DSM Nutritional Products (formerly Roche Vitamins) has a 70-year track record in vitamin C production. It became the only bulk vitamin C producer in the West in late 2005, when BASF ceased production at its plant in Denmark in response to price pressure from Chinese suppliers, and opted instead to source its supplies under contract from Asian companies. Now it is leveraging that position with an ingredient brand that speaks to its industry customers of known quality, traceability and supply reliability. Gareth Barker, head of global marketing, human nutrition and health, told NutraIngredients.com that Quali-C is not simply an ingredient branding exercise. It is an exercise in building awareness that opting for the cheaper material of uncertain provenance could have catastrophic consequences for a manufacturer and its brand further down the line. The quality of the product is intrinsically linked with perceptions of the customer's consumer brand - and with wider, serious implications such as sustainability, the environment, and water supply. Increasingly, consumer concerns about such matters are shaping markets, and it is down to ingredient manufacturers to respond by addressing the industrial aspects of safety, said Barker. Part of the assurance comes down to traceability. DSM boasts the ability to trace right back to the corn field the non-GMO sugar that is the raw material for the fermentation process. Control systems, quality management, environmental sustainability, safety management, and training are also said to be integral to total quality management. Quali-C does come at a higher price than Chinese material, but Barker and Martjin Adorf, global marketing manager, declined to expand on the precise mark-up. They said they could not put a price on differentiation, since "the market decides the price, and customers are prepared to pay a premium." By contrast, with a lot of the vitamin C on the market, they added, there could be a hidden price to pay. While at a chemical level the vitamin C may be the same, it is important for customers to look beyond this to "what happens if" their material should prove to be contaminated or sub-standard in some other way. Concerns range from down times to product liability, recalls, damaged relationships consumer uproar - all of which could result in considerable expense that would outstrip the costs of sourcing product of a know quality in the first place. While there have not yet been any issues with vitamin C, other health ingredients have been hit by quality problems, contamination, and counterfeiting. "It could be just a matter of time before it hits vitamin C as well". Ultimately, it would be damaging to the nutrition industry as a whole if, as a result of a problem in consumer products caused by low quality vitamin C, the message should be that vitamin C is bad for you. DSM has not been immune to the price pressure exerted on the vitamin C market by China. Until late 2005 it had a vitamin C production plant in Belvidere, USA in addition to its remaining facility in Dalry, Scotland. But despite DSM referring to its unique position as the only vitamin C producer outside Asia in its marketing materials, Barker said this is not the main reason the company is highlighting quality assurance. "We are in the business of selling high quality nutritional ingredients to all markets around the world. It is more of an evolution," he said. Adorf added that DSM does not view the present situation as healthy. While overall supply of vitamin C is outstripping demand, it seems there is an undersupply of quality material. DSM says its Dalry plant is utilising its full capacity, and Quali-C is "all taken out of [its] hands every day". Adorf would not disclose the production capacity at Dalry. As for the potential for future expansion, should current demand continue, he said that is not a decision that would be taken lightly. But DSM evidently remains wholeheartedly committed to vitamin C. So much so, in fact, that it has invested heavily in R&D for new, breakthrough production technology. While it is still too early to say when the new technology will go into production, Barker described it as "a radical innovation".