Editorial: A Visit to the Supplement Heartland

By Len Monheit

It’s a well-known and appreciated fact that much of the US supplement industry is based in Utah, and that portion of the industry represents at least $4 billion and perhaps as much as $6 billion in annual sales. According to data presented by the United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA), the business impact of the supplements industry (combining revenues, conventions and all other impacts) is second in that state to tourism, making the industry a definite force and certainly supporting many jobs, products and processes for domestic and international consumption.

For some time I had been contemplating (some would say threatening) to visit some of the Utah supplement companies in an effort to better connect with industry history and legacy. That initial chance finally came through last week, and although I will not go into the trivial details and anecdotes, I feel it absolutely necessary to share a few thoughts.

First of all, I am humbled as an relatively recent entry to this industry, at the history and legacy that I now feel a piece of. Driving down the highway and observing all the company names and facilities gives a person a good idea of not only the scope of operations, but also the depth of industry in the region – how long it’s been around and been contributing not only to local and state economies, but to international trade as well.

Secondly, and often overlooked – the direct marketing category of our industry, often disconnected from the industry as a whole at business to business to business events, is and has been an essential contributor not only to the infrastructure of the dietary supplements space, but to works and achievements that transcend business practice. These activities are part of industry’s story, and deserve to be noted and shared, even among those operating in other business channels. From research and development, from dialogue to facilitating international trade, to the development of sustainable agricultural practices in developing regions to endorsements and sponsorships – these companies have and will continue to contribute to industry growth amongst all channels. My conclusion - at a certain level, we are all in this together, regardless of channel or value chain role.

My focus, for this particular trip, was finished products (Believe me when I say I look forward to future trips). I saw proprietary manufacturing as practiced by a company with a 150 plus year legacy, I saw bottling operations and better understood the implications of GMPs on liquid fill operations, I observed the scientific approaches and quality control practices of a direct marketing organization, and in another case, experienced first hand how compelling an approach a multi-level marketing company could make to prospective recruits. And I reacquainted myself with the latest developments in one of the industry’s fastest growing companies, concluding the day with my first experiences attempting to understand the world of essential oils.

In many cases, the dialogue, challenges and issues were exactly the same. Quality, compliance, differentiation, consumer confidence, and how to compete in a global environment were the constants of the day. More than that though, evident at every stage was investment – in technology, in research, in fully compliant operations – and in the future.

Capping the entire experience off was the byplay in the hotel lobby and shuttles about the industry and its products. You see, one of the major conventions was in town and many thousands of visitors from around the world were congregating.

This was an exciting experience and everything (from aromas to taste to visualization of finished product) contributed to connecting me not only to the past, but also to the future, as I am certain that the companies that I visited are destined to be a part of that future. I am proud to better understand the legacy I am part of, and to know better the operations and companies that comprise some of that.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my hosts for the day as well as the United Natural Products Alliance for providing me an amazing experience that has certainly influenced my perspective.

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