Cutting deep into product line helped Twinlab achieve profitability milestone

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

Keeping the company's production plant in American Fork, UT operating was one of the goals of the restructuring, CEO Naomi Whittel said.  Twinlab photo
Keeping the company's production plant in American Fork, UT operating was one of the goals of the restructuring, CEO Naomi Whittel said. Twinlab photo

Related tags: Product management, Twinlab, Naomi whittel

One year after taking the helm at Twinlab Consolidation Corporation, CEO Naomi Whittel said the company has been profitable for at least two quarters, which is like summiting Everest given the company’s recent financial history.

The company is the home of the legacy Twinlab brand and also markets the line Reserveage beauty-from within products, a company that Whittle founded.  The Reserveage acquisition was one of the deals pushed through by previous CEO Tom Tolworthy.

“Our financial performance has improved throughout the entire year since I can on in March of 2016. We were able to achieve profitability in the second half of the year. I’m so proud of the steps we have taken as a company,​ Whittel told NutraIngredients-USA.

After taking the helm in 2011 Tolworthy was able to put the company back on its feet with a workable debt plan.  The company had been staggering along in recovery mode after a bankruptcy in 2003.  While Tolworthy was able to complete the restructuring, including sequestering some of the company’s outstanding debt, he wasn’t able to break through into profitability, something that the company’s board turned to Whittel to deliver.

Hard look at product line

One of chief things Whittel needed to rein in was costs, much of which was tied to the company’s bloated product line.  A hard look at the assortment was in order.

“We focused on what are the products that will really contribute to our core brand and what we stand for?  We did a deep dive into our product line and applied a 3M concept to them, that is, margin, materiality and momentum.  Does this SKU represent a material piece of our business?  What’s the margin on the product?  And what kind of momentum does it have in the market?  I applied that across all of our SKUs and viewed that through the lens of where we want to be in 2020,​ Whittel said.

“The work we did was very disruptive to our portfolio.  We ended up eliminating more than 50% of our products,​ she said.

As often is the case, the journey of 1,000 steps that began with that first step turned into a 10,000-step journey in the end.  And so Whittel discovered in her turnaround of Twinlab.

“As a founder and entrepreneur I tend to put my rosy glasses on and look at the bright side.  The journey over the past 12 months has been far more challenging than I anticipated but it is that that has allowed us to grow.  I am more excited today than I was a year ago and more confident about where we are going to take this company,​she said.

Long history in industry

Whittel’s experience in the industry came from working in her grandmother’s health food store and founding the rapidly growing Reserveage Organics line of beauty-from-within supplements. Whittel was motivated to found the brand after seeking out products to help her recover from a skin condition she suffered in her youth.  The brand has been based in part on the science that German collagen supplier Gelita has amassed to support its collagen ingredient.  Whittel said she has a strong commitment to using branded ingredients that are backed by studies to support claims on the label.  Generic products with generic ingredients had been part of the category’s lethargic performance in the past, she said.

Whittel didn’t just dump products; she also revivified the product development pipeline. The company recently launched a line of products build around OminActive’s Lutemax 2020, another ingredient with a solid science portfolio​. The brand is meant to deal with consumers’ increasing exposure to blue light from electronic devices, which has allowed an insidious form of eye strain to creep into the average individual’s daily experience, even if they don’t expose their eyes regularly to strong light outside. According to Twinlab, the average American adult spends 11 hours a day in front of an electronic screen, cell phone, tablet, computer and TV, while children are exposed 6.5 hours, and even toddlers receive an average of 2.5 hours of damaging blue light every day.

Building on the strengths

naomi whittel
Naomi Whittel

Whittel said she intends to build on Twinlab’s traditional strengths by reinventing its product offerings in  the protein category.  The sector has become heavily commoditized, and she believes its ripe for a shake up.  

“When I was at Reserveage, we were the first to launch a protein product based on grass fed whey, and we discovered there was  big demand for that. Everybody’s taking protein, but now they are starting to care about where it comes from,” ​she said.

One of the things that will aid that effort, she said, is the strength of the Twinlab brand itself.  While the financial structure may have been more or less rickety over the years, the brand itself has always been rock solid, Whittel said.

“I sold Twinlab products at my grandmother’s health food store 20 years ago.  Twinlab was developed to meet the needs of consumers of every age, and that is something we will continue. As I dived into this process, I have been humbled by the relationships we as a brand have within the industry.  I have had so many suppliers come forward to say ‘We’re here for you and we want to help make this brand successful,’”​ she said.

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