That’s Our Data Not Yours …!

by Theresa Callaghan

Theresa Callaghan
Skin Care Scientist and Cosmetic Product Claim Specialist

This month’s column is in support of the ingredient supplier, especially the smaller ones, and the issue of ‘theft’ of information – taken from them by their ‘potential’ customers, and even competitors – and the implication this has on the validity of some cosmetic product claims.

I enjoy, working with the ingredient suppliers, and a number of them are customers of mine. Without them we not have the variety of ingredients to help keep the market exciting, nor the value they can offer. They add a creative space for the market, and the more advanced contribute to the sum of scientific knowledge through quality peer-reviewed journals.

So, picture this scenario. An ingredient supplier launches let’s say, a novel natural ingredient. They do all they need to do to get to market, and are aware of the competition. Moreover, they have a conscience, and invest in “give-back-to-community” ensuring its development (UN sustainability drive), and the supply of plant material. The plant (shrub) grows in a small number of other regions around the world, and the supplier, having done their homework, also knows that other “identical” shrubs grown elsewhere aren’t quite the same! Any reader with a knowledge of farming knows that location, soil, weather, etc., all affect produce. For example, wine grape taste and aroma, will vary around the world because of the influence of temperature, soil, altitude, slope of hills, rainfall, etc. Chemical analysis of the wine produced, despite being an identical grape variety, will show variations in tannins, flavanoids, acidity, etc.

Back to cosmetics, the ingredient supplier has produced a robust ingredient information file, published and even presented some of its findings, and makes available snippets of technical data on a “need to know” basis, to be sure potential customers are genuine. A patent application in place on part of the production process for quality purposes, and its distributors are carefully managed to restrict information.

An interested marketing company invites the supplier to present, with a view to purchasing the “ingredient” for their new product development. The ingredient supplier is careful to ensure NDAs are in place, among other insurances. A successful meeting all round, and eventually the formulator alongside product development with marketing action NPD. The formulator, a senior marketing manager and buyer, happen to attend an event – let’s say InCosmetics. They see another supplier of the “ingredient”, but this supplier, from a different country to the “original”, is selling it as a “commodity” item among a list of hundreds, and of course, cheaper! It is after all a commodity item, has the bare minimum in terms of CDS, etc., and of course the source shrub is from various regions. They too are also aware of their competition, and have had no qualms copy-pasting “available” information from whatever sources into their own documentation.

The ignorant buyer from the marketing company bullies their formulator colleague to change supply of the “ingredient” to save costs. “Well, what about marketing, can’t they reduce their costs?” bleats the formulator. Blank stare back from buyer and marketing manager. The formulator now has to use the cheaper competitor ingredient, and is “encouraged” by marketing and purchasing to use the information generated by the original supplier to support their product claims. “Don’t worry it will be fine!” say marketing. The formulator is too stressed and afraid to challenge them, and all concerned failed to appreciate that variances in chemical analysis between the two ingredients were actually important. They did not have the good sense (or maybe they did not understand the science … or were afraid to …), to delve into the scientific literature and grasp what the message of numerous publications, highlighting these differences, was saying when growing in different regions. Of course they could not check with the original supplier for obvious reasons, because they had “cheated”. Time was of the essence!

Formulation issues arise, and the laboratory can’t figure out why. The supplier of the competitor ingredient is of no help. The laboratory, and fortunately for them, manages to resolve the issues … at least they seem to. Stable samples, having passed challenge testing, are produced for claims substantiation. Marketing has big plans for their product, and the “ingredient” is at the heart of the overall claims. They have the “information” they “took” from the original supplier, and expectations are high. To keep momentum, corners are cut with a risk assessment, and they go to market with a “Hurrah”!

Following product claims complaints, inspecting authorities move in. Meanwhile, claims testing that was simultaneously running alongside product launch, reveals … “No, the product does not improve skin elasticity …” The formulator is screamed at, and the blame game marches ahead in earnest. The inspecting authority discovers a test sample of their so-called claimed “ingredient” does not have the same chemical profile or “activity”, as the competitor supplier had been promoting. Furthermore, they found the formulation itself was devoid of any of the particular “flavanoids” that was reportedly associated with the original suppliers “ingredient”.

On the other hand, when analysed, a test sample the original suppliers “ingredient” did have the claimed profile.

The inspecting authority went further, and even contacted the supplier – whose data and claims the marketing company (and competitor) were using – and upon evaluation, found their claims, evidence, and chemical profile, to be truthful. Ultimately, the marketing company is ordered to withdraw their product from the market …

The supplier of the “original” ingredient finding that their data had – in effect – been “stolen” by the marketing company, and their competitor, takes advice on legal action against them for using their data to support a so-called “cheaper” product …

Scenarios like this, or variations of, are commonplace in our industry. While all is fair in love and business, there are a few morals to this story. If you don’t know what they are, then …?

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