Private labelling, or white labelling, is a popular option for brands looking to enter the CBD space. This practice is where a product is manufactured by one company but branded, marketed and sold by another.
There are several companies that specialize in manufacturing end-to-end finished CBD products. They commonly provide third-party test results, certificates and data to verify the purity and potency of products created. Technically, all new brands need to do is place their label on the package and start selling! However with any new venture, establishing a successful private label CBD brand will inevitably mean various challenges need to be overcome.
Securing Quality Sources of CBD
Finding the right partners to work with is a must. The best way to source credible and trustworthy suppliers and manufacturers is to look for certifications and audits from third-party agencies. These include the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), the Safe Quality Food (SQF), the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) organic certification program and others.
The USDA organic certification program is a rigorous multi-step audit process to increase supply chain sustainability. Organic certification is a form of elective, self-regulation for manufacturers which consumers have eagerly welcomed into the marketplace. Look for the USDA organic seal to help identify which manufacturers are trustworthy and can produce a range of organic products.
From a consumer perspective, certifying your products as organic is an additional way to provide both supply chain transparency and increase confidence when trying new CBD products. It also provides a form of quality assurance to skeptical consumers, especially those who avidly read product labels prior to making a purchasing decision. Members of this “label reader” demographic will consistently choose organic products for the quality and transparency they provide with pure and natural ingredients.
Creating a Unique Product
Innovation and creativity will continue to be important differentiators due to the highly competitive nature of the CBD marketplace. New ingredient innovations such as water dispersible materials are big game-changers. From chewing gum to energy drinks, the opportunities for new and unique CBD products under your own private label are limitless.
There are only a handful of CBD brands who are willing, or even able, to be certified organic today. USDA certification is an opportunity for brands looking to adapt to changing consumer preferences, diversify their product offerings and invest in supply chain transparency.
In the past, product differentiators involved third-party lab testing or providing COAs — today that’s just industry standard. The USDA organic seal is becoming one of the hemp industry’s most coveted certifications because it is a product differentiator.
Trustworthiness, transparency and traceability are important factors for consumers to consider when shopping for products. These factors should also be considered when producing products and while vetting vendors, partners, stakeholders and supply chain suppliers.
Credible certifications allow consumers to make informed decisions while feeling confident that they are purchasing products from reputable sources. Research has shown that today’s CBD market lacks credibility while consumers are desperately seeking comfort and are eager to purchase from trustworthy brands.
The cannabis supply chain – from seed to sale – is rife with intricacies including regulations and compliance. It requires coordination from multiple vendors responsible for different aspects of the end product. And as the industry either grows or retracts, use of data is vital to right-size supply to demand, enhance operational efficiencies and boost cost effectiveness.
However, there’s an industry-wide, data-management vulnerability among many cannabis companies, and it’s this: many are using spreadsheets in different aspects of data collection, management and analysis. This becomes a shaky foundation on which to manage processes, especially for applications like quality management. And to be fair, it’s not just this industry, but arguably cannabusinesses have more on the line in light of the ever-changing regulatory environment.
Many cannabis companies have some systems in place for order processing, inventory management, production management and the like, but they often still use spreadsheets to fill the intelligence gaps among various systems that don’t talk to one another. Managing supplier quality often falls into one those gaps.
The Problem with Spreadsheets
Most businesspeople understand spreadsheets. They know how to build and use them. Spreadsheets are incredibly powerful tools that are used to run more business processes than perhaps any other software product in the world. When a cannabis business first starts out, spreadsheets offer an affordable data management capability. But there comes a time when the business will need a more sophisticated, end-to-end enterprise solution.
Consider a recent incident in which the use of spreadsheets went terribly wrong. The British Government recently misplaced nearly 16,000 COVID-19 test results due to an Excel spreadsheet error. As a result, potentially infectious people may not have been notified by contact tracers that they should self-quarantine.
In the ERP space, spreadsheets have been an issue since the 90’s, but this recent incident serves as a reminder that an overreliance on spreadsheets is still alive and kicking. One of the problems is that spreadsheets are often pushed beyond their intended use. Microsoft Excel has become the software Swiss Army Knife. There’s a development environment inside the software, and the system is often used as a database, not just as a calculation engine.
Companies outgrow spreadsheets when the volume of data fields increase, multiple users need access to the data, iron-clad audit trails are needed and when processes become more complex.
There’s also a breaking point. Cannabis companies may enter a dangerous zone of “too many spreadsheets,” when data security and integrity are at risk. Interestingly enough, this also happens in large companies, as they often have a mish-mash of on-premises legacy systems, acquired systems and new cloud-based systems – and spreadsheets are then used as the data consolidation tool for all these applications.
Applicability to the Cannabis Supply Chain
Visibility into the cannabis supply chain requires detailed track and trace capabilities across many suppliers. Anything left out means guesswork and more opportunities for mistakes. In other words, cobbled-together spreadsheets are the last thing cannabis businesses should rely on. Aggregating data into a spreadsheet from various systems and paper-based processes invites errors and can result in insights that are weeks or months out of date. Worse yet, there’s no drilldown capability when questions arise and no easy roll-up of information for decision-making.
When supply chain quality must be sustained, the role of a common and integrated cloud platform for quality and ERP cannot be understated. Such a platform can capture sales, operations, inventory and purchasing data, and also integrate with production and quality control. This makes your quality processes and data integral to ERP and eliminates the data fragmentation, control and auditability issues associated with spreadsheets. In addition, companies can leverage operational insights from data reporting and analytics to find areas where they can enhance productivity, optimize inventory, improve planning accuracy and build better forecasts.
Moving to the Cloud
Modern cloud ERP provides this type of seamless platform. It’s easier to implement and does not consume as many IT resources as traditional on-premise ERP systems. Better yet, the more recent versions of cloud ERP are built using low-code technology which enables business users to customize screens, modify workflow processes, build their own apps and embed AI without needing expensive IT consultants or waiting for busy IT staff.
In other words, the flexibility that’s been the lure of spreadsheets is now available in cloud ERP, but the system utilizes proverbial governance guardrails that keep business users from swerving off the road and completely wrecking the system. For example, templates for apps and workflows are provided as a starting point. Business rules and “drag and drop” customization capabilities offer guided options, clearly defining what can and cannot be changed.Rootstock will be presenting during the Cannabis Quality Virtual Conference episode, Supply Chain Quality, on October 27. Click here to learn more
And as a result, quality steps aren’t skipped; audit trails remain intact and data is protected with rock-solid security permissions and data backups. And unlike spreadsheets, new ERP systems are designed for multiple users and remote access via mobile devices. In short, with the latest generation of ERP, companies can leverage the best of both worlds – an end-to-end cloud platform that provides data integration across an organization’s operation and the flexibility and ease-of-use of spreadsheets.
Supply Chain Case in Point
One customer we worked with previously coordinated its supply chain via email and Excel spreadsheets. It cut and pasted requisitions into individual supplier spreadsheets and emailed those out, and it kept a master spreadsheet to keep track of all supplier performance. Team members had to sift through spreadsheet columns and rows to find information they needed.
Today with a cloud platform, the company built an online community so processes could be automated and conducted via real-time connection and communications. Another immediate benefit was the customized supply chain dashboard. All relevant data across their entire supply chain was displayed in one place and in a user-friendly manner.
The dashboard showed production forecasts over a certain period of time. The company could detect whether the supply chain was on track or having issues with certain suppliers. It could see planned requisitions and monitor them until fulfillment was complete. It could also monitor the performance of various suppliers, whether they had on-time deliveries or not – and trace back items received. The company essentially has a snapshot of the overall health of its supply chain and all the underlying activity.
Let’s face it. 2020 has been a difficult year, but perhaps it’s the year that companies finally forego spreadsheets and enlist an industrial-strength cloud platform.
The hemp industry is rapidly growing, but it’s no secret that it suffers from a major legitimacy problem. When manufacturers choose to certify their products and processes under a third-party agency, such as the USDA, it is a way for those companies to gain credibility with new customers.
The USDA’s organic certification program is a great way to increase transparency and trust with both ingredients and processes used within the hemp industry. Organic certification is a rigorous audit program to review both manufacturing facility design and production process plans with the ultimate goal of increasing supply chain sustainability.
Investing in organic certification is a smart business decision – especially in today’s competitive CBD market. A recent Bloomberg report has shown that COVID-19 has actually accelerated organic food sales in the US due to increased demand for health-conscious foods and drinks. “Sales of organic food and drinks surged 25% during the 17-week period ended June 27,” according to Nielsen Data.
Organic certification is one way to differentiate between the thousands of seemingly identical CBD products being sold in the marketplace today. From a consumer perspective, organic certification provides both supply chain transparency and increases confidence with brands and products they already love. It also provides a form of quality assurance to skeptical consumers, especially those who avidly read product labels prior to making a purchasing decision. Members of this “label reader” demographic will consistently choose organic products for the quality and transparency it provides with pure and natural ingredients.
Not only does certification support ethical practices, it’s also good for business. According to the USDA, “Food labeling can be confusing and misleading, which is why certified organic is an important choice for consumers. Consumers are willing to pay a premium for food that carries the USDA organic seal, or that contains organic ingredients.”
Organic farming and production processes significantly contribute to increasing sustainability within the CBD industry. In general, organic farming is a growing practice for farmers across the US. According to the Pew Research Center, “There were more than 14,000 certified organic farms in the United States in 2016, according to the latest available data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. This represents a 56% increase from 2011, the earliest comparable year.” The USDA has found that organic production practices can improve water quality, conserve energy, increase biodiversity and contribute to soil health. In terms of organic farming, soil ecology and water quality are both protected by farmers committing to working within regulated guidelines.
Organic certification ensures transparency and trust with a consumer-friendly approach to ingredient products. This comes on the heels of research showing that the CBD market lacks credibility. Organic CBD should be the next step all brands should take to ensure they’re adapting to changing consumer preferences.
According to a press release published July 1, ASI Global Standards announced the launch of their newest audit standard: the Cannabis Safety & Quality Scheme (CSQ). The scheme is built around ISO requirements and the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) requirements.
With input from a number of stakeholders in the cannabis space, the CSQ scheme is designed for the cannabis industry and by the cannabis industry. Each standard was developed by industry professionals and stakeholders, like growers, manufacturers and processors, to meet market, consumer and regulatory requirements from seed-to-sale.
The CSQ scheme is built on four standards:
Growing and Cultivation of Cannabis Plants
Manufacturing and Extraction of Cannabis
Manufacturing and Infusion of Cannabis into Food & Beverage Products
Manufacturing of Cannabis Dietary Supplements
There is a public comment period in effect now, and those wishing to provide input have until July 31 to do so. If certification bodies or accreditation bodies want to find more information and get involved in the CSQ certification or accreditation process, they are encouraged to reach out via email at email@example.com.
Cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC is not eligible for USDA organic certification, due to the crop’s Schedule I status. While some hemp farmers are currently on the path to obtain a USDA organic certification, the rest of the cannabis industry is left without that ability.
Growers, producers, manufacturers and dispensaries that utilize the same practices as the national organic program should be able to use that to their advantage in their marketing. Ian Rice, CEO of Envirocann, wants to help cannabis companies tap into that potential with what he likes to call, “comparable to organic.”
Rice co-founded SC Laboratories in 2010, one of the first cannabis testing labs in the world, and helped develop the cannabis industry’s first testing standards. In 2016, Rice and his partners at SC Labs launched Envirocann, a third-party certification organization, focused on the quality assurance and quality control of cannabis products. Through on-site inspections and lab testing, Envirocann verifies and subsequently certifies that best practices are used to grow and process cannabis, while confirming environmental sustainability and regulatory compliance.
“Our backyard in Santa Cruz and the central coast is the birthplace of the organic movement,” says Rice. California Certified Organic Farms (CCOF), founded in Santa Cruz more than 40 years ago, was one of the first organizations in the early 1990s that helped write the national organic program.
“What we came to realize in the lab testing space and as the cannabis market grew, was that a lot of cannabis companies were making the organic claims on their products,” says Rice. “At the time, only one or two organizations in the cannabis space were making an attempt to qualify best practices or create an organic-type feel of confidence among consumers.” What Rice saw in their lab was not cannabis that could be considered organic: “We saw products being labeled as organic, or with certain claims of best practices, that were regularly failing tests and testing positive for banned chemicals. That really didn’t sit well with us.”
At the time, there was no real pathway to certify cannabis products and qualify best practices. “We met with a few people at the CCOF that were very encouraging for us to adopt the national organic program’s standards for cannabis. We followed their lead in how to adopt the standards and apply a certification, building a vehicle intended to certify cannabis producers.”
Because of their background in lab testing they added the requirement for every crop that gets certified to undergo a site inspection, sampling, as well as a pesticide residue test to confirm no pesticides were used at all during the production cycle. One of their clients is Coastal Sun Farms, a greenhouse and outdoor cannabis producer. “They grow incredible products at a high-level, commercial scale at the Enviroganic standard,” says Rice. “They have been able to prove that organic cannabis is economically viable.”
The Envirocann certification goes a bit beyond the USDA’s organic program in helping their clients with downstream supply chain risk management tools (SCRM). “Because of the rigorous testing of products to get certified and go to market, we are getting way ahead of supply chain or production issues,” says Rice. “That includes greater oversight and transparency, not just for marketing the final product.”
A good example of using SCRM to a client’s advantage is in the extraction business. A common scenario recently in the cannabis market involves flower or trim passing the pesticide tests at the lab. But when that flower makes it down the supply chain to a manufacturer, the extraction process concentrates chemical levels along with cannabinoid levels that might have previously been acceptable for flower. “I’ve witnessed millions and millions of dollars evaporate because flower passed, but the concentrated final product did not,” says Rice. “We’ve introduced a tool to get ahead of that decision-making process, looking beyond just a pass/fail. With our partner labs, we look at the chromatograms in greater detail beyond regulatory requirements, which gives us information on trace levels of chemicals we may be looking for. It’s a really rigorous audit on these sites and it’s all for the benefit of our clients.”
Envirocann has also recently added a processing certification for the manufacturing sector and a retail certification for dispensaries. That retail certification is intended to provide consumers with transparency, truth in labeling and legitimate education. The retail certification includes an assessment and audit of their management plan, which goes into details like procurement and budtender education, as well as basic considerations like energy usage and waste management.
While Envirocann has essentially adopted the USDA’s organic program’s set of standards for what qualifies organic producers, which they call “Enviroganic,” they also certify more conventional producers with their “Envirocann” certification. “While these producers might not be considered organic farmers, they use conventional methods of production that are responsible and deserve recognition,” says Rice. “A great example for that tier would be Fog City Farms: They are growing indoor with LED lighting and have multiple levels in their indoor environment to optimize efficiency and minimize their impact with waste and energy usage, including overall considerations for sustainability in their business.”
Success in the cannabis industry is driven by a company’s ability to adapt to an ever-changing market and meet the demands of the evolving consumer. Selecting the right business management solution to handle the complexities of the growing cycle as well as daily operations and compliance requirements necessitates diligent research. Ensuring that the selected technology solution has a centralized database in a secure platform designed to reinforce quality throughout company operations is essential in today’s competitive industry. An ERP solution with integrated CMS capabilities helps businesses strengthen supply chain management by seamlessly incorporating cannabis cultivation with day-to-day company operations to efficiently deliver seed to sale capabilities and meet marketplace demands.
What are ERP & CMS?
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is a business system in which all data is centralized – including finances, human resources, quality, manufacturing, inventory, sales and reporting. A cultivation management system (CMS) is an extension of an ERP solution to manage cannabis greenhouse operations, including growing, inventory and labor needs. A CMS maintains a detailed level of tracking to account for continuous cannabis growth periods that require extensive monitoring and incur a multitude of expenses. In an integrated solution, both the ERP and CMS data are managed under the same secure database to provide a forward and backward audit trail of all business processes. This visibility encompasses the entire supply chain from the management of supplier relationships to distribution – including growing, cultivating, extracting, manufacturing and shipping.
How do ERP & CMS strengthen supply chain processes?
Tracks individual plants and growth stages – By tracking plant inventories at the individual plant level in real-time with a unique plant identifier, greenhouse operations are optimized – monitoring the entire lifecycle of the plant throughout the germination, seedling, vegetative and flowering stages. Audit trails maintain regulatory compliance, including information such as terpene profiles and THC and CBD potency. Monitoring genealogy, mother and cloning, crossbreeding, plant genetics and clone propagation are key to success in this industry. Strain tracking is equally important, including identifying which strains are performing best, producing the most yield and how they are received by the marketplace. Tracking of the entire supply chain includes the recording of plant health, harvesting techniques, production, growth, costs, lab testing and batch yields – without any gaps in information.
Optimizes growing conditions to increase yields – By automatically documenting and analyzing data, insights into plant and greenhouse activities create streamlined processes for an optimal cannabis cultivation environment. This includes the monitoring of all growing activities such as space, climate, light cycles, moisture content, nutrient applications, fertilizer and other resources, which all have an effect on plant growth and yields. Most importantly, labor costs are monitored, as it is the highest expense incurred by growers. In an industry for which many companies have limited budgets, enabling efficient greenhouse planning, automation and workflows reduces overhead costs.
Integrates with regulatory compliance systems – Compliance is a mandatory part of the cannabis business, and many companies haven’t expended the effort to ensure their processes are meeting regulations. This has placed their licensing and business at risk. An integration that automates the transfer of required reporting information from the ERP to state government approved software such as METRC, Biotrack THC and Leaf Data Systems to ensure regulatory compliance is imperative. This streamlined process assures that reporting is accurate, timely and meets changing requirements in this complex industry.
Facilitates safety and quality control – With an ERP solution tracking all aspects of growing, manufacturing, packaging, distribution and sales, safety and quality are effectively secured throughout the supply chain. Despite the lack of federal legality and regulatory guidelines, proactive cannabis producers can utilize an ERP’s automated processes and best practices to ensure safe and consistent products. By standardizing and documenting food safety procedures, manufacturers mitigate the risk of cannabis-specific concerns (such as aflatoxins, plant pesticide residue, pest contamination and inconsistent levels of THC/CBD potency) as well as dangers common to traditional food manufacturers (such as improper employee procedures and training) for those in the edibles marketplace. Food safety initiatives and quality control measures documented within the ERP strengthen the entire supply chain.
Maintains recipes and formulations – In manufacturing, to achieve product consistency in regards to taste, texture, appearance, potency and expected results, complex recipe and formula management is a necessity – including monitoring of THC and CBD percentages. The calculation of specific nutritional values to provide accurate labeling and product packaging provides necessary information for consumers. Cannabis businesses have to evolve with the consumer buying habits and marketplace saturation by getting creative with their product offerings. With integrated R&D functionality, the expansion of new and innovative edibles, beverages and forms of delivery, as well as new extractions, tinctures, concentrates and other derivatives, helps to meet consumer demands.
Handles inventory efficiently – Established inventory control measures such as tracking stock levels, expiration dates and product loss are effectively managed in an ERP solution across multiple warehouses and locations. Cannabis manufacturers are able to maintain raw material and product levels, reduce waste, facilitate rotation methods and avoid overproduction to control costs. With the use of plant tag IDs and serial and lot numbers with forward and backward traceability, barcode scanning automatically links product information to batch tickets, shipping documents and labels – providing the ability to locate goods quickly in the supply chain if necessary in the event of contamination or recall. The real-time and integrated information available helps mitigate the risk of unsafe products entering the marketplace.
Utilizes user-based software permissions – Access to data and ability to execute transactions throughout the growing stages, production and distribution are restricted to designated employees with proper authorization – ensuring security and accountability throughout the inventory chain.
Manages supplier approvals – Assurance of safety is enhanced with the maintenance of detailed supplier information lists with test results to meet in-house quality and product standards. Quality control testing ensures that critical control points are monitored and only approved materials and finished products are released – keeping undeclared substances, harmful chemicals and impure ingredients from infiltrating the supply chain. When standards are not met, the system alerts stakeholders and alternate vendors can be sought.
Delivers recall preparedness – As part of an edible company’s food safety plan, recall plans that include the practice of performing mock recalls ensures that cannabis businesses are implementing food safety procedures within their facilities. With seed to sale traceability in an ERP solution, mitigating the risk of inconsistent, unsafe or contaminated products is readily maintained. Integrated data from the CMS solution provides greater insight into contamination issues in the growth stages.
An ERP solution developed for the cannabis industry with supporting CMS functionality embodies the inventory and quality-driven system that growers, processors, manufacturers and distributors seek to strengthen supply chain management. Offering a centralized, secure database, seed to sale traceability, integration to compliance systems, in-application quality and inventory control, formula and recipe management functionality and the ability to conduct mock recalls, these robust business management solutions meet the needs of a demanding industry. With a variety of additional features designed to enhance processes in all aspects of your cannabis operation the solution provides a framework to deliver truly supportive supply chain management capabilities.
While you may not have heard of CannTrust Holdings so far, that is now about to change. A summer spectacle of double dealing and corporate greed has put this Canadian cannabis company on the global map.
Unfortunately, the current meltdown underway is indicative of more to come.
A Summary Of The Story So Far
CannTrust, a company which serves 72,000 Canadian patients and got into the game early, decided to do what it saw other companies doing all around them. That covers a lot of ground (good and bad at this point). Regardless, the most relevant recent twist to the saga came when the company hired a new CEO, Peter Aceto last October.
Aceto however, along with the now also fired co-founder and chair of the board Eric Paul, decided to continue growing and harvesting unlicensed product. Worse, this occurred while boasting in public of their productivity gains on the way to securing a hefty investment of capital this spring. $170 million. The grow rooms finally got their certification in April.
What is even more embarrassing however, is that this was a round led by the much-vaunted investors the industry has been courting assiduously for the past several years. Specifically, in this case? Institutional banks like Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, Credit Suisse Securities and RBC Capital Markets.
But that is “just” the North American hemisphere. The rather unfortunately named CannTrust (certainly at this point) also had a European footprint – notably Denmark. Unlicensed cannabis ended up there too, of course. Stenocare A/S, the company at the receiving end of the same, reported receipt of product from the unlicensed rooms on July 4.
As far as such things go, however, you have to give it to CannTrust company executives. In terms of setting standards if not benchmarks and “records”, they certainly seemed to have set a few, although probably not the ones they aspired to. If not, with certainty, their investors.
A Surprise Or Inevitability?
That said, for many who have been sounding warnings for at least a year, the 2019 Summer of Canadian Cannascandal is certainly starting to confirm what many have been saying for quite some time. This is not the first time a securities exchange, for one, has sounded the alarm. Deutsche Börse delisted the entire North American public cannabis industry last summer briefly. Then they revised their policy, reluctantly, after Luxembourg changed its stance on medical use. That said, they are still watching with a standing policy of bouncing any company that runs afoul of their rules.
The problems, issues and more bubbling at the center of this cannameltdown, in other words, are not limited to just one company or country.
And everyone knows it.
Accounting For Past Mistakes
For those who are counting, the value of all of that illegally grown CannTrust product is not insignificant. Estimates are floating in the CA$50-70 million range. The problem is, of course, nobody is sure what numbers to rely on. CannTrust employees knowingly provided inaccurate information to the new CEO if not regulatory body until a whistle-blower provided a few more details.
That said, for all of the hullabaloo, one thing this story also does is point a bright spotlight on the lax enforcement of even this pretty easy-to-understand regulation.
The question, however is, if CannTrust thought it could get away with this kind of blatent flouting of the rules, if not lax oversight, are there any other companies who might have also done similiar things?
After all, even the pesticide scandal of 2016 did not occur at just one company either.
Where Are The Proceedings?
This is a rolling story, which began to break at the beginning of last month when Health Canada issued a non-compliance order to CannTrust and impounded 5,200 kg of dried cannabis that was apparently grown in unlicensed grow rooms on July 3.
There have already been some jaw dropping revelations so far (beyond the executive decision to even go down this road in the first place) no matter how attractive pimping numbers was. Starting with things like fake walls being erected to hide the grow. And then of course pictures that have been all over social media of late, of the now departed CEO Aceto being photographed directly in front of said unlicensed rooms too.
As a result, the drama has continued to unfold in a highly predictable way.
By August 1, CannTrust Holdings, a Canadian cannabis company listed on both the New York and Toronto stock exchanges, was facing a “quasi-criminal investigation” by the Canadian Joint Serious Offenses Team. This is a coalition of law enforcement agencies including the Ontario Securities Commission, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Financial Crimes Unit, and the Ontario Provincial Police Anti-Rackets Branch.
But CannTrust’s issues don’t end there. This is an international story that is just beginning. Government regulators in Europe if not elsewhere are paying attention.So are shareholders, and their lawyers.
Unlike the food industry, the cannabis industry is still in its infancy. Which means there is not a push from retailers demanding cannabis farmers, extractors or manufacturers to get third-party audits. In fact, most grow operations supply into their own dispensaries. So why should a cannabis farmer, extractor or manufacturer get a third-party audit? Third-party audits are crucial to maintaining product safety and quality by providing a third set of eyes to verify what is working and what is not. Besides regulatory requirements and customers requiring your facility to get a third-party audit, there are numerous other benefits to receiving an audit. Some of these benefits include:
Improvement to product safety
Improvement to product quality and consistency
Meeting regulatory compliance
Eliminating potential risks and possible recalls
Marketing advantages over competitors who are not audited by a third-party
Improvement to consumer confidence and an increase to brand loyalty
How to Prepare for a Third-Party Audit
Working for a certification body, I am in the unique position to see numerous sites go through the certification process. In this position I have seen both extremes: Sites that spend 6-8 months and a lot of resources preparing for an audit, as well as sites that wait until the day before to even look at the audit standard. Unfortunately, the latter is almost always going to fail the audit. Here are seven steps for preparing for your next third-party audit.“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”– Benjamin Franklin
Start Preparing Early
Think of your third-party audit as a college exam one month away. You could start studying for the exam now and get a real understanding of the material or you could wait until the day before to start your no-sleep, energy drink-fueled, 24-hour cram session. We all know which preparation method will get a better score on the exam. Now let’s apply that same strategy to your third-party audit. Once you have decided what audit is best for your site and have those specific standards in your hand, the clock starts ticking and you should already be preparing for the audit, whether it is one month or six months away.
Get Management Commitment
It is essential to the entire cannabis safety and quality system to have commitment from top down. Without this, the site will not get the resources (people, equipment, money, time, etc.) they need to pass a third-party audit. Management commitment is so important that it is often seen as its own section in most modern audit standards. It is very easy for third-party auditors to identify when there is a lack of management commitment in a site. Therefore, if you don’t get management commitment, then you are already starting off the audit on a bad note.
Create a To-Do-List
Think of the entire audit checklist or standard as your long to-do list. Some things, like attaining a certificate of analysis (COA) from a supplier, may only need to be done annually. While other things, such as ensuring employees are following Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), will need to be done continuously throughout day to day operations. Go through the audit checklist and separate what needs to be done annually, semiannually, quarterly, monthly and continuously throughout day to day operations. This will give you a list with all of the frequencies of each different requirement.
Teamwork“Teamwork makes the dream work, but a vision becomes a nightmare when the leader has a big dream and a bad team.” – John C. Maxwell
The preparation of an audit should never rest on the shoulders of one person. Yet this is something I tend to see too often in both food and cannabis facilities alike. Your site should establish a cannabis safety and quality team of multidiscipline personnel that have an impact on product safety and quality. Once the team is established, various tasks from the to-do-list can be disbursed among all the members of the team. Collaboration is key to successfully preparing for a third-party audit, especially when the timelines are very stringent.
Training is essential to preparing for your third-party audit. This is what closes the gaps between what the safety and quality department have developed and what your front-line employees are applying. All employees should know what part of the audit standard applies to them. Additionally, employees should be trained on interview questions that the auditor might ask them during the audit. Helping them prepare for these types of questions will help ease their nerves and allow them to answer the questions with self-assurance when it comes time to the actual audit.
Conduct Internal Audits
Conducting internal audits is not only a great way to prepare for your third-party audit, it’s a requirement. You should always use the audit checklist to observe your documents and facility to see where there are gaps. If possible, the person or team conducting the internal audit should never review their own work. Additionally, all issues or non-conformances should be noted, evaluated, corrected and closed out.
Third-Party Pre-Assessment or Mock Audit (Optional)
A third-party pre-assessment or mock audit is the closest thing you can get to an actual audit. This is where a company would come in and evaluate your site to the specific standards and give a formal report over any deficiencies found during the assessment and how to fix them. This is a great way to test your preparedness before the actual audit.
When it comes to compliance for cannabis startups, the ISO 9000 family of standards reigns supreme. Providing the guidelines for the concepts that make up a quality management system (QMS), the ISO family is composed of five standards: ISO 9000, 9001, 9002, 9003 and 9004. Outside of ISO 9001, ISO 9000 is the most important because it creates the foundation that guides all of the other standards.
ISO 9000 is split into two sections: fundamentals and vocabulary. Fundamentals covers the basic principles of quality management and the vocabulary section is a dictionary of quality management terminology. ISO 9000 is crucial because it provides direction on proper QMS implementation that will lead to achieving an ISO 9001 certification.
While the entire ISO 9000 family is focused on quality management systems that aim to help organizations “ensure that their products and services consistently meet customer’s requirements and that quality is consistently improved,” ISO 9001 is the only standard that lists actual requirements and requires certification.Cloud-based quality management software provides the flexibility and scalability, that cannabis startups need to comply with ISO 9001
Quality Management Systems (QMS)
When conceptualizing “quality management,” it is best to think of it as an organization’s definition of how it will meet the quality requirements of customers and other stakeholders who are affected by its work. Implementing this requires an extensive alignment of company processes and procedural governance.
It’s easiest to think of a QMS as the facilitator of outlined processes that are required to fulfill ISO 9001 requirements. For example, if an organization has defined a change request process, it could use a cloud-based QMS to put that process in place. However, the benefits of a cloud-based QMS don’t have to end at ISO 9001. It can also help organizations comply with other regulations like GxP.
ISO 9001 Requirements
ISO 9001 requirements can sound very generic because they’re meant to be applied to any organization, big or small, in any industry. The key to ISO 9001 is the concept of continuous improvement, which is why specific requirements for what “quality” is are not defined. Rather, companies must create objectives and work toward improving processes to meet those objectives. That said, a certified QMS still must do the following:
Meet the requirements of other stakeholders, for example, customer requirements and regulatory standards
Ensure that employees receive training outlining the quality requirements
Determine and document the processes, their interactions and their results
Be able to produce records to prove that system requirements have been met
From creation to disposal, document protocols must be clear and properly followed.With that in mind, ISO 9001’s purpose is to evaluate whether or not a QMS does a good job of managing processes while also being able to help organizations identify areas that need improvement. In simple terms, ISO 9001 helps companies who were making an excellent product most of the time, make an excellent product every time.
How can cloud quality management software help you get your ISO 9001 certification? Once you create processes that adhere to ISO 9001 quality management standards, you have to put them into practice. Enter: quality management software. But, how exactly does it help?
Optimal Time to Value
First, cloud-based software is the most cost-efficient to implement. Secondly, since a QMS needs to be accessible to every employee regardless of whether they work at HQ or on-site, cloud QMS are built to be mobile-friendly and easily accessed from any location.
Automated Document Lifecycles & Version Control
From creation to disposal, document protocols must be clear and properly followed. As up-to-date documents are an important factor in maintaining high levels of quality, the most recent versions of approved documents should be readily available while previous editions should be hidden away.
With cloud quality management software, workflows can automate the review and approval processes by automatically sharing documents with the right reviewers. Then, after the document has been approved, the changes will automatically be applied to the master document while the obsolete version is archived, helping to remove any chance of it being accidentally used after the update.
Easy Document Location & Metadata
According to ISO 9001, searching through an organization’s documents should be as easy as searching with Google. It’s an added bonus when the quality management software enables users to add custom metadata to documents. Metadata is just extra information that helps to define a document (like file size, type, date modified). With certain cloud-based QMS’, you can add custom metadata fields to make documents easier to find. For example, you can add an “expiration date” field that allows you to look up policies based on when they are set to expire.With the growing number of data breaches happening every year, it’s important to address the security components of a QMS.
In order to pass any ISO 9001 audit, there needs to be a complete audit trail for every document, including active documents and the earlier archived versions. While this might seem like a big ask, cloud quality management software helps make this simple. Every single change to a document, regardless of whether it’s the current or past version, is tracked. When combined with automated workflows, you’re able to produce a precise log of every change made by every user.
Advanced User Permissions & Central File Ownership
With the growing number of data breaches happening every year, it’s important to address the security components of a QMS. Many of these issues can be resolved with user permissions, which is generally related to managing users’ editing and sharing access. The proper view, edit, and approval rights go a long way to reducing the risk of human error.
Another feature that may seem like common sense is central file ownership. When the organization owns all of its documents, there’s no need to worry that important files will be lost or deleted. With one owner, the damage that can be inflicted by malicious third-parties is also limited.
Cloud-based quality management software provides the flexibility and scalability, that cannabis startups need to comply with ISO 9001. With the cloud as a foundation, these systems will continue to be assets for the cannabis industry as it gains momentum and expands more.
Anyone with a search engine can piece together how much THC certain strains produce and what their characteristics are. Oh wait- there’s an app for that… or dozens, I lose count these days.
Nefarious lab results are rampant in our communityLet’s take one of my favorites, Dutch Treat; relaxing, piney and sweet with a standard production of 18-25% THC, according to three different reviews online. So, did I raise an eyebrow when I saw Dutch Treat on Oregon shelves labeled at 30% THC? Did I take it in to an independent, accredited lab and have it tested for accuracy? You bet your inflated potency results I did! The results? Disappointing.
Nefarious lab results are rampant in our community; it is hurting every participant in our industry affected by the trade, commerce and consumption of recreational cannabis.
“I have had labs ask me what I want my potency numbers to look like and make an offer,” says David Todd, owner and operations manager of Glasco Farms, a craft cannabis producer in central Oregon. “It’s insane- I want to stand behind my product and show through scientific fact that I produce a superior flower.”
But without enforcement of lab practice standards, producers are being pressured to play dirty. In her third year cultivating at a two-tier recreational cannabis farm, a producer who wished to remain anonymous sent me an email about the pressures she is up against to produce high THC strains:
“The only sure way to get my product on the shelf at a profitable price is with THC 25% or above. Not a lot of strains have that potential, but the market has plenty with 28% to 32% floating around so I have to go with the same labs as the rest of the independent farmers to get the best numbers I can. The lab I use … return(s) good numbers.”
Those “good numbers,” aka high THC %, are the driving force of sales. A strain tests at 20% THC and it sells for $1,000/lb. Then it tests at 25% THC, and sells for $1300/lb. You produce cannabis for sale- this is your business. And labs are telling you that they can manipulate samples and reports to make you more money. Everyone else is doing it. If you don’t, your product isn’t “good enough” to sell. What do you do?Labs should operate ethically.
It’s a vicious cycle perpetuated by lies, lack of enforcement resources, coercion and undereducation. We are all responsible. Yet, ask who the source of the problem is and everyone points fingers across the circle.
The consumers are uneducated about cannabis and only focus on THC. The dispensaries and budtenders should be educating them. Producers should take a stand and use an honest lab. Labs should operate ethically.
I repeat: Oregon, we have a problem.
It’s time to stop living in a land where Dutch Treat is hitting 30% THC. It’s time for everyone to demand auditing and ethics.
Laws have been set forth on how to sample, prep, test and report analyses for cannabis to ensure fair commerce, consumer health and public safety. But there’s a clear need to blind test the different labs, and for unbiased, third-party research and development.
As federal eyes turn to the Oregon to investigate black market activity, regulatory bodies are tightening their grip on licensees to maintain legal validity and avoid shut down.
The time to demand change and integrity is now.The crack-down began on August 23, 2018, when the OLCC investigated several prominent producers’ practices. Black market distribution incurred the harshest penalty; the OLCC revoked their wholesale license due to multiple violations.
“We want good compliant, law-abiding partners as OLCC marijuana licensees,” says Paul Rosenbaum, OLCC Commission Chair. “We know the cannabis industry is watching what we’re doing, and believe me, we’ve taken notice. We’re going to find a way to strengthen our action against rule breakers, using what we already have on the books, and if need be working with the legislature to tighten things up further.”
Trends in METRC data lay the foundation for truth, and it’s time to put it to use. “The Cannabis Tracking System worked as it should enabling us to uncover this suspicious activity,” says Steven Marks, OLCC Executive Director. “When we detect possible illegal activity, we need to take immediate steps …”
Potency fraud might not be at the top of the list for investigation, but labs and producers are breaking the law, and there will be consequences. ORELAP and OLCC have the right to investigate and revoke licenses of labs that are falsifying data and consumers can file claims with the Department of Justice.
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