One of the first manufacturers of natural health supplements in the US is NOW Foods, a family-owned firm founded in 1968 and based in DuPage County west of Chicago. This company has grown to produce a vast range of high quality organic and health foods, dietary supplements, sports nutrition and personal care products. O.W.N. spoke with NOW Foods VP of Sales and Marketing Dan Richard.

OWN: NOW Foods has been operating for 50 years. Your father’s focus on providing a wide variety of high-quality health foods available for everyone has been the base of the company's mission. What does this achievement mean to your team?

DR: NOW currently produces over 1,400 SKUs covering an extensive variety of natural and organic products. It has been part of our core strategy since day one. We aim to supply products sold in natural food stores. Having lasted 50 years and significant success shows us that our approach is sound and well received by customers. We will be celebrating our 50th year with many promotions and events to thank our customers.

OWN: NOW Foods offers dietary supplements and vitamins; grocery items, including superfoods, essential oils, and health and beauty products. What percentage of the firm's brands are certified organic and are you expanding this area?

DR: NOW’s highest percentage of organic products are in our food and personal care categories. We currently produce 91 organic food SKUs, which is about half of our entire food business. We continue to upgrade our foods to be organic whenever economically feasible. 

NOW’s Personal Care category includes 29 certified organic SKUs and we have more coming soon. NOW also sells organic supplements such as Spirulina, Chlorella, Psyllium, Barley Grass, Wheat Grass and many organic certified herbs.

OWN: What is your annual sales growth rate for 2017, and how much of it would be in certified organic foods?

DR: NOW aims to grow in double-digits each year. Our most significant sales gains are international. NOW sells directly to over 70 countries. Our total sales exceed US$500 Million. We actively aim to increase our selection of organic products, as well as non-GMO, kosher and gluten-free.

OWN: Which retail food channels do you supply in North America and are you seeing a shift to any channel regarding sales or demand?

DR: NOW’s primary US market is the natural food store. We have deep roots selling through small independent health food stores and still own 13 shops ourselves in the Chicago area (The Fruitful Yield). NOW is also an active seller online through e-tailers. We have not sold to mass merchandisers in the past, but are re-evaluating this as markets are changing.

Elwood Richard NOW Foods founder

OWN: With Amazon buying Whole Foods, does NOW believe that independent natural and organic stores can survive this merger, with Amazon cutting Whole Foods' prices and pushing Whole Foods harder in the online, e-commerce market?

DR: So far, we have not seen Amazon cut Whole Foods prices noticeably for our brand.  In the past Whole Foods prices have been higher, so we have not viewed Whole Foods pricing as a threat to other channels. 

Amazon indeed is the 800-pound gorilla and is a competitive threat to online and physical stores everywhere. We believe that there will always be a place for smart, niche independent natural food stores that emphasize service, availability, quality and competitive prices.

OWN: Looking at the product and consumer trends in 2017, did NOW see more demand for products reported to be trending, such as probiotics, plant waters, and vegan foods?

DR: Product trends and lifecycles are regular events, though nothing overly significant has jumped out in 2017. Probiotics are one category that is quickly expanding due to the media and industry landscape. NOW is so product diversified that it’s hard to see individual jumps easily.

OWN: Looking at new products, what were your significant introductions in 2017?  Were superfoods such as chia, quinoa, maca, yacon, and cacao among the new products?

DR: NOW’s Maca continues to be a major seller. Foods like chia and quinoa have slowed, unfortunately, due to mass competition. Each year NOW introduces over 50 new products, and usually, a handful of these will become significant sellers. In 2017, our best new additions have been:  Flavored MCT Oils, Magnesium Inositol Relax Powder, Grass-Fed Whey Protein, Organic Plant Proteins, Organic Essential Oils and Beef Bone Broth Powder.

OWN: You export to over 70 countries. How is this progressing and did you find any new markets or exhibit at new trade shows in 2017?

DR: NOW’s international sales grew by 40 percent in 2017 for the second year in a row. We see tremendous opportunities all over the globe, especially in Asia and Eastern Europe. We exhibit at several international shows each year including Dubai, Singapore, London and Sweden to support our distributors. 

OWN: Is private label to North American and international markets part of NOW's growth?

DR: Not really. NOW does produce high volumes of private branded products for key customers, but this is not our goal or emphasis, especially internationally.

OWN: Sustainability is an essential goal for food and personal care companies; tell us about any sustainability initiatives

DR: NOW is very engaged with ongoing sustainability efforts and is proud to host and participate in environmental initiatives throughout our local community, including local 'forest preserve clean-up days.' NOW employees not only clean and de-litter, but they also plant native seeds, set up fish nurseries, and clear invasive plants.

NOW also partners with non-profit The Conservation Foundation to help promote healthy gardens and water conservation through awareness and various programs, including exclusive sales on items such as rain barrels, composters, rainwater diverters, flower boxes, plant hangers, and more. In 2018, we are also starting to work with , which removes non-recyclable waste from the waste stream.

NOW has achieved considerable reductions in its Carbon Footprint. We work with various organizations to assess our impact on the environment, one of which is Pratt Industries, our supplier of cardboard boxes. Each year Pratt sends us a report estimating how much we’ve reduced our carbon footprint through the use of recycled cardboard.

OWN: Can you announce any new or successful company achievements including awards?

DR: In 2017 NOW won many awards, including several for employees. Some of these are Chicago Tribune's Top Work Places 2017 award; Chicago's 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work for Award; Taste for Life Essentials Award; Reno-Sparks Tahoe Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada Award; Amazing Wellness Best New Products 2017 Award; Better Nutrition Best of Supplements Award Winner; and Vitamin Retailer's 2017 Vity Awards Winner.

 A look at NOW® International

NOW Foods started its international division in the year 2000, and sales overseas are currently its fastest growing segment. According to Troy Taylor, Director of International Sales, the firm’s most well-established region is Europe. Its oldest customer of 25 years is in the Netherlands. In the past few years NOW has experienced explosive growth in Asia, specifically in South Korea, China, and Japan.  This region represents over a third of total sales. “We see this trend continuing over the next five years.” “We also see growth in Indonesia, Malaysia and all of the Asia Pacific.” In Africa NOW is only present in a few countries, which means there is lots of room to grow its presence there as well. We also have a big focus on the Middle East and Central Asia and would like to see this area grow in the years to come.”

The goal for the next 2-3 years is to grow sales 25 percent year over year.  We have expanded our sales team to focus on smaller territories, to work with strategic partners to make this possible.  While we see specific regions like Asia growing faster than others, we see opportunity everywhere, and we now have a team that can cover all countries. 

The goal for the next 2-3 years is to grow sales 25 percent year over year.  We have expanded our sales team to focus on smaller territories, to work with strategic partners to make this possible.  While we see specific regions like Asia growing faster than others, we see opportunity everywhere, and we now have a team that can cover all countries. 

 Entering a new country involves a lot of paperwork, knowing the legislation and finding the right partner that shares the company values. They must know how to handle logistics and customer service is crucial.  “We ideally look for partners that have experience registering and importing dietary supplements.  This experience is invaluable in launching our brand and streamlining the sales process,” said Mr. Taylor.

In the past, we typically worked with one distributor since we were mainly focused on supplements.  Now that we offer multiple product categories we do at times work with various distributors.

 NOW is known mainly for its vitamins and supplements however the firm is also expanding its personal care line at a rapid pace around the world, allowing them to enter new markets and sales channels.

 “Our supplement line continues to be the bulk of our international business around the world.  The industry is growing everywhere, so we see massive long-term opportunities in every country. The most popular supplements perform well in all countries specifically those targeting heart and digestive health, respiratory issues and joint problems. 

 NOW’s natural food line is also promising. The firm seeks top suppliers of nutrient-dense foods like cacao, chocolate, goldenberries, coconut working directly at the source. “This gives us a closer relationship with our suppliers and allow us to offer the best quality at the lowest price.  Our food line is mainly sold in the US and Canadian markets,” says Mr. Taylor. 

 The dedication to providing the highest quality products at best possible price has been a difference maker in NOW’s ability to grow.  “Despite being a 50-year-old company we feel that we are just scratching the surface with our international sales,” says Mr. Taylor.

 “I am fortunate to work with such an amazing company that supports its employees and our mission of providing value in products and services that empower people to live healthier lives.”