Bluebonnet Nutrition, a family-run dietary supplement manufacturer, is now in its 20th year of business. In 1991, the Barrows family set out to start a company that would become a supplier of the cleanest, most wholesome dietary supplements available. Two decades later, the company says that original vision has grown beyond its wildest aspirations. According to Gary Barrows, the company’s president and founder, what began as a two-person operation has flourished into a 168-employee operation today.
Gary’s mother, Joyce Barrows, was one of the company’s earliest employees. One of the next people into the company was his brother Steve Barrows, who used to run the company’s bottling plant and distribution center. Gary’s other sibling, Bob Barrows, Jr., vice president of sales and marketing, and his father, R.L. Barrows, CFO, came into the business about 10 years later, Gary says. As Bluebonnet’s growth took place, the Barrows’ family invested back into the company. One of the major milestones of that investment was the opening of a 100,000 square-foot, kosher-certified manufacturing, packaging and distribution facility, with a top-of-the-line analytical laboratory for ensuring quality control.
“I think we’re very fortunate with the people that we’ve been able to attract to come to Bluebonnet and work with [us]. We have some of the most talented personnel in the industry,” Bob Jr. says. Gary attributes some of the company’s success to its’ manufacturing strengths. “I think the real driving factors are product development, the kosher certification, and the fact that we manufacture about 80% of own line in-house, in our own factory,” he says.
The company has, throughout its history, been an advocate for the right of retailers to sell and consumers to buy alternative health care products. Officers with Bluebonnet have sat on the boards of regional and national advocacy groups such as the Natural Products Association, and played a major role in funding industry-related lobbying efforts at state and federal levels.
According to Gary, the company embarked on a major environmental effort about five or six years ago. From recycling programs to the use of alternative energy options such as wind and solar to eco-friendly manufacturing practices, Bluebonnet believes these actions represent a new way of doing things. “There’s definitely a big push with our green initiative. That seems to be really important to a lot of the retailers that brands are thinking this way and willing to do more in this area,” says Gary.
When asked what the company and the industry to which it belongs will look like in the future, Bob Jr. replied that the alternative health market and independent retailers will thrive and survive. “As long as we can, legislatively, keep our positive momentum for the industry, I think we’ll have great growth over the next 20 years,” he concludes.
From being a Presidential Sponsor of the NPA Natural MarketPlace tradeshow to launching a major new product line, it looks like the company has a banner year ahead of it. The emphasis during this, their anniversary year, is on thanking the people that made success possible. Says Bob Jr., “It’s a year-long celebration of our retailers who’ve supported us. Without the retailers, there is no Bluebonnet.”
The Bluebonnet Product Line
The five qualities associated with the Bluebonnet name are nature, science, quality, truth and knowledge. There is one for every petal of the Texas state flower, and each value applies especially to the way the company makes its products.
Bluebonnet’s complete line of supplements is manufactured without unnecessary colors, flavors, fillers, binders or excipients. Delivery systems are available to suit all individual preferences. Gary points out that the brand carries no two-piece, animal-based gelatin capsules, and that gelatin softgels are on their way out as well. This will allow customers with restricted-diets to enjoy the full range of Bluebonnet’s products. “We are in the transition of changing even those to vegetable softgels. So that’s something that I’m very proud of,” he says.
Bluebonnet still uses recyclable amber glass bottles to better protect nutrients from heat, light and moisture. “When we’ve done stability studies, we found it actually helps preserve the integrity of the tablets and capsules, so they get into the consumers’ hands the way that we intended,” Gary says. All products are KOF-K kosher-certified. “Probably our biggest outlay of money the last two years is implementing all the different cGMP regulations,” he adds.
Bluebonnet spent in excess of $2 million upgrading its on-site, in-house staff laboratories. The company has also invested heavily in manufacturing capacity, which has meant more tablet presses, encapsulation machines, coating pans, blenders and the like to support the larger capacity that’s required of a growing brand.
Gary is eager to announce a couple of the exciting product launches that retailers can look forward to this year. “We’ve got a new children’s line that’s going to be launching this month,” he says, describing it as a series of chewable vitamin products in the shape of rainforest animals. The line will consist of multi-vitamin, vitamin C, calcium, vitamin D and DHA products.
This line is special, according to the company, in that it will feature promotional ties to rainforest preservation. Educating children on the importance of the rainforests for the global ecosystem is the goal. According to Gary, “It’s something we’re doing to make sure people understand the importance of the rainforest…it provides almost two-thirds of the world’s oxygen layer. It’s probably been one of our most challenging projects.” Included in these educational efforts will be a Bluebonnet-hosted educational Web site. “It’s really something neat that we’ve done to help mom educate her children, and make it fun to take vitamins as well,” Gary says. He also touts the boom their sports nutrition line has enjoyed recently, including the launching of additional SKUs.
Whatever worthy efforts the company may become involved with in the years ahead, and however the industry may change in the next 20 years, one thing is certain: Bluebonnet will stay true to its roots in creating natural dietary supplements, using the best ingredients the earth has to offer.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, March 2011