Building a clean supply chain is tricky because many materials appear clean. But as you get closer, you find they’re not really clean.

A truly “clean” product begins with truly clean ingredients or raw materials. Here are some lessons we’ve learned on what it takes to build a raw material supply chain with only the best—and cleanest—raw materials:

#1: Keep People First

Garden of Life was founded on the belief that, through extraordinary products and extraordinary education, we can empower our customers to live every day with extraordinary health. In fact, our company’s mission is to Empower Extraordinary Health.

Our people-first approach guides us in all our steps. It means that product quality comes before our bank account size. Environmental impact matters because people come first—and people need clean drinking water and tree-filled forests. All of the laborers in our supply chain are treated ethically and paid fair wages—from the farm to the shelf. When a for-profit company keeps people first, it knows the difference between gain and greed, and product quality matters more than squeezing every last penny by cheapening ingredients.

#2: Traceability is Key

We can’t emphasize enough much this matters, which is why it’s a key priority and our passion: knowing where each and every ingredient in our products comes from and getting to know each and every source—where it’s grown; the farming practices; how they pay and treat the farm workers—everything.

Developing a fully traceable raw material supply chain is a massive, complex undertaking. For example, take a multivitamin product. The carton says there are 25 or so vitamins and minerals, but that’s 25 different materials—each one requiring one, five or ten other ingredients to manufacture them. It multiplies even further. Then there’s manufacturing ingredients—capsule and tablet ingredients, binding, coating and more.

It could have over 100 different ingredients from 100 suppliers. And that’s just one product. We have over 150 unique formulas!

Traceability is huge.

#3: Use Recognized Third Parties to Inspect Everything

A few of the third-party inspections we look for in creating clean products include:

Certified USDA Organic: There’s only one way to know if a product is truly organic: verification by an independent third party to meet the USDA’s rigorous requirements for organic. Look for the USDA Certified Organic seal on the front of the package. No seal? Then it’s not really USDA Organic—no matter what they say.

We’ve found that the only way to ensure that Garden of Life is—and remains—clean is organic. Organic costs more. That’s why most companies don’t do it, but Garden of Life does, and we write long-term contracts with our family farmers so they can sell their crops at a fair price to cover the increased costs of growing organic. We don’t pass those increased costs along to our customers, so we take lower margins.

Then we compete with conventional products calling themselves “clean” and telling customers that they’re better because they support local farmers who can’t afford to grow organic crops. The truth is that any honest conversation around clean begins with organic.

Non-GMO Project Verified: Today there’s only one way to ensure that our raw materials are not sourced from genetically modified (GM) sources—independent, third-party verification by the Non-GMO Project, North America’s only third-party verification for Non-GMO.

Every raw material sent to us for evaluation carries a statement from the supplier that it’s not GM or from GM sources. But, as we’ve said, each raw material has multiple subcomponents. So, saying that one material isn’t GM when it’s manufactured isn’t the same as saying the entire ingredient is not GM-sourced. We need full traceability through the entire ingredient and sub-ingredient supply chain to ensure that raw materials don’t contain GMOs.