Acquisition enables Nutritional Labs expansion

Related tags Private equity Company Holding company

The recent acquisition of custom manufacturer Nutritional
Laboratories (NLI) by private equity firm Red Diamond has sparked
the next stage in development for the eight-year-old custom
manufacturer. Jess Halliday spoke to president Terry
Benishek about the deal and where the future lies.

He explained that the Red Diamond acquisition came about after Northern Rock East Venture, one of the company's​ main initial investors, came to the end of its seven-year venture fund. Other investors decided to sell at the same time, freeing up a controlling interest for Red Diamond.

Benishek would not reveal the exact interest the firm has in NLI but said that it is "more than 50 percent"​. The management retained a "significant proportion"​ of stocks.

A $150 million fund, Red Diamond operates a program called CEOwners, whereby it acquires companies that fit the skills and experience of its own executives. In the case of NLI, Red Diamond's Ronald Danenberg, former CEO of Northfield Foods, has become CEO of parent company Nutritional Holdings.

Danenberg is spearheading the bid to acquire more nutrition companies and bring them into the Nutritional Holdings fold.

One of these acquisitions could well be another manufacturing plant. NLI owns two facilities in Montana, one in Missoula and one in Arlee, which was acquired last November. Together the facilities have a production capacity of between 150 and 200 million capsules a month.

Although there is some room for expansion at these existing facilities, if the company is to meet its goal of doubling its annual sales - currently $59 million - in the next three to five years, that expansion will have to be considerable.

Benishek also disclosed that the company is investigating the diversification of its services from production of capsules, powders and tablets to supplements in soft gel and liquid form, and entry into other markets.

At present, NLI manufactures products for half a dozen major US supplements marketers, which are subsequently distributed all over the world. As well as nurturing relationships with existing clients, the company wants to attract others in major global markets, such as Europe, China and Japan.

Throughout the forthcoming expansion, all at NLI will be keeping a close eye on quality, which Benishek says is the company's main point of differentiation since it already adheres to strict manufacturing standards akin to the current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs), which form part of the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) but are yet to be introduced.

"Our intention is to manufacture supplements as close to the drug standard as possible, given the nature of the ingredients we are working with,"​ said Benishek. He explained that whilst drugs are standardized, working with natural products means working with hundreds of different compounds, within which there is a great deal of variation.

But as other custom manufacturers take on board the new guidelines, is NLI concerned that competition will become fiercer?

Not at all, says Benishek. "The more difficult situation is competing with companies that don't meet those standards"​.

The current draft of the cGMP was published in 2003 and a date has not yet been set for when the final version will come into effect. Industry insiders are hopeful that the recent permanent appointment of Lester Crawford as commissioner of the FDA will expedite the process.

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