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7 Questions Your Contract Supplement Manufacturer Doesn’t Want You to Ask

Last updated: January-18,2023

7 Questions Your Supplement Contract Manufacturer Doesn’t Want You to Ask

If you’re an aspiring dietary supplement brand owner, you’ve probably searched for, evaluated, and perhaps even spoken to numerous supplement contract manufacturers over the last few weeks or months.

Along the way, I am sure that they shared some marketing material with you that contains their “golden” guidelines for selecting a manufacturing partner. I have worked in the nutraceutical industry for the last 43 years and have audited hundreds of facilities over the course of my career. I can confidently say that a lot (not all) of that information is nothing more than marketing fluff with a bit of nonsense and a dash of B.S. mixed in for fun.

The truth is that when it comes to a brand creating a dietary supplement product, nothing is more important than selecting the correct contract manufacturer. When evaluating potential CMs, there are questions you’ll want to ask—including some that CMs may not want you to ask—and those are the ones that you definitely should ask.

So, forget about the golden guidelines you may have seen and be sure to pose the following questions. Doing so will help you whittle down your list and find the right supplement contract manufacturer for your product.

Are you third-party cGMP certified?

According to industry regulations, all CMs must adhere to very specific guidelines for current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP). However, that doesn’t mean that all CMs are doing that. The best way to verify that a prospective CM is indeed adhering to those guidelines is to determine if their facility has been cGMP by a recognized third party. 

For example, NSF is a third party with one of the most stringent auditing processes for cGMP certification, and as such, is the “gold standard” for a CM’s credibility and integrity. If the CM’s answer to this question is no, then you may want to consider looking elsewhere.

Do you have someone on staff to help me formulate evidence-based supplements?

When asking this question, you must be very specific since there are two types of formulators. The most common is a manufacturing formulator. This type of formulator will take your existing wish list of nutraceuticals, and will create a formula with appropriate excipients so that the product will run correctly on a manufacturing line. This is very different from the second type of formulator, a conceptual formulator.

A conceptual formulator has the knowledge and ability to formulate a product concept from scratch, including clinically relevant correct doses of the correct nutraceuticals that will allow you to make compliant and compelling structure/function claims, and most importantly that will work for the purpose intended. A conceptual formulator will provide the formula, a list of claims, and scientific support to substantiate those claims. If you want consumers to love how effective your supplements are, and to be repeat buyers as a result. This is a question you’ll want to ask.


What is your manufacturing capacity?

It is very important to establish a CM’s manufacturing capacity. If a CM has a full roster of clients that they’re servicing, their capacity may be very low (e.g., 5-10%). That means that your brand is not going to be moved to the top of the list. Rather, you’re likely to be low on the customer priority list. Not only is this undesirable for obvious reasons, but also because you need the CM to be able to produce for you as your brand grows and you go from 1,500 bottles to 5,000 bottles and then 10,000 bottles, and so on. You’re not going to be able to wait 9 months to have a reorder fulfilled. It’s good if your CM is a little hungry. You’ll get better customer service.

How many collective years of experience does your management team have?

Even more important than the years a CM has been in business are the collective years that their management team has. You want to make sure that everything is being done the right way the first time when it comes to manufacturing your products. 

You also want a team that can advise you about issues you need to know to avoid challenges down the road. And when any challenges do arise, you want a team who has dealt with it all before and can effectively address those challenges with a minimum of muss and fuss. Nothing can substitute for experience. You don’t want to work with a management team with 20 years of collective experience for 5 team members (which would mean an average of only 5 years of experience per person).  By comparison, the management team at NutraScience labs has 120+ years of collective experience (with individual team members who possess 43 years, 20 years, 15 years, etc. of experience).

Do you have a food scientist on staff with flavoring expertise?

If you are planning on manufacturing a powdered dietary supplement, then flavoring is vital. No matter how good you think your product is, if consumers decide they don’t like the taste, they won’t buy it again—and you know what that means for the life expectancy of your product.

Therefore, you want to ask the CM if they have a certified food scientist on staff with flavoring expertise. A good flavor scientist will be able to mask any undesirable tastes (e.g., bitterness), and provide you with some interesting flavor options that you and your internal team will be able to sample yourselves before deciding which flavor you want to go with. If the CM doesn’t have a food scientist on staff with flavoring expertise, then that may not be the right CM for you.

What are your laboratory capabilities?

Not all CMs have internal laboratories capable of testing raw materials and finished products. Such tests may include identity and potency, heavy metals, microbiological agents, and in some cases allergens.

In those instances, the CM must send the raw materials and finished products to outside laboratories for testing. While this is an acceptable practice, there is no question that it can create some delays—commonly 5-10 working days. This can be compounded if multiple outside labs are used for the same product since not all labs can do all the tests.

Likewise, even if a CM does have an internal lab, it doesn’t mean that all testing can be done in-house, and some tests will still have to be conducted at an outside lab. Nevertheless, if a lab can do some of the testing in-house, it saves time and money.

Do you have a vendor verification program for the raw materials you use in manufacturing?

A CM may purchase raw materials from many different vendors, both domestically and internationally. Those raw material vendors must be properly vetted before becoming an approved provider. This should involve a GMP audit of the vendor to verify the suitability of the vendor itself, as well as their raw materials, which should always come with certificates of analysis and specifications documenting identity, potency, and purity.

Furthermore, the CM should test the vendor’s raw material as well to verify these same parameters. If the CM doesn’t have a vendor verification program, run away as fast as you can.

Wrapping Up

There are a variety of other questions you’ll certainly want to ask a CM (e.g., cost, turnaround time, etc.). In addition, you should consider asking these 7 questions, as well, since they’re ones that CMs may not want you to ask.

For more information about the supplement manufacturing process, including how NutraScience Labs can help you create a high-quality product, call 855-492-7388 or send your request to receive a competitive supplement manufacturing price quote free of charge.

To get more of my insights on the dietary supplement industry, I encourage you to follow NutraScience Labs on Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube and subscribe to our podcast.

December 26th, 2022

About the Author:

Gene Bruno

Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, RH(AHG) - Mr. Bruno possesses over 43 years of dietary supplement industry experience. With a Master's degree in nutrition and a second Master's degree in herbal medicine, he has a proven track record of formulating innovative, evidence-based dietary supplements. Mr. Bruno currently serves as both the Senior Director of Product Innovation at Twinlab Corporation and Professor of Nutraceutical Science at Huntington University of Health Sciences.