Nutra Manufacturing Inc.'s biggest strength is the massive retail power behind it, according to Senior Vice President of Manufacturing Michael Locke. Nutra Manufacturing is a division of GNC and produces a variety of supplements. "We have always been one of the top producers based on the fact we have that retail strength," he notes.

GNC has approximately 5,000 stores in the United States and 400 international stores. "We operate in 26 different countries," he notes. "What makes us somewhat unique is we provide for outside concerns but also for our own retail environment."

Nutra Manufacturing has two plants in Greenville and Anderson, S.C. It is capable of producing not only tablets, but also hard shells and soft shells, Locke explains, which sets it apart in the industry. Nutra is one of the world's largest manufacturers of dietary supplements.

Its Greenville location has enough capacity to produce more than 13 billion units of soft gels, tablets and capsules each year, which is the equivalent of almost 60 million bottles of products, the division notes.

"We have extensive technology in the soft-shell arena," Locke emphasizes. "It's unique in that we have all three capabilities." The division also manufactures for foreign companies, as well as domestic clients.

Nutra says its fully integrated operations "make it possible to take a product concept through research and development, onto packaging design and raw material sourcing, to actual manufacturing and packaging, and finally through full testing and compliance."

The company's strong retail presence also gives it an edge working with raw material suppliers looking to introduce a new product to the market, Locke states. "They are more willing to come to us and then expand into other retail channels. They give us a crack at it first."

Locke says the company treats suppliers as partners and the relationship benefits the company, as well. It works with suppliers to sell products and to improve their position in the market.

“We are one of the few companies that likes to see [suppliers] make money," Locke asserts. "If they make money, they can expand their research. It's good for us and good for our industry."

The company sets up contracts, so suppliers are guaranteed a certain amount of business, he states, and it allows them to plan ahead. "It's one of the most critical things we can do for them," he says. "We will contract for a particular raw material for up to a year or more and work with them to show what the expectations are, so they can plan better. If they can plan better, they can increase their profit margins and lower our costs.”

The company can also give suppliers with new products quick access to the market, Locke emphasizes. "With the contract business, it can make them visible to a number of different companies," he says. "A lot of companies we do business with also have production capabilities. We let those other companies know who our suppliers are, so they have more exposure in the marketplace."

Another aspect that sets Nutra apart, Locke says, is its strong focus on quality. "We basically are testing incoming and outgoing products, not only chemically, but microscopically," Locke emphasizes. "We make approximately 900 different formulas that converge to about 1,500 SKUs."

Nutra says its facilities "go above and beyond" the manufacturing standards required by law, and it operates according to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) standards established by the FDA.

GNC products are produced at the Greenville plant. The company says, “Our plant meets or exceeds all Food and Drug Administration, United States Pharmacopoeia and other health and nutrition industry standards for cleanliness.”

Nutra says it prides itself on its ability to meet consumer demands. "From the moment the raw ingredients enter its facility until they appear on store shelves, Nutra ensures every product provides maximum benefit to the consumer and meets its standards of excellence,” it states.

GNC says it is proud to be the first national retailer to "fully pursue NSF certification." NSF International is an independent, third-party, nonprofit organization that certifies products and writes standards that help protect food, water, air and consumer goods, the company explains. NSF programs require testing, retesting, inspection and audits. The certification programs are accredited by the American National Standards Institute, as well as the Standards Council of Canada.

"This first-of-its-kind collaboration ensures that GNC-branded products and manufacturing facilities meet the rigorous requirements of NSF's independent testing and certification program," the company states. "It also reconfirms our ongoing commitment to provide GNC customers with assurance that any GNC-branded product purchased adheres to the strictest standards of quality."

The company says it guarantees the potency of its products. "Once delivered to our manufacturing facility, and even before the ingredients are approved for use, each batch of material undergoes rigorous scientific testing by our quality control experts," the company emphasizes. "To guarantee that purity, safety and potency standards are met, every ingredient is subject to sampling, and then quarantined till testing is completed. Once testing has been completed and approved, each ingredient is issued a certificate of analysis, which is just another assurance that the ingredients we're using are safe and effective.

"Our supplements are produced using modified OTC (over the counter) drug manufacturing standards, higher standards than for nutritional supplements," the company adds. "We subject our products to over 150 quality checks before they arrive on our shelves."

It says it uses the best-quality raw ingredients to produce its products. “Our raw materials come from all around the world to ensure we’re starting off with the best ingredients,” it states. “Distance is never a factor.”

Gaining Momentum

Nutra started in 1977 with the purchase of a factory in South Carolina. Locke has been with the company since 1986. Now, the division is one of the top-four producers in the nutritional industry, he notes.

"The industry started out very slowly overall," Locke says. "The industry really didn't start growing dramatically until the '90s. In the beginning, nutraceuticals were looked on as alternate source of nutrition. The media has changed somewhat slightly to looking at nutrition more critically and now that there are a lot of signs that have come out showing that the nutrition industry is very viable, not only as nutrition, but for the prevention of illnesses. A lot of people are starting to use our products as a preventative measure."

Nutra is increasingly involved in research and development efforts. He says suppliers of raw materials are conducting more research and gathering clinical information about their products, as well.

"We do testing, microbial and chemical, to make sure the products have what they say on the label,” Locke emphasizes. “And to make sure it will be there until its expiration date, we do stability testing."

Locke expects steady industrywide growth of 6 to 8 percent as the company moves forward. "I don't see any changes in that," he states. "I also don't see any research to make it accelerate at this time, but that could change any day as research shows validity. “ An aging baby boomer population could also boost sales in upcoming years, he adds. “Another thing that could make the industry grow is we are all looking to stay younger,” Locke says.

“As there is an increase in the older population, more and more people are looking at alternate sources to stay healthier and younger. We are in a very good position to ride that crest since our products are aimed at trying to improve health and allow a longer, more healthy, prosperous life."

He says the company is not presently looking at acquisitions, but it does plan to grow and improve. "We don't look for acquisitions as much as technology, or what product or raw materials can give us an advantage in the marketplace," he explains. "We look for exclusivity in the marketplace. That's where most of our focus is."

A ‘Flat Organization’

Nutra's management team has a strong relationship with its work force, Locke states, and it's a significant factor in the company's success.

"I think the key to this organization is we're a very flat organization, so the work force sees senior management in this division almost daily," Locke notes. "We have a very good relationship with employees and like to keep it that way.”

Management is very hands-on, he explains. “Senior management has the philosophy of walking the floor, to say hello to people and find out what's going on. [At most companies] senior management are not involved in the day to day. It's easy to go and find out what's going on, rather than calling someone up on the phone. The philosophy is, if you don't know – go find out, go on the floor to find out, because they probably know more than we do."

The company has annual picnics and Christmas functions and supports team events such as baseball, bowling and golf. Locke says management likes to be involved in company activities and participate. They enjoy interacting with employees, he emphasizes.

Nutra also has quarterly reviews of the company's performance with employees to help them understand how the company is doing as a whole. Locke says the reviews help motivate employees and makes them feel included.

"It's more of a question of telling them what's happening that they don't see within the company," Locke says. "How are sales going, how we are doing from a profit perspective and making sure they understand issues and how to deal with them? It makes them feel more like a part of the company. If they know we are struggling, hopefully they will understand and work harder to improve it. It seems to work from that perspective, to get a good performance out of our employees.”

The division also provides incentives for employees to excel. “Our bonus package is based on different facets of the organization and how we do," Locke explains.

Nutra supports charities, such as the United Foundation and Loaves and Fishes, an organization that delivers food nearing its expiration date to organizations that can use it quickly to feed those in need. Locke says Nutra is committed to giving back to the community. "We give employees paid time off to make deliveries," he says.