You might have noticed that here at Ritual, we can’t stop talking about our commitment to quality. But what exactly does that mean? How do we define quality ingredients and the processes that get us there? Here to break it down is our own mastermind of quality control, Ritual’s Head of R&D, Dr. Luke Bucci.
Let’s start by getting the lay of the land. What are the key practices that mark a good supplier?
Very few supplement companies actually mine, grow, harvest, synthesize, ferment, extract, purify, test and produce their own ingredients. Instead, a large number of suppliers around the world make ingredients that supplement companies then buy and mix together into products. That means the supply side is crucial for creating a safe, quality product. Obviously, the minimum requirements for a quality ingredient are identity, purity, potency and safety. It has to be what it says it is, in the purity it says it is, in a useable form and free of microbial contamination and heavy metals. These are the governmental agencies’ minimum requirements for Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) for ingredients. But the best suppliers are those that deliver documentation that meets the requirements you want, with a history of honesty, integrity and fulfillment.
You’ve been in the industry a long time. Beyond what we just talked about, how was your approach to sourcing different between when you worked in big pharma and now?
Previously, the cost of an ingredient or formula was the primary factor. Companies had to fit price limits imposed by the marketplace or internal needs. That usually meant some compromises or even sacrifices that still yielded an effective product (we almost never used the lowest bidder), but not one that was as clean or powerful as I knew it could be. For Ritual, these constraints were nil, so I could focus on finding branded ingredients that were exactly what we wanted - the best for our bodies and health. Our stringent requirements narrowed the field to a select few suppliers that felt and thought the way we did - making for beautiful, functional partnerships.
How does Ritual define quality ingredients? If you could describe the Ritual stamp-of-approval, what would it be?
Ritual has more stringent requirements than virtually all other dietary supplement companies, and we execute these in a number of ways:
Our ingredients have transparency.We always ask our suppliers for flow charts on exactly how their product was made, and we always make sure our suppliers have technical personnel available to answer questions and provide the information we request.
We use the exact same molecular forms of nutrients that are found in our cells and healthy foods. This is not the norm for vitamins and minerals. The B vitamin folate is an excellent example. You’ll often see folic acid (a manufactured form) in supplements instead of methyltetrahydrofolate (the natural most active form). This can be problematic, as up to 40% of women have suboptimal activities of the enzymes necessary to metabolize inactive folic acid to activated folate forms like methyltetrahydrofolate.
We always use vegan/vegetarian, non-animal ingredients. We use organically grown ingredients when applicable (there’s a long story behind why not everything can be organic), and we avoid ingredients derived from genetically engineered (GMO) plants/animals.
Rigorous third party testing could not find microbes, contaminants (pesticides, herbicides, PCBs, BpA or solvents), mycotoxins and virtually no heavy metals in any of our products. We want our products to be as healthy as possible so they can make you as healthy as possible.
We prefer branded ingredients because attention to detail has been given these ingredients. This means more agreements and sometimes licensing. We prefer Kosher and Halal certification, when available. And we need to know the supplier will be around for a long time so we can get what we want when we want. We also define quality as trust, built from a relationship with each supplier.
Once you’ve identified your suppliers, how do the ingredients make their way into the vitamin?
Our manufacturers order the ingredients we have chosen and specify, according to our formulation. Once the ingredients reach our manufacturers, they are tested for identity, microbial contamination and heavy metal content, all with strict limits that need to be passed to move ahead with production. Only then do we begin to combine the ingredients--turning the solids into our beadlets, and the liquids into our oil. The final step is putting it all into our capsules.
Is there a final quality control once it’s all mixed and ready to go?
Weighing ingredients is super critical to making sure we’re adding to each pill the same amount that appears on the label. Unlike many other supplement companies, we send out our just-finished products to be tested again to make sure our requirements have been met.
As consumers, what should we be looking for on a label?
First of all, look for a way to contact the supplement company for questions or complaints. Next, look for an expiration or “best used by” date. There should also be a lot number or unique identifier somewhere on the bottle or packaging. Look at “other ingredients” (the fine print) and be wary if you see any artificial ingredients - that means the company is using the least expensive way to make products.
Along those same lines, if we want to research an ingredient, what are the most important benchmarks?
Know terminology. Precision counts. Be very, very careful about web searches - many sites are more visible because they want to sell you something. Instead of relying on hearsay, be sure to check out the real scientific literature. Google Scholar is a great way to search for that, and PubMed archives a large number of credible studies. Dig deep enough to see a consensus or identify good points or problem areas. But even these fine resources are not the ultimate authority - they miss a lot of salient info. Then ask a company about their position. Yes, that's not easy or quick, which is why you can trust our blogs, opinions and content - we've already read and interpreted a lot of science and our own conclusions are thoroughly fact-based and objective.