supplements used in the treatment of the painful symptoms of osteoarthritis. Key account manager Samer Abou-Houssein speaks to Ingredients Insight about the rapidly changing market for supplements, and the growing importance of sustainability and traceability.

What would you say are some of the key challenges currently faced by the supplements market?

Samer Abou-Houssein: There are unfortunately still many challenges in terms of quality and safety. Substandard material is still circulating in the market, and adulteration is still a factor, as well as issues with origin and traceability. We routinely conduct high-performance liquid chromotagraphy analyses on material obtained from the market and, unfortunately, we still see occasions of adulterated chondroitin sulphate (CS) being used by various manufacturers.

It is not uncommon for us to find products that have a much lower CS concentration, or are from a different species, than declared. Of course, we do not believe that this is necessarily due to malicious motives, but rather, perhaps, due to a lack of proper quality control on the receiver's end.

How do you think such challenges will be overcome in the next few years?

We have experienced a clear shift in the attitude of buyers and manufacturers, and the ever-increasing focus on consumer health and safety is changing the market for the better. We believe the best way to overcome these challenges is not necessarily by more regulation. They can rather be tackled by a better enforcement of rules, better control of goods and documentation at entry points, and industry self-regulation. The worst supplement makers, for instance, buy material that is suspiciously low in price, yet do not conduct sufficient - if any - testing on the material when they receive it.

How is the changing regulatory environment affecting businesses?

From a financial standpoint, new regulations are expensive in terms of compliance; we see that very clearly in the narrowing price gap between imported and domestic material. Manufacturing in a high-tech and automated factory like ours is, today, no more expensive than a labour-intensive, low-tech production.

Add to this the fact that the stricter regulatory environment requires more investments, more control and documentation, and you can understand why many of the traditionally low-quality/low-price suppliers are leaving the market. Various scandals in the pharma and food supplements industries have definitely made manufacturers more aware of the potential long-term damage to business and reputation, making them, understandably, less inclined to take any risks that might result in the loss of consumer confidence.

What have been your key initiatives regarding traceability and safety? Why is this so important?

We manufacture according to a very comprehensive quality management system and consider traceability to be a vital component of our supply chain process. We spend considerable time and effort communicating to the market that quality cannot be ensured by product analysis alone: GMPs and the use of appropriate biological raw material are just as crucial.

In order to minimise any health risks, we use strictly controlled raw material that is regulated under EU byproduct regulation. The focus on traceability allows us to be able to respond rapidly to any nonconformance or recalls, which is critical in protecting the health and well-being of consumers, and, in so doing, our business and brand image.

What has the response from customers and manufacturers been to your products?

Being persistent in communicating the importance of sourcing safe and legal products has really paid off, not only from a moral or legal point of view, but also from a financial point of view.

We understand that fierce competition and budget constraints may pressure or tempt anyone sourcing ingredients to choose heavily discounted products with poor documentation. However, the consequences are simply too severe for a business, as well as the safety and well-being of consumers, for it to ever be worth the risk.

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