The casual observer might never know that a major part of National Enzyme Company's (NEC) business rests in something other than producing enzymes.
"Actually," says Terese Mansell, NEC's president, "contract manufacturing is a tremendous part of our business. Producing custom-formulated products is the lion's share of what we do. And we produce a lot of probiotics."
And because of the rigorous standards that must be maintained in the production of such products, NEC is the only dietary-supplements company designated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as VPP — a Voluntary Protection Program site. "We are actually given a higher designation — a VPP Star site," Mansell says. Before giving out such designations, OSHA sets forth performance-based criteria for a managed safety and health system, and then follows with an onsite evaluation.
"We have an incredible relationship with OSHA," Mansell says. "The EPA works with enzymes on virtually every level — food processing, detergents — and we've helped the food and chemical CODEX to come up with standards." Apparently 77 years in the enzyme business counts for something. NEC was founded back in 1932, and in 1977, moved from its roots in the Chicago area to Forsyth, Missouri, where it is now headquartered. The business continues to grow every year, Mansell says. "Prior to this last year and the economic slump, sales of enzymes were better than for the \[supplements industry\] as a whole."
Part of the reason, she says, is that more and more people are looking for ways to stay healthy rather than to cure disease. "Today's baby boomer is eight times more likely to get a prescription and never fill it, but substitute a natural alternative for it. And more information about health is available to people via the Internet."
The key to continued growth is education, Mansell says. "We try to stress to consumers that enzymes are really beneficial for maintaining health, not necessarily for dealing with diseases." But there remains a lot of general ignorance about what enzymes do. "If you ask 10 people if they have digestive problems," Mansell says, "they will tell you 'no.' But if you ask them if they have gas or bloating after eating, they say 'sure.' They think that is a normal response to food, but it is not. When we can get through to people that what people have accepted as normal is anything but, then we've done our job.
"I tell people, 'Try them for 30 days. If they don't do anything for you, stop taking them.' So some stop, and then two weeks later they call and say, 'I don't feel so well.' Their negative symptoms were gradually going away while they were taking the enzymes, and then they returned after they stopped."
A good example of this is NEC's BioCore Edge, designed to be used with a high-protein type of product such as whey. "Many people will feel gassy or full or bloated when they take these high-protein products," Mansell says. "BioCore Edge is designed to relieve these symptoms, and it increases the availability of the amino acids."
Some enzyme companies have rued the fact that such speciality products as probiotics have exploded in the public consciousness in recent years, while the role of enzymes in maintaining health remains somewhat esoteric knowledge. Mansell, however, is upbeat about things.
"Our industry is in an incredible and unique time in history," she says. "Consumers have become more educated — our economy and health-care system has demanded that — and the Internet has changed everything. That has given us the challenge of determining how to deliver the information to people.
"In addition, there are the less-responsible purveyors who have given this industry a black eye, making it difficult for those of us who are legitimate and careful. For this reason, I believe, the stricter regulations \[Good Manufacturing Practices and others to come\] are both our biggest ally and our biggest challenge.
"Imagine what can happen if supplements, proven to increase health, are approved for use with insurance plans, when these companies realize the money they will save if they promote prevention of illness. Not long ago insurance companies wouldn't cover visits to chiropractors. Now almost all do. It is my feeling that supplements may follow in those footsteps."