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Trade Routes: Navigating International Business

By: Michael Wynne
Posted: September 5, 2008, from the September 2008 issue of GCI Magazine.

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GCI: Did that involve much work?

Jeri Ross: One of my challenges was dealing with a short timeline to make all of the revisions, while at the same time, reformulating to have the products ready for spring—the season for cellulite treatments. Because it is not an EU requirement to have the ingredients listed on the primary packaging, I elected to wait and list them on the secondary packaging when I would have the final formulations completed by the lab.

Distributors hold some risk if a customer has a reaction to the product, and, therefore, they want to reduce that risk by having the ingredients listed on the actual product for the customer to assess if they have allergies to certain ingredients.

Lesson Learned: While it is not the law to list your ingredients on the primary packaging, I would suggest doing so in order to make your potential distributors more receptive to your products.

Another area of detail is making claims on your packaging. This gets tricky depending on what kind of product you are distributing. For instance, what I found out after I had printed my cartons by the thousands is that you should not say “therapeutic.” I also should not have said “slimming” on the packaging. The danger you run into is having your product classified as a pharmaceutical. I hired an expensive French attorney in Paris to help me get factual information about how a cellulite product is classified in the EU. I was able to reprint some cartons for Europe.

Lesson Learned: Get up front information about claims, down to very specific details based on the product that you want to distribute. For example, rules for a face cream may not be the same as for a cellulite product. If you know what countries you want to do business with, find an authority in that country. Your distributor can sometimes have the prototype of the product packaging and ingredients reviewed by the authorities in a country, and, depending on the contract you have with the distributor, they pay for the legal review.

GCI: Any additional discoveries?

Jeri Ross: It is not mandatory that cosmetic products be registered in the EU or other countries for that matter. But, you get requests from the distributors to provide them with the documents to register the product. What that means is that if there is ever any issue with the product such as a health reaction that could lead to a lawsuit, they would have to present the proper paperwork to the authorities. This also relates to the address you must print on your packaging in the EU, where authorities can find the manufacturer in these cases.

The documents required are called the dossier; it includes, among other things, the qualitative and quantitative formula, methods of manufacture, assessment of human safety and microbiological specifications. What I want to point out here is that your manufacturing lab doesn’t typically do human safety testing (skin irritation testing). That is a special service that they may or may not perform, and you pay for these tests. In my situation, it wasn’t until the distributor in Italy was running around in circles demanding these tests to register the products that I even knew these tests were essential. He went ahead and had the tests completed by a qualified lab in Italy, but it was a frustrating sticking point that could have been avoided.

Lesson Learned: Don’t expect your lab to tell you that you need skin irritation testing. Get the skin irritation tests completed before you go out looking for distributors. Also, form a very friendly relationship with your lab. I can’t tell you how many times I had to request documents from them. Distributors need originals, not copies.