MusclePharm, a Denver, CO-based marketer of sports nutrition products, has shown meteoric sales growth in its short life, and that strong performance was recognized with a “Top Vendor” award from GNC, the company announced recently.
Brad Pyatt, MusclePharm’s founder, said physical setbacks lay at the root of the company’s current success. Pyatt played for several years as a wide receiver in the NFL for the Indianapolis Colts and other teams. As one of the smaller players in the league—Pyatt’s playing weight was about 200 lbs.—he compensated with intense weight lifting to get as strong as he could for his weight. And his body couldn’t keep up.
“During my career I had several injuries that I was recovering from, and I was taking some branded supplements,” Pyatt told NutraIngredients-USA.
“I’ve been taking supplements since I was about 15 years old. To be a smaller guy (and to be in the NFL), I had to make sure I ate right. I worked hard. I did everything right, and I couldn’t figure out why I kept pulling hamstrings,” Pyatt said.
Bad supplements=bad training
The team’s training staff told him part of his recurring injury problems were the supplements he was taking, caffeine and other stimulant-laden workout products.
“They said this is crap. This is why you are hurting yourself. They weaned me off supplements and got me more onto the herbal side. No heavy loaded caffeine products.
“Through that experience I kind of envisioned a superior line of products out to the market,” Pyatt said.
Pyatt went on to found MusclePharm after his NFL career was over. The company’s marketing is based on an aggressive fluorescent green logo (readily visible on the shelves, GNC’s award announcement noted) and aggressive names like Re-Con, Combat Power, Battle Fuel and Assault.
And the products have carved out a robust niche in the marketplace. Starting in 2009, when the company did its first $1 million in sales, MusclePharm grew to $74 million in sales in 2012, showing more than 300% year-over-year growth in that time frame.
But Pyatt said the company was founded with a focus on product quality first, not a focus on sales.
“The ethics behind MusclePharm is not to make a ton of money. We build products for athletes, we have a lot of my peers who still play and take my products,” he said.
“We have a lot of doctors involved who usually don’t have their names associated with brands, like a former assistant surgeon general Dr. Roscoe Moore (chief scientific officer).
“So we have to have products that work because, no. 1, my peers still take the products and no. 2 the doctors involved have their reputations on the line so we want to make sure the products are dosed correctly and the end results are safe,” Pyatt said.
Hitching wagon to UFC star
While Pyatt was in the NFL, he worked out off season at home in Denver, which at the time was home to a number of Ultimate Fighting Championship mixed martial artists, the style of sports combat that has largely replaced boxing in the American sports psyche. He trained with those athletes, and throught those relationships formed the idea for the company’s first strategic partnership.
“I felt as a company we needed to attach ourselves to a fast growning organiztion that has big exposure. So the UFC was that vehicle,” Pyatt said.
While the company’s core consumers are strength athletes (and members of the military, hence some the product names, Pyatt noted) like other sports nutrition marketers, MuclePharm is looking stretch beyond the free-weights end of the gym, Pyatt said. The company recently launched a
“Then we came out with a core series, with white bottles. We wanted to be able to offer our customers a one-stop shop,” he said.
“We just launched a line called Fit Miss which is a complete line for women,” Pyatt said.
No fad ingredinets
The company’s products include casein and whey proteins and a patent-pending blend of branched chain amino acids. One thing they don’t contain, Pyatt said, is DMAA or any of its pseudo-herbal look-alikes.
“The doctors we had involved steered us away from DMAA. It was an inside decision we made years ago that we would never touch that.
“I wish more people in the industry should take the formulations more seriously and police themselves,” Pyatt said. “We would never jeopardize our customers or our company with fad ingredients.”
For the future, Pyatt said the company will reign in growth with a focus on achieving better margins. The company is now at the volume threshold where it can negotiate better deals with suppliers, contract manufacturers and distributors, he said.