Employee ownership key facet of plan to 'reauthenticate' Twinlab, Tolworthy says

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

Employee ownership key facet of plan to 'reauthenticate' Twinlab, Tolworthy says

Related tags: Brand, Brand management, Protein

Relaunching as an employee-owned company will help focus Twinlab on its mission of “reauthenticating” the brand in the natural channel, said CEO Tom Tolworthy.

“We are refocusing the Twinlab brand on the health and natural food channel,”​ Tolworthy told NutraIngredients-USA as the Expo East trade show in Baltimore, MD last week.

“If I were starting it brand new, having channel discipline on where you decide to take brands is very important. You can’t build a brand in the natural food channel and take it to mass market. Everybody’s tried that and it doesn’t work,”​ he said.

Checkered history

Twinlab is one of the best-known names in the dietary supplement business.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t always been well-known for the right things. The company has had a history of something of a boom and bust cycle. The company launched with a wildly popular protein powder that was tied in with a fad diet.  When the diet fell out of favor sales of that product tanked, the brand reinvented itself as a broad-based dietary supplement company.  But sales tanked again, and the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2002.  Twinlab also acquired a wide array of brands over the years, including Metoblief, Nature’s Herbs and Alvita teas.  Before Tolworthy came on board in 2011, the company had become known for a bewildering array of brands.

Even with the inherited problems, Tolworthy was able to make immediate headway, cutting debt and launching new, more focused products.  So, what does “reauthenticate” mean, exactly?  For Tolworthy, it means building on Twinlab’s strengths to bring products to market that are tightly focused on their specific channel. There was still of lot of brand equity with which to build, he said.

“We still have a great reputation in the health and natural food channel,” ​Tolworthy said. “We are going to become non GMO we are going to become vegan wherever we can.”

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Twinlab feature's Solazyme's algal protein ingredient in its new Clean Series Veggie Protein Powder.

One recent launch that preceded the restructuring is a powder in Twinlab’s Clean Series line that features an algal protein from Solazyme.  

“The Clean Series is kind of a glimpse into the future,”​ Tolworthy said. “There are limitations to vegetable proteins froma use perspecive but I think we will figure that out, whether it’s hemp, rice or pea. All those proteins will become better because science will improve them. Alternative proteins were the fastest growing segment in the store when I was with Vitamin Shoppe.  

“I’m a big believer in consumer trends. If you follow this industry and look at what its roots were, at one point when this was a $4 billion industry it was kind of countrercultulre. Over the last 20 years it has become mainstream. Today in any meeting I’m in of more than five people there is a 75% to 80% chance that one of them is a vegan,”​  he said.

In-house quality

One goal Tolworthy had for the restructuring was to maintain the company’s manufacturing capabilities that are housed at its plant in American Fork, UT. Having those capabilities in-house was important to the brand’s positioning in the market, he said. And having a workforce that had skin in the game via an employee ownership plan was an important part of that quality positioning.

“It’s important to us to make sure that consumers are comfortable for our product. I’m not comfortable outsourcing safety or quality. I want to be in control of that,”​ Tolworthy said. “As a consumer, I’d like to know that the company is socially responsible and that they take care of their employees.”

Tolworthy said he wants Twinlab also to take a position on the ethics of supply. Rejecting shipments that don’t meet spec is all fine and good, but if that same shipment ends up in someone else’s warehouse and those ingredients end up on the shelf, it hurts the whole industry, he said.

“That’s a part of this industry that I want to influence change in. When I reject a raw material, it doesn’t go away. It goes somewhere else into someone else’s product. I am going to put a QR code on our products so people can scan it and find out where ever raw material in that bottle came from,” ​Tolworthy said.

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