Stella Labs was founded in New Orleans in 1982 as a supplier of chondroitin sulfate. The company's commitment to high quality and education of its customers was apparent even then, and has continued to be the foundation for its success, according to Deborah Vickery, new product development manager.
"It's one of the things that really sets us apart," she said. "We put a lot of emphasis on informing our customers about what science is finding out, giving them the research and latest information. Our database on our website is one of the most comprehensive in the business. Ingredients suppliers have not gone to this level before. It's been all about price. But this is a value-added service that is helping these ingredients to infiltrate the market, and helping to bring about their instant success."
By way of illustration, Vickery points to Hoodia gordonii from South Africa. "Stella pioneered this ingredient in the US. We found a supplier of high-grade hoodia in 2003, negotiated an exclusive distribution agreement, and then did a good job of letting people know what it was." Hoodia, an appetite suppressant, has been a native food of the San tribesmen of the Kalahari for centuries. It can be found in other areas of the world, but other varieties don't exhibit the same appetite-suppressant qualities, Vickery says. The company offers it in its pure, dried and ground form as a 20:1 concentrated powder.
"We're seeing the results of all of this," Vickery says. "The manufacturers of the leading brands are pushing Stella hoodia, pitching South African material. And the substandard grades, like Chinese hoodia products, are not selling."
This success has helped polish Stella's image as the place to go for the next new thing in dietary supplements, sports nutrition and nutraceuticals. For instance, recently Stella repeated the above success formula with Cha' de bugre 10:1 extract, a stimulant containing caffeine and plant sterols that is widely used in Brazil for a range of traditional applications.
"Before, you could buy a dry leaf powder, but we went to one of the big manufacturers and instigated development of the 10:1 with them." Stella describes this as pharmaceutical grade, highly effective, and never before seen in the industry. In the first tests with it, Vickery says, 500mg proved to be a little too much. "People reported that it was the equivalent of two venti Starbucks," so Stella toned it down a little. "We secured an exclusive supply. The quality is high, and so the price is a bit higher than others, but it has become apparent that the ingredients we sell are unique and high quality."
This strategy has added up to rapid expansion for Stella. The company was acquired several years ago by Craig Payton and Partners, who had wide experience in the international arena. "The growth is unbelievable," Vickery says. "When Stella opened the office in Washington Township, NJ, we were only there for six months. The company doubled in size that year, doubled again the next year. In just the last two years, we've opened satellite offices in California, Florida, Oregon and the UK."
Some of the products Stella is still working on cementing exclusive contracts for include YTE, or young tender extract; sting ray extract' and wasabi extract.
The complete Stella line of speciality ingredients, including botanicals, amino acids and sports ingredients number more than 100. Best-sellers include bovine chondroitin sulphate, European solvent-free green coffee bean 50 per cent, mangosteen 10 per cent, eurycoma longifolia, tribulus, yohimbe, bilberry 25 per cent, and many of their aminos.