Davidson’s Organics’ manufacturing facility in Reno, Nev. just became Safe Quality Food (SQF) certified, which is the highest level of certification for consumer packaged goods companies. CEO Kunall Patel explains why this certification is important and how it sets the company apart.
According to Patel, Davidson’s Organics is the largest vertically integrated organic tea manufacturer in the United States, “To be SQF certified adds even more credibility,” he said.
SQF certification is the global food safety and quality control standard to which most food manufacturers are now adhering to achieve excellence in food safety, quality control, consumer confidence, and customer loyalty, said Patel. “It’s probably the pinnacle of what one can achieve in terms of certification in a food manufacturing environment.”
It took Patel nearly five years to invest in all of the necessary equipment and proper infrastructure, and carry out the correct policies and procedures in order to become SQF certified. The cost of implementing all the changes needed for certification amounted to almost $500,000. Patel believes the investment was worth the outcome and that the company will reap rewards for many years to come. “We’re happy we did it, we’re happy we passed,” said Patel, who looks forward to growing the business.
In order to qualify for certification, Davidson’s Organics’ manufacturing facility’s infrastructure had to comply with: SQF standards in terms of pest control, OSHA safety standards, workplace safety, food safety regarding sanitation and training of employees, and documented protocol and procedures that are being followed daily, in addition to working with approved suppliers. New stainless steel equipment was purchased, which is swabbed after each flavor run so there is no cross-contamination between flavor and allergen runs. The office and lunch room layout had to be renovated to be amenable to SQF workflow and sanitation standards. Shadow-proof LED lighting was installed, as well as a new ventilation system in the production room that provides fresh airflow and exhaustion.
It took 9-12 months of construction time to implement the necessary infrastructure changes, and 2-3 years to make the additional changes in equipment, procedures and policies.
“The FDA regulations are getting increasingly stringent year after year, and customers are demanding more documentation and certification standards, and food safety protocols and procedures from their venders and suppliers such that the barrier to entry for any new tea brand or tea manufacturer is going to become almost next to impossible,” said Patel. He predicts major retailers, such as Whole Foods, Costco and Trader Joes will start demanding that the brands they carry are packaged at SQF certified factories, and that lacking this certification will produce a lack of retailer confidence in the products with regard to infrastructure and health.
Patel is also proud of the company’s vertically integrated sourcing and production practices. His family owns nine organic tea gardens in India’s Darjeeling and Assam regions, which provide black, green and white teas—about two-thirds of the total contents of Davidson’s Organics products on the whole. “We are third generation tea farmers by heart, first,” Kunall said. Other ingredients, such as rooibos, guyusa, and other specialty herbs and spices are sourced from various parts of the world, including South Africa, Equador and Egypt. Reno’s arid climate is ideal for tea and spice preservation and the elevation prolongs the shelf life of ingredients when compared to more humid locations. “Overall, Nevada is a great manufacturing hub,” said Patel.
He added, the majority of the tea companies in the marketplace today are sales and marketing companies that outsource manufacturing, blending and packaging. Such tea companies turn to Davidson’s for their sourcing, blending, custom formulation, and packaging needs, “and we can make it happen for them,” said Kunall. Only USDA organically certified teas are processed in the facility.
Furthermore, social justice is important to Patel. The gender discrimination Patel noticed in India and Western societies inspired him to take measures to counterbalance it and support gender equality. Women comprise 86% of the company’s employees in Reno and India. He also prioritizes sourcing ingredients from female farmers in an effort to empower women around the world to support themselves.
As CEO, he makes an effort to create an exemplary company in every aspect of production and encourages others to do the same, “In my opinion, everybody across the supply chain has to take ownership of what is going on,” said Patel.