The Next Quality-Minded Questions to Ask Your CBD Ingredient Supplier

In the previous post we discussed the first line of questions to ask your CBD ingredient supplier. Once you have those adequately answered, you are ready to graduate to the next level of qualification.

Our first important question is about whether the supplier has pre-set standards for the material – or is just willing to sell whatever passes the THC test.

Does the product have 1) a specification, 2) a supplier COA, and 3) lab COAs that show the product meets the specification?”

Often times, the answer is ‘no.’ Sometimes, the answer is “We have a COA.” Rarely, the answer is a full-throated ‘yes’ to the entire question.

It is important to understand what is meant by “COA,” which is short for Certificate of Analysis. We actually need 2 COA’s for every lot of material – plus a specification – to really be happy about the level of quality documentation on an ingredient.

So, let us review the basic differences between these documents:

  1. Supplier Specification – sets the standards by which all lots of the same product must meet. It sets maximum (and sometimes minimum) limits for chemical and microbiological attributes like cannabinoids, microorganisms, heavy metals, and pesticides.

  2. Supplier COA – Is the primary document signed and certified by the supplier which shows that a lot or batch of material meets the specification. Typically, the Supplier COA lists the specification alongside the actual test result and a reference to the test method used.

  3. Lab COA – this is what is commonly referred to as a COA. It is a test report that lists the concentration of cannabinoids and contaminants in an individual sample. The document is issued and signed by an independent, third-party testing lab. (The lab should also list their certification under the ISO 17025 standard, but this is a technical topic for another post.)

So, when the supplier answers a question about specifications with an answer about a COA, make sure that it is clear what kind of COA’s we are talking about and whether these are based on a specification for the material.

This brings us to our next big supplier test question:

Can you provide the specification and supplier COA along with all testing lab reports on that lot, before we purchase the material?”

This is to verify that the material you are buying is certain to meet the specification, and that the work has already been done before you place the order. In FDA-regulated industries, no material can be accepted without COAs meeting specifications, and it’s far better to approve material before you take the risk of buying it. Of course, once you receive the material, you will want to do your own testing with a qualified third-party laboratory, to make sure the material you received meets the specifications as well.

If all the right answers are provided at this point, you (and the supplier) deserve a big pat on the back. Having specs – and hard proof of meeting the specs – is not standard practice in the hemp ingredient market. If the 10 minutes from asking these questions comes out right, you may have found a supplier who values quality practices, and speaks the language of quality assurance.

From there, there is more work to do. There are more questions to ask and documents to review. But by covering these bases right off the bat, you are more than halfway there. You are wasting no time. And you are quickly eliminating the suppliers who are not yet ready for prime time.

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Blake Ebersole

Blake Ebersole is President and Founder of NaturPro Scientific LLC, a scientific consulting firm offering decades of experience in R&D, product design and development, sourcing, and quality assurance of natural products for the dietary supplement, food and beverage, and related natural products industries, such as cannabis and hemp. Blake supports product development from concept to shelf. As one of the few consultants with strong background in both the science and the business of natural products, Blake has helped numerous start-ups, growth-stage and multinational firms in the natural products space achieve their goals. As a subject matter expert in the chemistry and quality of natural products, Blake participates on a number of standards-setting technical committees and expert panels, including ASTM International, AOAC International, American Herbal Products Association and the U.S. Hemp Authority. Blake loves to collaborate and help his clients create the best natural products, foods, and supplements possible. Visit the NaturPro website at for more information.

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