Last week we hosted a workshop with Tandem Food about third party certifications, here’s what we learned.
With mindful consumerism at an all-time high, it has become increasingly important for producers to be transparent about what’s in their products.
Third party certifications are a powerful way for startups to back up claims about their products, however before embarking on the in-depth certification process, there are a few things that you should be aware of.
The most common third party certifications are organic, gluten-free, and non-GMO, but products can also be certified vegan, halal, and kosher, among others.
LABELS AND CERTIFICATIONS ARE NOT THE SAME
You can put a label on a product to make a certain claim – perhaps the product is made with local ingredients or contains no GMOs in it. While these labels can be helpful to consumers, it is not the same as a certification and may violate FDA label compliance. Certifications require a third party audit to validate the claim that you are making. The auditors ensure that your product adheres to the outlined standards for that claim.
Products can contain 95% organic ingredients and still be certified organic.
National list of Allowed and Prohibited Substances in organic production
CERTIFICATIONS REQUIRE MONEY & TIME
All third party certifications cost money, anywhere from $500 – $5,000 depending on your gross income. These costs cover the application and certification fee, any inspection, testing, and training for staff. Fees need to be renewed every year.
Certifications are a large time investment. The audit process can take 2-6 months and require you to gather documentation from your suppliers, test your product multiple times during the production process, and pass an on-site interview and facility inspection.
WHAT DO YOUR CUSTOMERS WANT?
One of the most important things for you to think about is what your customers value when it comes to certifications. If you’re selling into stores, some retailers may have a preference on which third party certifies your product or a particular labeling policy. For example, all organic and non-GMO claims on products sold by Whole Foods must be verified by a third party. Since certifications are a big investment of money and time, you want to be sure the certification you pursue will resonate with your target customers.
ALL CERTIFICATIONS ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL
There are multiple third party certifiers that each have their own standards. We recommend comparing the difference in standards and choosing the one that aligns most closely with your vision, and the values of your retailers.
After considering the challenges involved, food startups often ask “Is this worth it?” In order to answer that question, you need to weigh:
- Is certifying important to the integrity of your product and mission?
- Can you devote the necessary time and money?
- What does your target customer value?
- Will it be important for your company to have this certification in the future?