Northwest Naturals prides itself on providing the highest quality of products to our customers and takes great care in selecting our raw materials to meet and maintain our high standards. These rigorous standards help us supply our customers with reliable and safe products. We realize that the quality of our products and process performance directly impact our customer’s ability to acquire fruit ingredients for their chosen products. So we maintain the industry quality assurance through certifications, which are a constant and intricate process that we take very seriously. We sat down with Northwest Naturals’ Food Safety Manager, Courtney, to learn more about the certifications NWN maintains, taking a deep dive into their requirements, processes, and more.
What certifications does NWN currently have?
How often do these certifications need to be renewed?
All certifications are renewed annually, with the exception of the Kosher Certification, which requires regular check-ins.
The Kosher certification is a slightly different process. It requires a leader of the Jewish faith, such as a Rabbi, to certify a product to kosher regulations according to their religious standards. A Rabbi visits our facilities twice a month to ensure our kosher material and process are correct. They can spot-check raw material drums and labels to certify the proper procedure is in place, allowing the official kosher seal placed on products.
Which certification has the most rigorous process? Why?
Kosher grape products have the most rigorous process. All fruits are almost always considered kosher, except for grapes. Historically, grapes were grown by the Gentile to make wine which would not have been Kosher. For a grape to be kosher certified, there has to be a Rabbi on hand 24/7 to ensure every step of the process follows kosher rules and regulations. From harvest to checking the fields to pressing the grapes, a Rabbi overlooks each step until the actual product is made.
There are even special seals for kosher grapes. Offering kosher grape products is one of Northwest Naturals’ strengths because we know how to work with and supply kosher grape juice concentrates and blends. We have an established process to allow us to offer these products.
What is the process of preparing for the certification process?
Starting a new certification requires a lot of paperwork, processes, and procedures to set up; however, once they are in place, it requires more maintenance than anything to ensure we are following all of the rules throughout the year.
As we have new items, like custom blends, an essential part of the product development process is asking customers whether they are applying for any certifications to ensure we are setting up the project correctly from the get-go.
For all other products, NWN has incorporated routine spot checks of processes, records, and practices to ensure our catalog of products meets all of the guidelines of each certification. So when the renewal time comes, we are all up to date! A great example is the SQF audit- a prevalent certification for food manufacturers- which NWN does voluntarily and is an investment in terms of money, time, and effort for NWN. The process can take up to three days worth of paperwork and interviews of everyone who handles the product at each step of the way.
How long can it take to certify a new product?
The timing of certifying a new product varies, with some taking up to one month to set up, while others, such as halal and kosher, taking one week or less. On the other hand, the organic certificate can take anywhere from 6-8 weeks, and sometimes longer because it is a government process. Whatever the time frame, we let customers know in advance to allow them to plan accordingly.
What departments or employees are involved with certifications?
Almost all NWN departments are involved in the certification. From the Purchasing department to ensure the suppliers meet our certification requirements; to the Quality and Regulatory teams who handle the paperwork; to the Product Developers who work with the customers directly to create the product; to the Production team as there could be steps they need to follow to ensure they are handling the blending and labeling correctly; including Customer Service and Sales members as they are having conversations with customers making sure all are aware of the specifications and moving along correctly. It truly takes the NWN village to keep us in line with regulatory standards!
How do these certifications help Northwest Naturals and its customers?
Our mission is to provide customers with the highest quality of products, and maintaining these certifications ensures this. In addition, many customers also require specific requirements for their products that is why it’s important for us to maintain in order to continue doing business with them.
What if a company falsely claims they hold a certification?
Claiming to have a certification when you do not is a big no-no in the food manufacturing world. It can be very damaging to a company and often lead to negative repercussions such as a lawsuit, their product is pulled off shelves, and/or fined, or worse.