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USANA chooses science over speed, official says

By Hank Schultz , 29-Nov-2012

USANA Health Sciences has taken a conservative approach to new product development, making it a company lean on products but long on trust, says Brian Dixon, PhD, executive director of new product development.

“When we think about human nutrition its not really rocket science. We’ve known for a lot of years of what’s core for cellular health and overall optimal health.  I think where the innovation comes in terms of the supplement industry is the form of the nutrient that you are giving and the dose,” Dixon told NutraIngredients-USA.

USANA, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, is one of the bigger network marketing companies.  It ranks no. 17 among all such companies, according to Direct Selling News.  USANA had 2010 net sales of $512 million and hit $582 million in sales in 2011. “But just among companies doing nutrition, we’re probably no. 3 or 4,” said Dan Macuga, chief communications officer.

Distributors as marketing arm

And taking the multi-level marketing approach was a founding principle of the company, Macuga said.  Money that other companies spend on advertising USANA spends on paying its sales associates, who also function as the marketing arm.

“When you look at supplements there are so many options, so many different ways to formulate, that there is no way to truly explain the differentiation unless you can talk to someone one on one,” Macuga said.

But those associates have to be content with a relatively restricted product list, Dixon said. Dixon said USANA won’t launch new ingredients unless they clear the science bar first.

“An example would be in our joint health product, we have turmeric in there. A vendor came to use and said we’ve got new form of turmeric extract (Indena’s Meriva phytosome turmeric ingredient).  We wanted to test to see if what they were telling us was true so we set up a clinical study and we found 20-, 30-, 60-fold increase in bioavailability. In fact we got better results than they pitched to us in the initial meetings.”

“So we vetted that and we put it into a product,” Dixon said.

Flavor of the month?

So when ingredients suddenly get attention, such as weight loss ingredients garcinia cambogia and raspberry ketones have recently after being mentioned on the Dr. Oz Show,  USANA is never among the first to bring a new product to market to capitalize on those trends.  And sometimes they hear about that lack from their distributors, who like to have new things to talk about.

“I don’t that we’ve ever jumped on the flavor of the month.  Obviously we hear about the same products that are on the Dr. Oz Show.  We’ll get bombarded with that, saying ‘Why don’t we have a raspberry keytone product?’  We think that the current state of the science of that compound, for example, probably doesn’t warrant it.

“As more evidence comes out, we’ll have our ear to the rail.  It’s a conservative approach, but we could list ingredients that have been pulled from the market that advertised a weight loss benefit or an energy boost and they ended up doing harm.  And in the end the company had to weather millions and millions of dollars of product recalls.

“We wouldn’t just put an ingredient in a product and go,” he said.

In-house clinical studies staff

USANA has taken steps to speed that cycle.  Clinical studies can take a long time, meaning conducting all of your own science (as opposed to, say, relying on studies conducted by an ingredient supplier) could be not only costly but time consuming.

“Something else that differentiates USANA is that we have a human clinical studies program right in house.  We have a registered nurse right on staff.  And we have a full time staff of three scientists doing the studies.  We can do the clinical studies right here in house and we can get it done on the order of three months,” Dixon said.

Research collaborations

USANA also has close research collaborations with a hospital in Salt Lake City called The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital (TOSH) and with the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.

“What’s so unique about TOSH, is that they are a nonprofit.  We’re all about prevention, and TOSH is also about prevention.  Their whole goal is to delay or prevent altogether the need for surgery.

“They are very collaborative.  We’ll send scientists there, they’ll send scientists here.  We’ll run their samples, they’ll run ours.  We have coauthored a number of publications,” Dixon said.

In addition to bring the science in house, USANA also does its own manufacturing in a state-of-the-art facility that includes airlocks for bring in new raw materials to avoid cross contamination and the latest technology in air handling equipment.

The whole approach, Dixon said, is meant to build a long term relationship with distributors and customers.

“I think it has been faith building and getting some loyalty built up over twenty years.  We have never had a recall here at USANA,” he said.

“We make retention a priority.  Nutritional supplementation is not a quick fix.  We think that people have to think about their nutrition, their diet, their lifestyle over the course of their life.”

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