Formulation: Behind the Scenes at BioStar
From BioStar’s humble beginnings to the present, we have always made our own products. There aren’t many companies left in the supplement industry that still make their own products in house.
Naturally, there are some very good and valid reasons companies choose to have their products made by a third party or a private label company. These reasons include convenience, cost, and scale.
I’m just too much of a control freak to let any other company or entity procure our ingredients or make our products.
Developing a new product: “The Concept”
One of the advantages of having in-house production facilities is that I get to play with our plant and food ingredients. Mind you, the production team keeps a close eye on me as I’m kind of a kooky, mad scientist in their midst.
It all begins with a concept: a problem to be solved. Many of our products originated from customers who come to us and say “I have a horse with an issue …..” or “I have a dog struggling from …..” Some products began with my own horse’s issues, and health concerns with my various dogs, or friends’ horses and dogs.
Our BioStar pastes, for example, came about after a persistent equine body worker nagged me for months for paste formulas. This was a whole new arena for BioStar, and we had to figure out how to make paste syringes in house. First, we had to find the right filling machine, which sounds simple, but trust me, it wasn’t. Did you know you can fire a syringe across the room if you don’t have the filling machine pressure adjusted just right?
Sitting with the new concept
I rely heavily on my intuition and my knowledge of Ayurveda. I may jot down a few ideas in my Formulator’s Book, always with the whole horse or whole dog in mind. Then I go outside.
I like to go sit under one of my favorite trees or sit outside at night, watch the fireflies, be still, and listen. It is in the stillness that the answers come, the knowingness comes: yes this is the right path, no this is not the path.
Some ideas end up discarded, others wait for another time. Only a few make it to the next phase.
The beginnings of a formula: “The Spirit”
I think about the plants and foods which would assist the body. I consider the energetics of each plant, and the warming, cooling, neutral aspects, as well as the life force known as prana in Ayurveda, and qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The focus must be on the body system balance and restoration of that balance.
And always a focus on the gut.
I write down my ideas for ingredients and whatever comes to me via my intuition. I picture the horses or dogs with the imbalance I am working to correct.
I spend a lot of time looking at the ingredients I’ve jotted down and feeling how they work together, or if they’re redundant, or if they may tip the GI tract too much in one direction (too hot, or too cold). This process helps me whittle down the list of possible ingredients.
The science and research behind formulas
Once I have the foundation for the formula, I head down various rabbit holes. Scientific confirmation is a critical component for every ingredient in a formula. While Eastern medicine provides the spiritual, whole-body components, Western medicine provides the research data. Both are important.
I spend a lot of time down these rabbit holes. One rabbit hole may lead me in a totally different direction, but I just sort of follow the flow — even if I get off my initial track. I am learning something new, and that’s important to me as a formulator.
Seeking raw materials
Sourcing of our raw materials is daunting, but also fun. It’s not uncommon for BioStar to order from five or more different sources of one ingredient, just so we can test them out and get a feel for them. We call it playing, but it is very serious, I assure you. I want the best ingredients, not the mediocre, and not based on what’s the cheapest.
Efficacy and performance depend on ingredients of demonstrable and measurable quality working together in synergy. Otherwise, the formula won’t work well, and the horses and dogs won’t benefit.
Going to the experts
Before we purchase a new Ayurvedic ingredient or a patented extract from a company, I talk to the company’s scientists and experts. I want to know the medicinal properties better, confirm successful use for horses and dogs, and I also want to understand that company’s process — the growing, drying, extraction — and how that process improves bioavailability.
Getting input on formulas
From all my years on the human side of nutrition, I don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call one or two of my many contacts and ask, “What do you think of this extract or raw material?” or “I see you use this in one of your products, what is the feedback?”
I also have friends in the human supplement industry who are formulators, whom I bounce the concept off of and ask about the direction in which I’m headed. Or, I can ask about any new raw materials they may have come across that I haven’t thought of, but might be interesting. Sometimes there’s a potential ingredient that doesn’t fit what I am working on, but I jot it down, as I might want to revisit it in the future.
I bounce new product concepts around with trusted trainers, riders, or body workers, and vets. I like to hear what they have to say, more than what I have to say.
With dog products, my go-to is Lizzy Meyer, who is well connected in holistic animal circles herself. I bounce the concept and ingredients around with her. Lizzy always asks good questions and tells me what comes up for her both intuitively and from Eastern Medicine. She will give a resounding YES if a formula resonates with her.
Making various versions to test
New products go through various versions before they are ready for beta testing. Sometimes it’s just one revision, sometimes it’s multiple tweaks to a formula: less of this, more of that … the texture isn’t right, or the “energetics” aren’t quite right.
Jamie, our Production Manager, is my right-hand woman in product development because she sees things I don’t see, as I see things she doesn’t see. It’s a perfect balance. And when we both agree on how the formula feels, tastes, looks, then it is time to beta test.
Beta Testing Formulas
The initial beta tests are small samples to test for palatability. If a horse or dog won’t eat it, then it is time to go back and tweak the formula, period. If the first beta test passes, then we move on to the second beta test: efficacy and performance.
The efficacy beta test can take months, as we seek out horses or dogs who would benefit from the formula. The annual Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida is my ideal beta testing ground: so many horses, so many choices! WEF, with its high level of show stress in horses (and humans) really puts a product to the test. It also provides me with a ton of feedback from the riders, trainers, and grooms.
Some products in development don’t make it through the beta tests. They might not work well enough, or don’t provide clear efficacy. We will not bring those out on the market.
Getting a product ready for market
While Jamie in production works on packaging, Leslie, our designer, works on labels and brochure layouts and designs. It’s a team effort, and includes Lynn, who manages customer service, sharing her perspective vis-a-vis the customer, and Rick, the general manager, who oversees the entire process and makes sure all the ingredients for the new product have been ordered, received, and inventoried. Then there’s Pat, who manages the accounting side of BioStar, and who no longer has heart palpitations when Rick hands him a purchase order for a new ingredient that costs a great deal. He’s gotten used to it by now.
Pricing is the last step, because I don’t want raw material cost to influence efficacy. In other words, I don’t let the cost of a superior ingredient deter us from using it. Of course, we could use a cheaper alternative, and it would look the same on the label. But it wouldn’t provide the benefits or provide a superior source.
For example, aloe vera. We could buy bulk aloe vera powder as low as $20.00 per kg. However, the aloe we prefer to use is micro-crystalized, medical grade aloe which costs $250.00 per kg and is much more effective. There is a big difference in efficacy between aloe vera powder and medical grade aloe!
BioStar is willing to make a lower profit in order to use the finest and most advanced ingredients we can find that provide the best results for horses and dogs.
Formulating a BioStar product is not a straight line. It’s more of an adventure with lots of challenges, ah-ha’s, roadblocks, detours, sometimes a dead end, and sometimes a EUREKA!
From farm to feed bucket, it truly does take a village — one I am honored to be a part of.