Twinlab CEO Anthony Zolezzi took over the role from Naomi Whittel, who left the job in May 2018. Whittel herself had stepped up to the company’s leadership after the company she founded—Reserveage Organics—was acquired by Twinlab in 2015.
Whittel replaced Tom Tolworthy, who had been brought on in 2011 to help restructure and resuscitate the decades-old brand, which had failed to regain much momentum after a bankruptcy in 2003. One of Tolworthy’s goals for the restructuring was to keep the company’s in house manufacturing arm in Utah operational.
In late January of last year the company concluded that maintaining in-house manufacturing was no longer feasible and closed the facility. The shift to full on contract manufacturing did not go smoothly, Zolezzi said.
“I have done multiple restructurings and turnarounds in my career. This one has been fascinating from the people standpoint and the resilience of the people here at Twinlab,” Zolezzi told NutraIngredients-USA.
“We had to go through a difficult plant shutdown that had not gone well any way you cut it. Twinlab has been challenged in multiple ways during its history. In this instance we put on our lifejackets, we got through the bumpy seas, and now we see a future for Twinlab,” he said.
Brand equity helps buoy company
Zolezzi said one of the key challenges was to manage stocks during the shift to contract manufacturers. That process did not go well, but he said the company learned something good about its customer base during the transition. Zolezzi said one of the ways he puts his finger on the pulse of the brand in the market has been to occasionally pick up the phone to take calls from consumers. They have been frustrated they haven’t been able to get the products they’re used to, but they are still looking for them and they still want them, he said.
“The equity that Twinlab has with the consumer is hard to believe. Unless I was actually sitting here taking those calls I would not have believed that brand equity,” he said.
“We have been so out of stock with Twinlab products. Now we are finally in a position where we can get those products back into stock. Even with all of the out-of-stocks and all the trouble we’ve had transitioning the manufacturing, they’re still with us.
“I’m sure we have lost some consumers. We need to be much more consumer friendly than we have been. But we will be, and I’m very positive about where we go from here,” Zolezzi added.
CBD education resource
Going forward, one of the ways Zolezzi said he plans to leverage that brand equity is to marry the Twinlab name with a line of phytocannabinoid products. To that end, the company has launched an education resource aimed at clearing up some of the confusion around CBDs and phytocannabinoid products. The centerpiece of the resource, which launched last week, is at the moment a video featuring Gene Bruno, MS, the company’s chief formulator who is also a professor of nutraceutical sciences at Huntington University, a private institution in Indiana.
Zolezzi said while Twinlab is certainly not first out of the gate when it comes to phytocannabinoid products, he said the goal was to do it right, rather than to do it fast.
“I have been in this industry of organic and natural food for 30 years and I have probably never seen as much energy and excitement around a product as I’ve seen with CBD. It has been absolutely amazing,” he said.
“I have never seen an opportunity as big as this in my many years in the nutritional business,” Zolezzi said.
But a big caveat he said he sees is the wide variety of products in the market, some of which lack sufficient quality. The danger is the goose might be slaughtered even before it can start laying the golden eggs.
Zolezzi said if Twinlab can leverage its strong brand equity to bring a line of phytocannabinoid products to market in the right way, it can win at this game even if other brands have a head start.
“A lot of products that are out there right now are not going to have any efficacy and that is going to be disruptive. Consumers have to have some trust in the products and a 50-year old brand like Twinlab can provide that trust,” he said.
“Dose verification back to the clinicals is going to be really important. What should dosages of these products be? How much should they cost? That’s where we can bring some clarity,” Zolezzi said.
The precise formulation strategy and launch dates for the eventual line of products are things Twinlab is still holding close to the vest. But Zolezzi said they will most likely trade on the entourage effect by utilizing full spectrum phytocannabinoid extracts, rather than focusing on CBD per se. And he said other plant materials that have been shown to affect the body’s endocannabinoid system might also figure into the line.