Marketing and Comms
Navigating a World of Labels Through Third-Party Certification

Consumers want to trust that the products they are buying are accurately labeled, but in a marketplace saturated with brands all making different claims, this is easier said than done.

More people are paying attention to the ingredients used in products that go in, on and around their bodies. Whether it’s in the food we eat, the water we drink or the dietary supplements and personal care products we use, consumers want brands to back up claims and prove products contain only the ingredients listed on the label. This has become evident with the spurred growth of the billion-dollar organic, natural beauty and non-toxic cleaning product movements.

When it comes to product labels and claims, it is important to know what to look for and be aware that not all labels are trustworthy. While the term “certified organic” is regulated by the USDA and is part of one of the most highly scrutinized and transparent food certification programs in the world, other claims — such as “all natural” or “cage free” — are not. Products ranging from food to cleaning supplies may claim to be “all natural,” but the term isn’t backed up by an independent, third-party verification program to check the accuracy of the claim.

In a new study, independent public health and safety organization NSF International found that the majority of US consumers (61 percent) are concerned about the safety of food and other consumer products, yet very few (34 percent) rarely, if ever, make an effort to research safety concerns and label claims. The study also found that, for the most part, many consumers are unsure how to research and verify claims for themselves and may be unaware of third-party certification programs operated by independent organizations and governmental agencies.

The easiest way for consumers to navigate the multitude of choices is to research and educate themselves and that can start by understanding what third-party certification means. Third-party certification means an independent organization has reviewed the manufacturing process of a product and has determined the final product compiles with specific requirements for safety, quality, performance or provenance.

Lucky for us, most certified products bear the certifier’s mark on their packaging to help consumers and other buyers make educated purchasing decisions. Once you can identify third-party labels you can rest assured that the product you are buying meets the requirements of the certification program and is labeled accurately.

Here are some of the reasons it’s important to understand third-party certification programs:

  • High quality. Third-party certification demonstrates that the product complies with a specific standard for safety, quality, performance or provenance. It is important to note, however, that not all third-party certifications are created equal. A certification is only as good as the certifier itself. Look for a certifier that is accredited by a major accrediting body like the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or the Standards Council of Canada (SCC).

  • Thorough. Each standard spells out the specific requirements for certification and is not a one-time event. From extensive product testing and material analyses to unannounced inspections, every aspect of a product's development is thoroughly evaluated before it can earn a certification from NSF International.

  • Constant improvement. Just as science and technology continues to evolve, all standards are subject to grow and change over time. Standards are often revised with input from key stakeholders representing consumers, regulators, industry and academia. In fact, most of NSF’s standards are updated on a reoccurring, annual basis.

Consumers want to trust that the products they are buying are accurately labeled, but in a marketplace saturated with brands all making different claims, this is easier said than done. Consumers hold the power in their purchasing choices and there is no substitute for educating yourself on the products you use in, on and around your body. Our latest study can serve as a reminder that consumers should be aware and able to make educated decisions about the products they purchase. A trusted third-party certification can give consumers confidence that a product is labeled accurately and safe to use.

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