Justin Farmer and Ken Whitman: The Complete Wellness Package
A digital magazine, a top-selling supplements line, a soil remineralization program, tons of support for non-profits…it’s hard to believe that one company can do all these things, and do them extremely well to boot. Natural Vitality, headed by Justin Farmer, president, and Ken Whitman, chief creative officer, is more than a supplements manufacturer. Under the guiding hands of Farmer and Whitman, the firm is working to provide consumers with a complete package of health and wellness, starting with calmfulness.
Natural Vitality of Austin, TX, was founded in 1982 by Peter Gillham, who created the popular Natural Calm magnesium supplement. Today, Farmer and Whitman have worked to bring the brand to the next level. At some companies, that concept would encompass mainly sales and profits, but at Natural Vitality, Farmer and Whitman wanted more. They wanted to help people lead healthy lives with “calm” at the core.
“Calm is the perfect word to represent this unstressed state and ‘calmful’ means being proactive about managing the stress levels in your life,” the pair explains.
The idea of “calmful” touches all aspects of one’s life, from eating to parenting to work life to relationships and beyond. “You could say that calmfulness is being mindful about personal stress management,” say Farmer and Whitman. “It’s being aware of your own ‘inner dashboard’ and soothing negative emotions before they gain momentum.”
They make the point that chronic stress puts the body in a heightened defense mode, which zaps energy and can cause physical harm and discomfort. “We have to learn to shift our focus from stressful things to things that make us happy. We need more ease and less dis-ease,” say Farmer and Whitman.
For these reasons, Farmer and Whitman use “calmfulness” as the guiding principle in all the company’s efforts.
The Natural Vitality leaders want their line to address the need for “calm” through several touch-points. The concept of proper stress–calm balance certainly relates to the company’s key products, many of which support wellness with balanced mineral levels in the body and proper vitamin intake. “In the body, you can see this in the cellular action of calcium, which brings the cell to action, and magnesium, which brings the cell back to its resting state. Balance is key in all of these,” they say.
The Natural Vitality line is known for its anti-stress multi-mineral drinks, liquid plant-based vitamins, liquid plant-sourced minerals, and more. But the firm recently launched some new products that also embrace the idea of changing lives through calmfulness. Two examples are Natural Calm Bath (magnesium spa bath salts) and Natural Calm Cream (transdermal magnesium cream), but several new launches are on the horizon. “We’re moving to the next level and are focused on innovation now! We are really excited about what we have coming to market soon and moving into 2017,” say Farmer and Whitman.
Natural Vitality made news early in 2016 by being acquired by Wellnext, which the pair calls “the perfect partner for our needs. We met them and the relationship clicked.” Wellnext owns other natural products brands such as Rainbow Light.
This partnership has helped make even more innovation possible for Natural Vitality. “They share the same passion, commitment and idealism that we do. Additionally, they have extensive state-of-the-art manufacturing along with great research and development capabilities,” say Farmer and Whitman. These resources will help the Natural Vitality team on its mission to bring several novel products to market in the near future.
Natural Vitality is also calmfulness and wellness focused in ways that aren’t related to the bottom line. For instance, the firm launched Organic Connections, which Farmer and Whitman call “a labor of love.”
The publication started as a print magazine, moved to a digital publication and was recently renamed Calmful Living with the tagline “Life Less Stressed.” Coverage offers stress-free reading about daily living, products and recipes. Consumers are appreciative of this free publication, which has more than 40,000 subscribers. “It’s a natural extension of the larger conversations we’ve been having as a brand,” say Farmer and Whitman.
Another pet project at Natural Vitality is soil remineralization. Having abundant minerals in the soil is key for moving nutrients into our foods, and then into our bodies. “Tracing this to its ‘roots,’ we found that most of our soils are mineral depleted,” explain Farmer and Whitman, who decided to do something about it. “Of course when we consume this marginally healthy produce (which doesn’t taste like much or smell like much), we’re only getting a portion of what we should and thus we need supplements to fill the gap.”
They say the remineralization process is simple, inexpensive, effective and natural, and benefits farmers, retailers and consumers. Therefore, since 2007, the Natural Vitality staff has championed its Calm Earth Project—and numerous other giving-back opportunities. “While focusing on environmental non-profits Remineralize The Earth and the Bionutrient Food Association, we have also worked with Conservation International, Organics4Orphans, the Organic Farming Research Foundation, Center for Food Safety, Heifer International, American Forests, the Special Olympics, Vitamin Angels, Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas, Wounded Warriors Project and a host of others,” they explain.
The company is pleased to do so, with Farmer and Whitman saying, “We believe one of the greatest joys in life is helping to make things better.”
And certainly the calmful tools that Natural Vitality is making available to the public are doing just that. WF
Muhammed Majeed, Ph.D.: Innovating “Science First” Supplements
If every company in the supplements industry cared as much about science and quality as Sabinsa Corporation, concerns about product integrity would be few and far between. The decision for these qualities to be a main driver at Sabinsa was a move clearly executed by its founder, Muhammed Majeed, Ph.D. His dedication to science and quality has not only made Sabinsa a standout business, but has also helped supplements companies build superstar products in the marketplace.
The Science Niche
With a pharmaceutical background, Majeed founded Sabinsa nearly 30 years ago, but his original intent still drives the company. “My background in science is the basis for the Sabinsa approach: using modern science to validate and expand upon the traditional knowledge of Ayurveda,” he states.
How this pursuit played out in tangible ways has been huge. The firm’s large portfolio of innovative branded ingredients is backed by a solid collection of published scientific studies. In addition, Sabinsa owns well over 100 U.S. patents, earned generally recognized as safe status for several brands, and has several health claims approved in Canada.
For Majeed, these spokes all rotate around the central wheel of science, in which the firm has invested heavily. “We have over 100 scientists on staff doing solid research,” states Majeed. “It’s gratifying to see what Sabinsa and Sami Labs have become from that basic aspiration to validate my country of origin’s historic medical system.”
With the belief that scientific validation should be the core of every Sabinsa product on the marketplace, there is no endpoint of scientific study for ingredients. Part of the reason why, says Majeed, is that many of its ingredients are application specific, and Sabinsa wants to make sure the uses and benefits of all its brands are fully realized and their safety is demonstrated.
He states, “Research on even our most established products is ongoing because I truly believe that science is dynamic and therefore we take it as our responsibility to gather new evidence and new findings on our products.”
Dr. Majeed’s Pick
WholeFoods recently asked Sabinsa’s founder Muhammed Majeed, Ph.D., which of his branded ingredients holds a special place in his heart. Here’s what he had to say:
For me, it’s Curcumin C3 Complex. When I look at the humble beginnings of bringing out the powder, then standardizing it and helping it grow through world-renowned studies, it has matured into one of the greatest ingredients for our marketplace and for our time. If I had to do anything over again for Curcumin, I wouldn’t change a thing, simply because our ingredient delivers a multitude of health benefits with quality that is unsurpassed.
Through some of my philanthropic concerns, I have given millions of doses of Curcumin C3 Complex out to the public. When I see and hear from parents of children with health conditions who are improving and recovering, it holds a very special place in my heart.
Patents and Research
As of late September, Sabinsa had 123 U.S. patents to its name and the company continues to add to its impressive roster. The firm is also not afraid to defend its hard work and intellectual property through litigation when necessary. Doing so, says Majeed, is important, especially to safeguard future research projects.
“For a company to continue to invest in research and innovation, which is costly, you must have a way to protect your discoveries so that income can fund additional research,” he says, noting this research is, of course, connected to future discoveries and even more innovation later on. “Innovation is what drives our industry, and, more importantly, it benefits mankind,” he states.
Therefore, he believes that research is worth investing in, both for Sabinsa and for the companies that buy its products. “I always tell our customers, the extra amount we ask per kg goes directly to funding more research, and any intellectual property we can develop from that work. This then goes directly back to defending the patents and other intellectual property that research makes possible,” he states.
He uses Sabinsa’s Curcumin C3 Complex as an example, saying its patent has allowed the firm to invest in human clinical trials that both confirmed and uncovered specific health benefits. “We’ve had to defend our curcumin intellectual property from infringers, but the patent protection is strong and we always prevail because we well understand how important it is,” he states.
As a show of how serious Sabinsa is about science, Majeed gives readers insight into its investment: “Millions of dollars have been spent and will continue to be spent, because to us, it’s the right thing to do. Each year, we invest 6–8% of our net income back into research.”
And, the Sabinsa team of scientists seems to have no trouble thinking of new areas for exploration. Sabinsa’s LactoSpore is the centerpiece of “some really exciting studies yet to come out,” while new research on DigeZyme delves into its possibilities in the sports area—that is previously unchartered territory. Sabinsa is also planning to release a new sports-centric study on Sabeet, its standardized beet root extract, as well as new research on ForsLean and “the true workings of coleus in our system for better weight management,” says Majeed.
This is just a snapshot of the research happenings at Sabinsa, with Majeed adding, “research even takes us beyond the lab itself.” By that, he means that the company is heavily invested in research at the farm level, “alongside farmers, educating them on agricultural practices such as those that minimize the use of pesticides, adding irrigation lines for the farms and bringing accessible water to the villagers.”
He explains that these investments have returns that are many-fold, with farmers better able to grow high-quality raw materials for Sabinsa. WF
Naomi Whittel: From Entrepreneur to Big Time CEO
Naomi Whittel is not one of those people who does anything halfway. The young entrepreneur broke open the resveratrol market in the United States, grew her business to multimillion dollar sales within five years, became a force to be reckoned with in some B2C markets and in March 2016, became the CEO of one of the largest natural supplements companies in the country…all while being a devoted mother to four young children.
What may seem to be an impossible feat to most people is fully within the grasp of Whittel, which is why she is a perfect pick for the 2016 Who’s Who of Manufacturers and Suppliers honor.
Stepping Up at Twinlab
When Whittel was asked to move into the top leadership position of Twinlab Consolidation Corporation, she saw an opportunity to bring an already great supplements company to a new level. “What encouraged me to become the CEO of Twinlab was really my love for the iconic brand that it is,” she states.
Whittel explains that decades years ago, David Blechman started the company in a garage much like Apple, Google and Amazon. Blechman was a pioneer, who launched the first liquid protein on the market, went door to door selling the line, and quickly became a global leader in the sports nutrition and the dietary supplements market as a whole. “I’ve always been inspired by that original innovation,” Whittel states.
While Whittel’s “baby”—Reserveage Nutrition—certainly has different challenges and opportunities than its parent Twinlab*, the new CEO believes the core values she used to shape Reserveage put her in a good position to build upon Twinlab’s success.
When Whittel launched Reserveage, she wanted to give consumers products that they really wanted and really needed. This included items not just made in a vertically integrated fashion, but also those from a source she knew and believed in.
Indeed, her vision for what the resveratrol market could and should be appealed to the masses. “We became the majority market leader within about six months of launching and we own over 30% of the resveratrol market today,” she states.
A New Vision for Twinlab
But making money for the sake of it wasn’t the driving force behind Whittel’s vision for Reserveage, and neither is it for how she wants to grow Twinlab.
“I started Reserveage with the principles of science and clean ingredients,” she explains. “I am very concerned everyday about providing quality products and what I love about Twinlab is we are vertically integrated.”
Unlike other companies that rely on contract partners, Twinlab has its own manufacturing facility. “That makes me very excited,” she states.
As for the other piece, science is part of Whittel’s DNA as a supplement maker. She says science was the “core of who we were and who we are at Reserveage,” noting that partnering with scientists is the “most important piece.”
“Each and every day of my work, I’m dedicated to working with the world’s leading scientists in different areas. And that’s exactly what you’re going to see me bring to Twinlab,” Whittel states.
Whittel also excels at making her brand a full experience. One need only look at the carefully designed Reserveage packaging—or even its tradeshow booth—to witness this.
Now at Twinlab, she wants shoppers to truly connect with the brand on another level, and her idea is to embrace and share the company’s backstory, of which not many people are aware. She feels it deserves to be brought to life and positioned for the future.
Whittel states, “The consumer wants and deserves transparency. We have a transparent vertical integration, and working through those elements—honesty, integrity as well as partnership—that’s where I see a lot of our focus as an organization going.”
An example of Twinlab’s new focus on transparency, Whittel recently opened the doors of the Twinlab manufacturing facility to Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes. Twinlab was the first company to do such a thing in Utah for Reyes. “Right now with consumer trust being so incredibly low and with our industry having so many issues around a lack of transparency, the attorney general of anyone’s state is an extremely important relationship to have,” says Whittel.
She calls Reyes’s visit to the Twinlab plant “one of the most wonderful days for our organization.” The team had just one week’s notice to pull together the tour, where different plant employees took Reyes through the line as if he was an ingredient from the company’s OcuGuard product. The idea was to see how source materials are brought in, tested and turned into a supplement in a responsible manner. “He absolutely loved it, and our whole team rallied around it,” says Whittel. “We have nothing to hide. It was a fun and positive experience for us.”
Given the size of Twinlab’s platform, Whittel says it’s her responsibility as the new CEO to help usher in positive growth for the company and the entire industry. And, she hopes to move industry to the next level with collaboration, because she believes it “enhances the power of any industry and the individual…What grows the industry is collaboration, where we feed off of each other and ultimately provide higher quality, science-based gold-standard products into the consumer marketplace.”
With Whittel at the helm, there’s no doubt that she can and will achieve whatever goals she sets her mind to. WF
*Twinlab acquired Reserveage Nutrition in 2015.
Michael Bush: Perfecting Probiotics
Have you noticed the incredible amount of probiotic functional foods to come to market recently? There’s coffee, nut butters, non-dairy spreads and juices—and this is just a handful of the numerous innovative probiotic functional foods on the market today. A common thread among many of these products is their branded probiotic strain of choice:
GanedenBC30 from Ganeden. Though the company has only been around for about 20 years, it has grown the probiotic category and functional food market in monumental ways.
Who is the mastermind behind this growth and innovation at Ganeden? A close-knit team of talented individuals has helped the company thrive. But, one key long-time member of the group, thanks to his incredible efforts, was recently promoted to president: Michael Bush. Since 2006, his insight into the probiotic category has not only benefited Ganeden, but also helped makers of probiotic foods and drinks, retailers and consumers in countless ways.
The Past and Future
Bush started out in the healthcare industry as a clinical engineer and “caught the entrepreneurial bug” when he then went to work for a private equity-backed medical services company. In 2006, Bush says he was consulting for Ganeden when the CEO called him to generate some ideas for how the company could expand. The project ended with a job offer, and Bush joined the team as vice president of business development, literally starting the Ganeden ingredient and licensing business from the ground floor.
Earlier this year, Bush was promoted to president of the company. “Our general goal in everything we do is to do right by our employees, partners, customers and families. We really want to keep doing that,” Bush states.
Also on the horizon at Ganeden, says Bush, “Our business has been growing exceptionally well. We’re doubling our size every couple of years…We’re going to continue to grow the business by adding some new ingredients.”
Research at Ganeden
Bush says that one of the driving forces behind the growth of probiotics, and thereby Ganeden, is publicity about the health benefits of these “good bugs.” There is some spectacular research going on,” says Bush, and he even says probiotics might have potential one day in the realm of personalized medicine.
He cautions about over excitement on two fronts. First, he says consumers are getting a glance at the research and the potential of probiotics in areas beyond digestion. But, all this good news is making shoppers mistakenly believe that probiotics can cure illnesses. “We’re asked at least every day when we’re going to be able to make a mood or depression claim on BC30,” says Bush. While he says his company’s strain can’t go there right now, “it will certainly be exciting to watch over the next few years to see what will happen in this particular space.”
And two, research is very strain specific. “No research that’s done on any probiotic is applicable to any other probiotic. That’s one of the biggest misconceptions that people will have,” says Bush.
This underscores the importance of having research on specific strains like GanedenBC30. And Bush says his company continues to add to its library of research on the benefits of the brand, with over 24 published peer-reviewed studies to date, and the company is currently running 4–6 clinicals looking into some interesting areas. For instance, Bush says the company is studying the connection between probiotics, protein metabolism and nutrient absorption. “It’s really interesting. It’s showing that GanedenBC30 plus a variety of different types of proteins help the body break down proteins more effectively,” says Bush. “This means that it reduces muscle wasting and muscle breakdown, in particular in athletes who are over-training.” This could have implications for marketers of products for seniors, kids, athletes and more.
The firm is also constantly studying markers of good digestion and immune health as well as other emerging areas of research. “Our goal is always to support our customers and our consumers as much as possible so that they are very confident in the claims they can make,” Bush explains.
Bush says the Ganeden team is already starting to plan out its 2017 clinical trials. “Regarding our ongoing research projects, there’s no end in sight,” Bush states.
Growth at Ganeden
With its non-GMO verification in place, GanedenBC30 is used in more than 500 food, beverage and animal products worldwide, and generated more than $1 billion in sales in 2015. At Natural Products Expo West 2016 alone, the branded probiotic strain was included in more than 65 product launches.
According to Bush, sports nutrition is one hotbed of activity for the Ganeden brand, as are active adult lifestyle products like smoothie mixes, plant proteins and spreads like nut butters. “Beverages are very, very hot for us. It’s an area where consumers are used to seeing fortification…and they feel comfortable that it’s a product category that makes sense for them.
“It makes sense,” says Bush. “Consumers are saying they use something like this every day. Why not use it with a probiotic, too, and get the full benefits?
With Bush leading the Ganeden team, industry can expect to see many more novel probiotic functional foods come to market. WF
Mark LeDoux, J.D.: Stepping Up at NPA
Many individuals see trade associations as the driving force behind the natural products industry’s history of comradery and the chief defense against threats from lawmakers and regulators. And for many industry folks, the Natural Products Association (NPA)—the longest running such group—is one that absolutely deserves their support.
For this reason, whichever member is elected to a major leadership position in the group often holds the respect of thousands of industry members. It’s not uncommon to see a successful and dedicated retailer tapped to be president of the NPA. But this year, industry saw a veteran supplier member step up to the plate, despite his incredibly busy role as founder and CEO of a major custom contract manufacturer.
What inspired Mark LeDoux, J.D., to serve as NPA’s new president of the board of directors, and where is he planning to bring the association during his tenure in this top position?
Experience Lends Perspective
LeDoux’s proven leadership sets an example for what business acumen and integrity can look like in this industry and provides a valuable perspective when leading an influential trade organization such as NPA. “I know what it means to be an entrepreneur,” he explains, referencing his time as founder, chairman and CEO of Natural Alternatives International, Inc. (NAI) of Carlsbad, CA, founded in 1980. He adds, “In the ensuing 36 years, the organization has grown to have facilities and offices on three continents employing over 250 people, and enjoying multiple licensures from governmental and certifying entities. I have always believed in the power of passion, to research, to study, to create, to test and finally to introduce products into commerce that enrich the world with the best that nutritional science has to offer.”
Now, in particular, when scrutiny of the natural products industry is at an all-time high, trade groups (and their leaders) must contextualize the public’s concerns, see how member companies can address them, meet with lawmakers about concerns that affect their members and help industry move past controversy. “I wanted to make sure NPA had strong and effective leadership to triage the issues, and manage them with professional responses based on sound scientific, economic and common sense answers,” says LeDoux of his motivation to take on role as NPA president. “I found myself in a unique position as an industry participant since 1975 to provide the seasoned and balanced guidance to staff and to members of government based on risk profiles versus political theater.”
In addition to spending the past 36 years growing his well-respected company, LeDoux has also helped the dietary supplements industry as a whole to innovate and mature. Moreover, he is current board member of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), was past chair of CRN and has been a member of NPA’s board of directors since 2010.
One of LeDoux’s first main initiatives for NPA is to “reinvigorate” the association’s TruLabel initiative, a label registration and testing program first developed in 1990 and made mandatory for supplier membership in 1995. According to a July 25, 2016 memorandum, this involves enhancing the testing component of the program to have “1,000 products tested annually for heavy metals, microbial contamination, and label claims within the next three years,” and to make participation in the TruLabel program mandatory for all members. These efforts are intended to run parallel with self-regulation efforts by CRN in the development of their product registry in partnership with UL. “I feel strongly that the industry needs two key components [TruLabel and CRN registry] to address the concerns of the regulatory and legislative communities,” says LeDoux.
This is a substantive and important way to protect the reputation of the dietary supplements industry because it proves the industry’s dedication to maintain quality and safety. It also opens up communication with lawmakers and regulators, showing them facts and figures. “NPA and its board have recognized that a registration database of finished products without testing has no teeth,” explains LeDoux. “By having both registry and testing components through NPA’s TruLabel program, the industry will now be very well served with data metrics which should greatly assist both federal and state regulatory and legislative communities in having productive dialogues with industry.”
For LeDoux, how industry efforts are communicated to the public is crucial. Besides the registries, he says there is a need to “get serious about political action and other key attributes of generating effective messaging.” With so much going on, from GMO legislation to government overreach in Puerto Rico, NPA’s efforts to champion the industry cannot merely be damage control, but to effect actual change to benefit the industry and the people it wants to help. Luckily, NPA is uniquely equipped to do just that. “The leadership is well versed with government processes and oversight since it was inside that envelope prior to joining the team at NPA,” says LeDoux. “This makes this entity clearly well suited to address complicated scientific and regulatory issues in real-time.”
Ultimately, whatever troubles the industry has weathered and will continue to face, NPA’s leaders will be there to guide members, and as an entrepreneur, LeDoux can appreciate their struggle as well as revel in their success. “Having guided [NAI] through various [economic] cycles, and the benefits that come from experiencing challenges only reinforces the feeling of joy when seasons of success arrive,” he says. WF