By Isaac Bonnell
One of the fastest growing markets in the world of dietary supplements isn’t a new vitamin or compound, but rather a new way of taking supplements. Pills are out and liquids are in.
Botanical Laboratories in Ferndale is on the leading edge of the liquid supplement market. Founded in 1988, the company makes Wellesse brand supplements and has seen a 40 percent increase in sales in the past two years.
“Liquid supplements are really hot right now as more people age and become aware of vitamin supplements,” said Greg Andrews, vice president of marketing and product development. “Our product is for people who don’t like taking pills and want something that absorbs quicker.”
Botanical Laboratories makes three supplements under the Wellesse brand: glucosamine for joint health, vitamin D3 for immune system support, and calcium with vitamin D3 for bone health. The glucosamine supplement used to be the star of the line-up, but recent studies, showing the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in Americans, have dramatically increased demand for that supplement, Andrews said.
Wellesse supplements are now distributed to more than 40,000 stores nationwide, which is double what it was in 2007. This growth has put the company near the upper limits of its production capacity.
Botanical Laboratories has grown incrementally over the years as it has taken on more private-label manufacturing for other brands and expanded the Wellesse line. The company now operates out of four buildings, totaling 80,000 square feet and each with its own production line based on the size of the product’s bottle.
The largest of the production lines is for the Wellesse brand, which comes in 16-ounce bottles. The manufacturing process starts in two 1,300-gallon tanks, where the supplement is mixed. Each supplement has a recipe that is meticulously checked each time to ensure the proper amount of each ingredient.
As you might expect with a liquid product, the most important ingredient in that mixture is water — in this case, purified water, said Operations Director Tim Schaafsma. About a year ago, the company invested in its own 2,500-gallon water purification system.
Once mixed, the solution is pumped to the bottling machine, which fills 12 bottles at a time and then sends them down the line to be capped and labeled. The system can pump out approximately 60 bottles a minute, equal to a bottle a second. From there, the bottles are boxed and sent to the warehouse to be shipped.
“One of the disadvantages of liquid is it’s bulky,” Schaafsma said. “We don’t get as many units on a pallet and the weight is a factor in shipping. But we get a good freight rate because there are a lot of goods coming into Whatcom County and we get a competitive rate for trucks going back out.”
Spurred on by growth here in the United States, the company has jumped into international markets and now sells Wellesse in Canada, United Kingdom, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.
“The international market has been challenging, but it’s worth it,” Andrews said, adding that there is a large market for supplements in Asia. “In Taiwan, about 78 percent of consumers take dietary supplements, as opposed to 60 percent in the U.S.”
Indeed, for a product with the slogan “Better Health at the Speed of Liquid,” growth has been fluid at Botanical Laboratories.