433 – Neil E. Levin Discusses NOW® Laboratory

Be Prepared to Be Impressed

433 - Neil E. Levin Discusses NOW Labs

NOW® has a world-class lab that is amazing.

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Legacy Matters – Commitment Matters – Results Matter

In this interview Neil E. Levin discusses the world-class lab that NOW has created. NOW has become one of the largest and oldest companies in the natural products industry. I first became aware of NOW in 1976 as a supplier in my health food store. I have seen them grow in quality and commitment and they now providing products to 100 countries around the world.

The labs at NOW foods are incredible. Neil reveals that the lab alone is a $100,000,000 investment. They have 160 people working in the lab and they conduct nearly 20,000 tests every month. I was more than impressed during this interview and I think you will be as well. This interview reveals what is possible in the supplement manufacture space. This is a standard to which all companies and should aspire. It is a standard that we as consumers can use to measure others companies.

We as consumers are on our own when it comes to finding good companies. This is one of the main missions of HealthQuestPodcast.com – to find and share good companies with my listeners. Good companies, with great products deserved to be recognized. And you as the consumer need to know who you can trust. NOW® is a great example. This is an impressive interview.

Here is a video looking at NOW® Labs. Go to NOWFoods.com to explore more.

Historical milestones that most people don’t know about NOW

  • 1948 – Paul Richard (Elwood’s father) purchases Fearn Soya Foods from estate of close friend Dr. Charles E. Fearn
  • 1962 – Elwood Richard opens first retail store in Elmhurst, Illinois
  • 1968 – Elwood Richard founds NOW® Foods – 4,500 square foot within Fearn Soya
  • 1974 – Al Powers joins NOW Foods
  • 1975 – Retail stores adopt the name The Fruitful Yield
  • 1978 – NOW expands operations and moves to 7,000 square foot Villa Park location
  • 1983 – NOW introduces Max EPA; within two years sales reach an all-time high
  • 1985 – Elwood’s son, Dan Richard, joins NOW Foods and upgrades labels and catalog
  • 1988 – NOW moves into a 12,000 square foot facility in Glendale Heights, Illinois
  • 1991 – HealthCo, NOW’s International division, is launched by Elwood’s oldest son, David Richard
  • 1993 – NOW celebrates 25 years in business
  • 1994 – NOW expands again and moves to the Mitchell Road location in Glendale Heights (45,000 square foot)
  • 1995 – Jim Emme joins NOW as Plant Manager
  • 1998 – NOW moves into state-of-the-art 203,000 square foot facility in Bloomingdale, designed by Elwood’s brother Louis Richard
  • 1999 – NOW wins an unprecedented 32 Vity Awards
  • 2000 – NOW earns GMP certification from the NPA (then NNFA) with an ‘A’ rating, and attains certified organic manufacturer status
  • 2000 – NOW purchases Puresource in Guelph, Ontario
  • 2003 – NOW is named Manufacturer of the Year by Nutrition Industry Executive Magazine
  • 2003 – NOW opens shipping facility in Sparks, Nevada
  • 2005 – Elwood Richard retires; Al Powers named president
  • 2005 – NOW acquires Burnham Labs and begins in-house manufacturing of personal care products
  • 2006 – NOW becomes the first for-profit business in DuPage County to fly the Earth Flag
  • 2007 – NOW honored by Nutrition Business Journal for “Efforts on Behalf of Industry” and “Educational Initiatives”
  • 2007 – NOW purchases ICP-MS machine for the advanced testing of heavy metals
  • 2008 – NOW celebrates its 40th anniversary
  • 2008 – NOW named the #1 selling brand in the natural channel according to SPINS scan Natural
  • 2009 – NOW expands, adding an additional 45,000 square foot of manufacturing and laboratory space at our Glen Ellyn Road plant
  • 2012 – NOW builds and moves into new 130,000 square foot facility in Sparks, Nevada to better serve West coast customers
  • 2012 – NOW’s President, Al Powers, is promoted to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NOW Health Group, Inc.
  • 2012 – NOW’s Chief Operations Officer, Jim Emme, is promoted to President of NOW
  • 2012 – NOW founder Elwood Richard inducted into the inaugural Industry Hall of Legends
  • 2012 – NOW moves into its new corporate headquarters at 244 Knollwood Drive in Bloomingdale, Illinois
  • 2013 – NOW celebrates its 45th anniversary
  • 2013 – NOW’s new Sparks, Nevada facility is LEED Silver Certified by the U.S. Green Building Council
  • 2014 – NOW Health Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Al Powers retires
  • 2014 – NOW Health Group President Jim Emme is promoted to Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
  • 2014 – NOW wins 7th consecutive Chicago 101 Best & Brightest Companies to Work For award
  • 2014 – NOW wins first National 101 Best & Brightest Companies to Work For award
  • 2014 – NOW founder Elwood Richard honored with the Natural Product Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award
  • 2014 – NOW recognized as a “Founding Supporter” by Vitamin Angels for 20 years of support
  • 2015 – NOW achieves Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Certification
  • 2015 – NOW wins 2nd consecutive National 101 Best & Brightest to Work For
  • 2015 – NOW wins 8th consecutive Chicago 101 Best & Brightest Companies to Work For
  • 2016 – NOW wins 9th consecutive Chicago Best & Brightest Companies to Work For
  • 2016 – NOW wins 3rd consecutive National 101 Best & Brightest Companies to Work For
  • 2016 – NOW adds state-of-the-art RiboPrinter® for the verification of probiotic strains
  • 2017 – NOW opens a new 200,000 square foot distribution facility in Roselle, Illinois
  • 2017 – Elwood Richard honored at Natural Products Expo West with American Herbal Products Association’s (AHPA) Visionary award
  • 2017 – NOW founder and industry legend Elwood Richard passes
  • 2018 – NOW celebrates 50th anniversary
  • 2018 – NOW Sports rolls out new label design
  • 2018 – NOW Sports achieves Informed-Sport certification
  • 2018 – NOW achieves ISO 22716:2007 certification through UL for all cosmetic products
  • 2020 – NOW Solutions earns PETA’s Cruelty-Free certification, Beauty Without Bunnies
  • 2020 – NOW purchases naming rights to NOW Arena (formerly Sears Centre) in Hoffman Estates, Ill.
  • 2021 – NOW receives ISO/IEC 17025:2017 accreditation from the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA) for both analytical and microbiological laboratories.
  • 2023 – NOW partners with onetreeplanted.org to plant 55,000 trees in honor of the 55th anniversary
  • 2023 – NOW introduces 100% post-consumer recycled (PCR) resin supplement bottles to lighten our footprint on the earth

Neil E. Levin

Click Here for a list of all NOW interviews.

Neil E. Levin

Neil E. Levin is the Senior Nutrition Education Manager and a product formulator for NOW®. He is a board-certified clinical nutritionist with a diplomat in advanced nutritional laboratory assessment. The U.S. Natural Products Association (NPA) presented Neil its Industry Champion Award in 2008 for “people who have made notable individual contributions to the natural products industry above and beyond what is expected to achieve commercial success.” Neil’s interviews and articles are published in magazines and newspapers. He has been featured in many radio interviews and television news reports. Neil blogs at www.honestnutrition.com; is on Facebook (Honest Nutrition) and Twitter




natural products industry, lab, branded raw materials, trademarked ingredients, good manufacturing practices, certification, quality, GMP, Good Manufacturing Practice


Neil E Levin, Steve Lankford

Introduction 00:09

Hello, and welcome to Health Quest dedicated to nutrition and your good health support for Health Quest has been provided by some of America’s best nutritional companies and now Health Quest with your host, Steve Lankford.

Steve Lankford  00:29

Hello, and welcome back to Health Quest podcast. I’m your host, Steve Lankford. Thanks for joining me, I’m really looking forward to this interview. And a subsequent interview that I’m going to be doing with Neil E. Levin. Neil has been our guest 13 times previously, it’s been several years now. But we’ve covered some very interesting topics on different aspects of health and nutrition. And all of these are available to you at HealthQuestPodcast.com. Just go and look up Neil in the tag index, or look up NOW® in the tag index, and you’ll be able to find all of those interviews. Neil is the senior nutrition education manager, and is one of the product formulators at NOW® formerly known as NOW®  Foods. So you may know of them by either of those names.

They’ve been doing business a long time. And today’s interview we’re going to explore NOW®, as a company, there’s a lot of challenges in the marketplace these days. And one of them is not knowing who is a good company, there’s 1000s of companies, it seems that nobody’s ever heard of they’re selling nutritional products on the internet, mostly. But and so this has become kind of a problem for consumers to understand, are these good products are these good companies who can I trust, there are ways that you can know what makes a good company. And there’s ways that you can understand how you can find out about the company that you’re interested in, we’re going to use NOW® Foods as a perfect example, because has been around for a long time, I believe, started in 1969.

There aren’t many supplement companies that have been around that long that have that kind of pedigree, and that kind of history in the natural products industry. Neil is in addition to being the senior nutrition, education manager, I mean, this is what we’ve been doing with Neil all these times. He is also a board certified clinical nutritionist, the US Natural Products Association, the NPA presented Neil with its Industry Champion Award in 2008. And this is for people who have made notable contributions to the field of natural health and helping companies achieve commercial success. So Neil has been doing this for a long time. He’s been involved in this industry, we’ve covered his history extensively in some of our past interviews. So we’ll just touch on that a little bit as we get started.

Today, we’re going to be exploring what does NOW® do as a company across a broad range of aspects that they include in their business model that set them apart from many of the other companies in the industry. And as I said, in business since 1969, I’ve known about them since 1976, when I opened my health food store. And so I have been working with NOW® for many, many decades, first as part of our health food store. And then secondly, and most recently, as frequent guests here on Health Quest podcast. So it’s in that capacity, I’m pleased to introduce to you once again, Neil E. Levin. Neil, welcome back to Health Quest podcast.

Neil E Levin  04:01

Thanks, glad to be back with you Steve Yeah, NOW® was actually founded in 1968. We’re considered the largest family owned independent company in the natural products industry, which we’re proud of.

Steve Lankford  04:13

Absolutely, and what a legacy. And so it is that kind of history, you don’t have five and six decades in an industry and especially the natural products industry, without performing for both the retailers out there who champion your products, as well as the millions of consumers who have used NOW® products over the many decades. I include myself and my family in that list of people, both as a retailer and a consumer. I have NOW® products in my cupboard right now, and I take them every day. So I’m pleased to be associated with NOW® and I’ve watched your transition over many of the years. So before we talk about NOW® Foods specifically. Tell us a little bit about your association with NOW® how long have you been with them? And just a little bit about your history and involvement at NOW® Foods?

Neil E Levin  05:10

Sure. Well, I’ve actually been in the natural products industry this spring will mark my 50th anniversary of working in the natural products industry.

Steve Lankford  05:18


Neil E Levin  05:19

I’ve started in coops. And I’ve been working for independent family owned companies since then. So I’ve never really worked for a corporate entity or anything like that. About 30 years ago, I got my clinical nutrition certification. And about 20 years ago, I got my diploma in advanced nutritional laboratory assessment, I was actually hired for NOW® Foods when it was originally a retail company. So NOW® Foods is an offshoot of the Fruitful Yield, which is right now a chain of a dozen natural products stores owned by the same family in the Chicago land area. And I was hired because I was running a company called Sherwin Health Food Shop in Chicago, which was the largest volume natural products store probably in the midwest at that time.

And they had eight Fruitful Yield stores at the time, they were buying another chain called Here’s Health from another family ownership and implementing point of sale systems in the stores and doing inventories and trying to integrate a new chain. So because I ran one store that did half the volume of the eight stores in the Fruitful Yield chain. And because I had been project manager, the acting manager of a co-op of 30 independent Chicago land health food stores, doing purchasing and advertising together called the Natural Way Incorporated. So I was familiar with multi store operations, Category Management, purchasing promotions, all that.

So I was hired to help this integration of two chains together, because they needed more management at the time. And then I became the purchasing manager. And then I added promotions manager. So I was actually hired at the end of 1997. And in 2004, they created a position for me at NOW® Foods, the nutrition education manager to start doing trainings and educate people about the company and the products. And I’ve been doing that ever since. And I now oversee multiple teams of people, I oversee our advocacy efforts in terms of lobbying and regulation.

I also oversee our product information team that answers something like two to 300 inquiries a day by email and phone trying to answer questions from not only American consumers, but people from all over the world who buy our products, we’re in about 100 countries. So all these are coordinated by me all the hard questions come to me, all the complaints come to me. And I try to deal with them. But I’ve got extensive experience as a vegetarian for 50 years as a natural products consumer for 50 years, as industry veteran for so long as a clinician for the past 30 years and as a retailer, as well as a formulator because I started formulating about 1990. So actually private label for the health food store I was running. So I’ve been involved in all these aspects for so long. I’m kind of a one man band, in terms of my contributions. But of course, we have huge company with many teams, and I interfaced with many of them, including during international trainings.

Steve Lankford  08:42

It’s an extensive job that you have. And I’ve always appreciated being able to have these conversations with you, specifically, because of this broad history that you have. Many times people deal with companies that really don’t embrace their own products. Many companies have come into business over these last decades, especially who are in the business for the profits. They buy companies because they’re successful, and they have products. But these people have never bought the philosophy that has led to the creation of a company like NOW®. And so what we see is this divergence from family owned companies who actually have a passion for what they’re doing, which leads to making choices about how they’re going to do business. And those companies that really could care less about the consumer, but are more interested in creating products that they can sell, sell cheaply, and act as though they are good quality products and well known natural products companies. And that’s not the case. We’re going to touch on that more extensively in our second interview in this series. So we’ll save that part of the discussion for then. So let’s turn our attention to NOW® Foods. Actually, it shouldn’t be NOW® Foods anymore. You’re basically NOW® is that correct?

Neil E Levin  10:10

Yeah, we’re using the name now. NOW® Foods is still our website. And it’s we’re still well known by that. But because we’ve always sold foods, they actually NOW® was originally an acronym for natural, organic and wholesome foods NOW® Foods. And since we have always sold foods, but now we have personal care products, we have all the supplements, we have aromatherapy, we have pet health products now. So because of all these permutations and expansions, just being known as NOW® Foods only refers to a part of our catalog of products and of many products, we have about 1500 items that we sell, including a professional brands as well as the NOW® brand itself. So NOW® vitamins is another term that people use for us, but we’re just bigger than NOW® Foods are NOW® vitamins. So just we’re the NOW® company,

Steve Lankford  11:02

If anybody gets confused, you’re going to know why they have maybe those different names floating around, because they are extensive. I’m glad you mentioned the product mix. Because while many people know of you as a supplement company, as you mentioned, it’s much more extensive than that now, with the foods that have always been a part of it, the cosmetics and so on, are people able to see all the products that you have, if they go to your website,

Neil E Levin  11:31

Definitely all of our products are listed there. And we also have a lot of information about the products, our mission is actually providing value in products and services that empower people to lead healthier lives. One of those services is having a product information staff are second to none in the industry, we often get compliments on that we even get competitors, telling their customers to ask us when they don’t know something, which is kind of interesting. And we’re trying to answer questions and we get questions every day about allergens and products, countries of origin, how things are processed, but just these very technical questions that we’re answering, and we have a team. I’ve got two naturopathic physicians on my team, I have someone who was trained as a dietician, I have just hired a pharmacist for my team. So trying to have very educated people, we have a state licensed dietitian, nutritionist as well on the team. So we have people who are very well educated, and know the products, I have people on my team who have worked for the company for over 30 years, I just had my 25th anniversary with the company last month, the newest person we have is a naturopathic physician, who is actually the granddaughter of the founder. And she’s also a licensed acupuncturist. So we actually have one of the owners of the company working for me in the product information department, helping to explain products to consumers.

Steve Lankford  12:59

It is a strong family feeling that comes along with your business. And there’s so many things that I want to explore with you today. But you just mentioned a few of the things that I think people should pay attention to the fact that you have the kind of staff that can actually understand the foundations of product and the foundations of human health and how they intersect. It’s such an important aspect of today’s market because it is a very confusing market. I want to start off with something that we just touched upon on our last interview, and you made a comment to me that was just so impactful. And you talked about the NOW lab. And I think at the time, if I’m not mistaken, you said something like you had 100 and more employees just in the lab itself. And the image that I took away from that was well one that’s impressive for anybody is somebody who’s just a lab much more so for a company, a vitamin company that has invested in this technology and in this science. That’s a huge commitment. Could you describe your lab for us and the people that work in that lab? What is it that you have created there at NOW that you want people to know about?

Neil E Levin  14:26

Our founder, Elwood Richard was a physical chemist. He was actually working on his advanced degree at the University of Chicago when his father who was in the natural products industry that got ill, and he had to drop out of grad school to help manage the business and settle it at his father ended up passing away. So he and his two brothers ended up managing that transition. And afterwards, Elwood founded a health food store to help sell these products, which became the fruitful yields offers. And that was in 1962. And later in 1968, founded NOW Foods now he was always interested in science being having a chemistry degree from Indiana University and working on advanced degrees in Chicago. And so he was always very particular about the quality of products.

And one example is when we first started selling supplements soon after the company was founded, he was insistent that we only carry natural vitamin E and not synthetic vitamin E. And at one point, we had a competitor accuse us publicly of selling synthetic vitamin E, and said he sent the product out to a lab to have it tested. Turned out, they use the wrong lab test. And they had to apologize, because it really was natural vitamin E. That’s the level of integrity for the brand.

Now at this time, we have a staff of about 160 people working in our labs and quality control. When you talk about quality assurance and R&D and the science and nutrition teams, the teams that develop the labels and the claims, which is part of the teams I work with, we’re talking about over 200 people working in these categories, but about 160 working strictly on quality control. Our lab facility is estimated to cost about $100 million setup, and we have the most advanced instruments on the planet. We’re the only company that has several years of testing results for pesticides on products. We’ve developed advanced methods that are used by universities now and by governments to test for pesticides.

One of the things people don’t realize about things like pesticide testing, you’re testing botanicals, botanicals contain proteins, fats, pigments, things that sometimes interfere with detecting target compounds you’re looking for including pesticides. It’s called matrix interference. It’s a well-known phenomenon. And for example, on things like Hawthorne, Berry and some of these other botanicals, these herbs, we’ve been able to have more sensitive testing, we’ve developed more accurate testing, that can cut them out in half the amount of compounds that could not be previously identified and quantified in terms of pesticides.

So we now have a pesticide screen, I’m told that setup is multimillion dollar setup for pesticide testing, using these advanced triple quad gas chromatography and liquid chromatography instruments and run by PhDs. By the way, so we’re hiring these very advanced people who are developing these methods, sharing them at international conferences where the scientists go to share their new methods and information. We’re also utilized by the companies that make the analytical instruments to beta test their new advanced equipment, because we have the expertise. And we have the facility and we have the products that they want to test. So we’re actually used to beta test the advanced new methods that are coming that nobody else is using. I mean, that’s how well regarded we are in the scientific and analytical communities.

One reason is because we have actually developed, validated and published our test methods in peer reviewed journals. For example, everybody using Glucosamine supplement people use for joint health. For example, the official method from the AOAC the Analytical Chemistry Organization that the FDA and Health Canada and other government organizations rely on as the default authority on testing. We have actually published methods in their journal that are peer reviewed by their experts, and which become official methods or industry. Some of them become USP methods, for example. So we’re one of the only vitamin companies who are devoting our resources to coming up with more advanced test methods to eliminate things like pesticides to test for genetically modified organisms to more accurately determine these things.

For example, we contributed to the first test method for controlling sulfates, which is normally from a bovine source, but you can get it from Sharks you can get it from pigs, you can get it from many different animals’ fish and so we actually contributed method to distinguish which source it was. So we could determine that it was from the specified bovine source that was used in studies and add an alternative source like shark which people might object to, or pork, which a lot of people will object to, and which have different ratios of constituents. They’re not identical. So by quantifying that and figuring out analytical testing for that, we’ve contributed to the security of the and integrity of the raw material supply.

We also published a method to look for pharmaceutical adulterants and raw materials. So erectile dysfunction drugs and these products for men diet drugs in the products for weight management, melamine in products that contain protein, for example, steroids and androstine type products and sports raw materials. So we actually published methods which have been validated by subsequent studies by independent researchers. So one of them called our method fundamental in distinguishing pharmaceutical adulteration of dietary supplement raw materials.

We’re also instrumental in every industry Quality Association, our founder and his brother and other scientists actually founded the natural product association’s quality committee back in the early 1970s. And we have people on every major committee, we work with the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, we work with the American Oil Chemists Society, the AOAC the analytical chemists, international organization, every organization, you think of American Herbal Products Association, we have quality experts working on every one of these organizations trying to help contribute to the entire industry, not just for us to have an advantage. But to give that advantage and share that advantage with our competitors.

Because as you know, Steve, if there’s any negative press about products or companies in the industry, we all get tarred with that same brush. So we want everybody to have equal opportunity, we’re willing to compete on a fair basis, and not by having an advantage over other companies, but our advantage is that we have these resources being family owned, we can invest in these capabilities, that many other for profit companies who are more worried about their quarterly basic prices or bottom line are not willing to invest long term. Because we have a family who is looking at long term development that has almost 50 family members who are shareholders, and are very focused on long term sustainability of the company. They’re willing to invest in things that other companies are not willing to, such as lab capabilities, method development, sharing without licensing our methods, just sharing them openly with the world, so that everyone can have access to these better methods and better techniques that we are developing.

Steve Lankford  22:54

Wow, quite a story. It’s so impressive. I think most people who use supplements have no idea what goes on behind the scenes of any company, much less a good company. And what you’ve described there to me is really astounding. And since you first had mentioned to me about the lab and the size of the work that you’re doing, and I know it’s grown since then, that this investment comes about one for a very real reason. You don’t set up $100 million lab system, because you can you do it because there’s a reason. And would I be correct in suggesting that the main reason for your lab is to be able to test raw materials coming into your plants that you want to use. Is that where most of your effort goes? Or is there more than that to it? It tells us kind of the extent. What’s your main focus for your lab?

Neil E Levin  23:59

Well, certainly raw material testing is perhaps the major focus, but we also test intermediate steps. When we make blends, for example, they have to be retested. And we have to test finished products. Because if you see a label that made by now, and it’s listing a certain ingredient, a certain standardization, a certain percentage or milligram amount of that in there, we are actually testing the finished product for that. And that’s where that matrix interference thing we talked about earlier comes in.

Because the only reason that comes into play is because we’re trying to test finished products, not just raw materials. We’re not willing to accept that process control, Good Manufacturing Practice documentation, for example, that somebody says they added the right amount of something to a product. We’re not going to assume that we want to actually verify that with testing. And that’s why we we’ve devoted so many resources to this, because we’ve been uncomfortable with some of the things that the industry has been accepting for so many years, we’re uncomfortable with not being able to test for pesticides in an organic product because of matrix interference. We’re uncomfortable with that being able to test the label claims we’re making, because it’s difficult to find vitamin D in millionths of a gram amounts in a multivitamin that contains 1000s of milligrams, that is masked by some of these things. So we’re in, we invest in the more sensitive instruments that are more unusual.

Some of the things we have are very unusual, even for university labs, when we give tours sometimes, and we have chemists come through, they are amazed at the level of instrumentation and expertise we have, which is far beyond what even most universities can do. And that’s because of this single minded dedication to quality. Over the years, this willingness to continually invest more and more into that testing. And for example, I know that just recently, I got a report from Dan Richard, the founders, sons, and one of the owners of the company, who’s our sales manager has an encyclopedic knowledge of the ingredients, prices selection, He’s really amazing. And working with him, he came up with a list of all the lab tests we do in a month. And we’ve been telling people an old number, we do about 16,000, quality control tests a month. And the recent figure is closer to 20,000. I mean, we’ve expanded that much in just a couple years.

So more and more testing more and more people, we’re hiring people who are acknowledged experts in the field, who know what they’re doing, or who are now sitting on these boards for all these industry associations and quality committees and things and working with their peers. But a lot of the peers that are working with our pure scientists, while they’re working in industry, they’re working to make sure that our quality control our good manufacturing practices are as tight and rigorous as possible. And continuously buttoning up anything that might be indicated can be better, because as time goes on, and we see more and more reports and share more information with other companies, we see more opportunities to add more capabilities.

For example, we’re probably the only company with the capability of testing for radiation and raw materials after the Fukushima accident in Japan a few years ago. And we were getting about two dozen raw materials from Japan at the time, we were rejecting coral calcium, which was coming from Japan at the time. And vitamin K two, which was coming from Japan, for example, had indications of radiation exposure, which we rejected that material. And we ended up having to find new sources, one of the sources was we now have vitamin K two that’s produced in United States. And we have coral calcium that’s extracted in the Caribbean, rather than by Japan.

So having to find new suppliers. One of the things that we do that’s very rigorous is qualifying our vendors, our raw materials suppliers. And what that means is, we actually either have them certified by a third party, like if you’ve seen that ISO 9001 type certifications companies have, it’s actually a quality control certification, like good manufacturing practices. And if they don’t have that type of level of certification already, then we send auditors there, which became very difficult during the pandemic, when everyone was scrambling for new suppliers as the supply chain collapsed, we were not able to quickly qualify new suppliers because we had to send auditors to places that were in quarantine, in order to qualify them as meeting our standards to be a supplier.

And then we have to qualify each raw material they offer separately. In addition to the company itself, meeting our standards, each material has to meet our specifications as well. So that process takes a long time, we’re not the kind of company that can come up with a new product in a month or two. Because we’re going to do three months of stability studies on it real time and accelerated to extrapolate two years of shelf life in our packaging. We’re going to make sure we have a test for that including matrix interference, got to go jump through all these hoops, where it’s going to take us six months or a year to come up with a product that some company could slap together in a month, but they’re not going to know the stability They’re not going to be able to test it well, they’re not going to know the real integrity of the supplier. So we’re at a disadvantage, in some ways versus competitors that are not as rigorous. Because we take the time, effort expense to do it right?

Steve Lankford  30:17

Well, it means that your retailers and your consumers, once they know this can have confidence in the products that they’re selling, and that the consumers are using. It’s just so easy to not know those things, not care about them even not know that they’re actually important, because the companies that don’t do them, they’re not talking about it. There is this thing in a term that I’ve heard use called borrowed science. And that’s what scientific study or report for some analysis has shown some benefit to perhaps a particular form of a nutrient or a trademarked branded raw material. And borrowed science means there’s companies who will report on those same benefits, but they’re not using the same raw material. And so I’m guessing that this leads you to choosing certain companies, certain raw materials, is because of this science that your suppliers are able to provide you is that a good understanding of one of the reasons why you look to particular companies is that they also bring science to the table?

Neil E Levin  31:35

Well, it is we’re constantly not only asked for products by retailers, and by consumers, but we’re constantly in touch with raw material vendors and looking at studies that are published to see what’s available to us to use. And I’ll give you one example that happened a number of years ago, I went to eat breakfast, I usually have the news on in the morning, and I’m checking out what’s happening in the news. And there was some time, maybe about 15 years ago, I had the news on and they kept having commercials for these two products that were sold in drugstores and mass market for reducing cortisol, the stress hormone, which would help with the weight management, belly fat, that kind of thing. So I thought, well, that sounds interesting. And I looked up these products, and they’re using an herb called Magnolia as the active ingredient. And then I looked at the studies that they’re citing, and the studies did not use Magnolia, the studies used a blend of a proprietary extract of Magnolia and a proprietary extract of philodendron. And it was a patented, trademarked combination that these mass market companies were not using. But they were borrowing the claims from that mixture of ingredients, which was called Relora. And we happen to sell Relora in our as a standalone product at the time. So I contacted the company that was selling it, and I knew the sales rep and I asked her if it was okay if I formulate a product with that ingredient in a whole formula. And she said that’s okay, as long as you use the clinically validated dose, you can’t just put a tiny bit in there and make claims, you have to use the actual amount that was in the study. I said that’s exactly what we want to do. We want to match the study unlike these competitors. So we have the real product that’s going to do what the study promises. That product is still around adrenal cortisol support, and is a popular product. And I’m proud to develop it using real science, not borrowed claims from different products.

Steve Lankford  33:48

Such an important point. And I’ve made that point many times with people, they listen to my podcast, and we talk about these trademark clinically studied branded raw materials. And my point is to them, if you want any hope of getting similar results to what was found in the clinical studies, then you should use the product that was used in the clinical study. And you should take the dose that was used in the clinical study, then you can evaluate your results relative to what might be shown in any of the other clinical studies.

But if you use a competitive product that isn’t the same that hasn’t been clinically studied, or maybe isn’t in the same dose, you’re not likely to get the results. And it says a lot about the company who makes the product when they’re willing to borrow the science and make claims that don’t apply to their product, but they’re not telling you that of course they’ve got no interest in telling you the truth about their product. They’re interested in selling a product using the hard work that others have done. So when you use these ingredients, you’re looking for what I have called trademark clinically studied branded raw materials. And do you have any idea how many of those NOW® uses in their products, I mean, I’m sure it’s a lot any idea how much that might be?

Neil E Levin  35:20

Well, we actually have that typically printed in our catalog, and its two pages of fine print. So there’s probably 100, or more trademarked ingredients. And I like to use an example. It’s like, if you buy a car, and you want to upgrade the stereo, maybe they don’t do that so much anymore. But they were putting in Pioneer Kenwood, Sony, some of these name brand components, to upgrade the stereo. And so you know, the quality because it’s a name brand component. In the same way, we’re using name brand components in our products. And that also gives an advantage to consumers. Because if we have a single ingredient, product, so just say Pycnogenol, the pine bark extract, which is over 200 studies on it, it’s well known, most of the nutritionists i know actually take that product, even though it’s expensive. And it’s the real material, you can get Chinese pine fruit, it’s a different species. It doesn’t have any studies on it. But it has similar compounds in it, it’s cheaper. But do you know what’s going to work as well, you don’t really know that.

Steve Lankford  36:27

It’s interesting, you should pick that product because that is one that I take, and specifically the NOW® brand of Pycnogenol. So there I’ve chosen to use a clinically studied product that has a long history well reported in the industry, and you have that as your ingredient. So this is the kind of thing that consumers can look for when they start to compare so many products in the marketplace. My advice to people is vet the companies find out what these companies stand for, what they do that you know, you can rely on. And if you find a good company, a company that you can trust and you have confidence in, then you can explore their whole catalog of products, because that’s the process that they bring to their whole line, they don’t just do it for one product. It’s something that you’ve adopted as a standard across the board. So people can do the hard work in the beginning of figuring out what companies they can trust. And then once they’ve got that, then they can just explore your whole catalog, as you said, 1500 products. There’s something there for everybody. One of the things that I often advise them to do is to look for companies that have particular awards, or certifications. Certifications are maybe more in line with things like GMPs, and quality control awards, maybe more on the consumer side products that have been recognized by others as being particularly good. Can you tell us a little bit about the kinds of certifications and awards that maybe you’re most proud of?

Neil E Levin  38:14

Well, one of the things is that two of our newest facilities have the Leeds certification, which means they are certified green buildings, that they use less energy that they use less water, they have an environmental certification. So we’re proud that the facilities we’re building are built to environmental standards. We’re proud that we have won for many years awards from the Chicago Tribune, the best and brightest Awards, where we’re one of the top companies in the United States and in the Chicago area, as best workplaces. So in terms of how we treat employees, the benefits, all that and this is based on confidential surveys of employees, we have certification and for good manufacturing practices for dietary supplements, as well as for personal care products.

And that we are third party certified, you have to be compliant with good manufacturing practices. That’s federal regulation. But you don’t have to have a third party certifier, where a third party certified as meeting good manufacturing practices. And the FDA has said there’s three tiers of companies in that category. There’s companies that typically large companies like NOW® that understand the regulations and reliably try to adhere to them. Most of the companies in the industry fall in the middle, they muddle through, they don’t entirely understand the regulations, and they have some issues. One of the issues is they’ll do things like they’ll get a raw material, they’ll test it, it will fail the identity test, and they’ll use it anyway. That makes no sense does it?

Steve Lankford  40:00

Well, unless you’re getting it cheap, that’s the only reason it would make any sense.

Neil E Levin  40:05

But these are some large companies have done that. And they’ve cleaned up their act since they got these warning letters. But I’m surprised at some of the companies that get these kinds of things that they’re, they don’t have good Batch Records. They can’t be audited. You can’t do a forensic audit of their process, which is what GMP is require, that everything’s documented, countersigned done properly. And you can an auditor can come in there, just like an IRS auditor can come and look at your finances and know what’s going on. That FDA auditor can come to your facility and look at your Batch Records and your operations. And know that you did everything properly. Because it’s all there recorded properly countersigned with witnesses, whatever it takes is done properly. And a lot of companies just don’t understand that. Many manufacturers are simply outsourcing everything. So they don’t do their own testing.

Many of them don’t even do their own manufacturing. Some of them might do their own bottling. I remember a few years ago, there was a retailer in Florida. And they told me they sent their buyers to a facility in the New York area, to look at their production. And all they saw was a warehouse. And they said, where’s the production? Oh, we outsource that. They’re like, why are we here, then we’re here to see how you make things that how you ship them, we don’t have to ship things that they were sent there for a plant tour. And the plant was a warehouse basically.

So those companies don’t understand their responsibilities under good manufacturing practices, collecting all the complaints, recording them submitting any serious adverse event to the FDA within 15 business days, there’s requirements of them that they don’t even know they have, in many cases. But there’s a third category of companies the FDA identified and that was manufacturers were just cheating. The people who put junk out there, that isn’t what it’s supposed to be on the label that might contain pharmaceutical drugs that aren’t on the label that might have substandard ingredients.

And they’re outlaws. They don’t care about the rules. If you catch them, they’ll change their name and come back a few months as another company because you play Whack a Mole with them as a regulator. So there’s a small group of outlaws. There’s a small group of well managed companies that understand good manufacturing practices. And there’s the vast majority that are more or less doing okay, but have problems and they’re trying to educate them as to what they’re doing wrong data. They typically don’t have third party certifiers, who are making sure they’re doing everything right.

We also by the way, our labs are certified as meeting ISO standards International Standards Organization, which means we are third party accredited as following the ISO standards, which is an internationally recognized quality standard. And for laboratories.

That means that is the certification that an independent lab has to be accepted. If you’re going to submit something to government for export or imports, that you better have an ISO certification for the lab that’s doing the testing. Our labs are ISO certified. They’re not only certified, but they’re certified to the hardest things to test, the most difficult things such as pesticide testing, distinguishing between arsenic toxic and nontoxic forms, you can get certified by doing a simple vitamin C test, we submitted five tests that are very difficult, and got approved on all of them for ISO accreditation, which is more than most labs can do. And we submitted our micro lab for certification as well. So that’s also ISO accredited, which means we can export our products with our own lab tests to any country in the world. And the government will accept our results as equivalent to sending to a third party lab. And that’s huge.

Steve Lankford  44:12

It is huge. And it’s why I wanted to have this conversation with you because it is not the norm. What NOW® does across this broad spectrum is not the norm, maybe it should be but it is for you. And it’s one of those things that it really has come to set NOW® apart from so many companies in the industry, this family commitment, this history that you continue to bring to the company, and then to the benefit of your employees, as well as retailers and consumers. One of the things that you mentioned so I’d want to touch upon the idea that you have this customer service part of your organization. One of the things that seems to be emerging In understanding is this concept of transparency, transparency, meaning that you’re not hiding what you’re doing, you want people to know what you’re doing, because then they can make an informed decision. And you don’t have anything to hide, unlike many of the companies that might be out there that don’t even have a physical address that you can go to, or a phone number that you can call NOW® has a part of its organization to respond to anybody who has questions about your products. Could you tell us a little bit about that service? What is it that people can learn if they have questions about NOW® products?

Neil E Levin  45:41

Well, that’s one of the things we’re most proud about is living up to our mission, providing value in products and services, that empower people to lead healthier lives. And one of those services is having this staff of people, and it is not inexpensive to have a staff of seven people who are highly educated and well paid. And have many of them have experience either as clinicians and or retailers who are going to answer all these technical questions. I mean, we got questions about everything you can imagine. What is this produced from? Well, how are these amino acids made? The amino acids can be extracted, they can be synthesized, or they can be fermented materials. And they want to know how it’s produced. What are the inputs in there? How exactly is it process, sometimes they want to know the temperatures, things or process, they want to know which countries they’re from.

The one big concern is corn, which is not required to be listed as an allergen and American labels. There’s nine allergens you have to label and corn is not one of them. And corn is in many, many products. More than half our products probably contain some corn derivatives, including vitamin C, which is pure pharmaceutical grade, which is one material like that maltodextrin is common in many extracts, they have to put it on a dry material, and maltodextrin. A starch is an easy one to use. And traditionally, corn is what’s been used, we make sure it’s non GMO corn, we tested for pesticides and heavy metals. But some of our things might be corn nowadays, it might be rice maltodextrin, it might be from cassava, like tapioca type material.

So there’s alternatives that we’re often looking for as well, trying to keep these things clean. People just want to know everything you could imagine about these products, because they are very committed to taking them and they’re very committed to taking the best. Now one of the problems we have is that because we’re a family owned business, and we’re making about half the profit margin of the publicly traded vitamin companies, and deliberately, so that’s our business model is making these products affordable. So people can feel good. While spending less the companies are using that against us. They’re saying, Well, you get what you pay for, without saying that you’re paying for their marketing, you’re paying for their double markup over what we have, you’re paying for them giving profits to corporations, shareholders, venture capitalists, pharmaceutical companies, instead of putting it back in the business, or giving the discount to the consumer.

We mentioned Pycnogenol earlier, we’re the number one purchaser Pycnogenol in North America were the number one purchaser of Ubiquinol. We’re the number one purchaser of lavender oil in the world. And we pass those volume discounts on to consumers, we don’t hoard them. We don’t mark these things up as much as other companies. And we don’t spend tons of money on marketing. Yet, we’re still one of the top companies because of word of mouth, that the values there, the quality for the price. And that’s what really distinguishes us. And sometimes a competitive sales rep. Tell somebody that all their ingredients are junky and they get everything from China and they don’t test anything. And of course, that’s nonsense to anyone who knows our company. But if you’re in some other state and the consumers there, and some sales rep is telling them, You got to buy our brand because the NOW brands no good. They might believe that sometimes if the store person isn’t there and knows better, because they’ve met us toward our facility, and know what’s really going on.

Steve Lankford  49:37

It is a problem and well with any industry you have those people who are trying to knock down the leaders not by competing effectively, but by passing on spurious information that isn’t true. And that’s one of the challenges is one of the missions that I have for Health Quest podcast is to try to distinguish between what is real and actionable and what is not. And unfortunately, there is a whole lot of problems in the natural products industry, not from companies like NOW® or our industry leaders, but more like companies who have jumped on the bandwagon. They sell products, they get profits, but they’ve never bought into the philosophy of quality and health and all of the things that you stated today that actually make up the foundation of the true natural products industry as it’s been through all the decades that you have been a part of it.

So I’ve been really pleased to explore this with you. We’re close to the end of our time, Neil, I always want to give my guests the last word. There’s so many other things I could ask you about. But I’m going to save those next interview, we’re going to talk about the problems in the industry. And we’re going to contrast some of those problems with what NOW® does. But we’re going to point out some of the challenges for consumers in the industry buying their supplements at drugstores, gas stations online, who do you trust, that’s going to be an interesting conversation. So before we end today, any last words you want to leave with our listeners today?

Neil E Levin  51:15

Well, a good apples to apples comparison between brand is find one of these single ingredient trademark products that contain the trademarked ingredients. Compare the pricing, if our product is 10, 20 30% cheaper, and it’s the exact same raw material from the exact same supplier difference of prices, obviously not due to us buying less expensive, less quality ingredients. It’s due to us spending less on marketing and profits and operational expenses than other companies. So that’s your true comparison. It’s the same material from the same supplier any differences due to something other than quality.

Steve Lankford  51:56

Well, it’s more what concerns me is the products that aren’t that same ingredient and aren’t that same quality, and yet are purported to be. So that’s going to move we’re going to cover next time when we dig into that side of the industry as well. Well, Neil, it’s been so interesting, I want to thank you so much for your time, and the expertise that you’ve brought to this your company to our industry. You’ve been a real asset over many decades, a lot of people look to you because of your expertise and the passion that you’ve brought. And it seems like it’s a very good fit for NOW® know the founder, Elwood, I know his son Dan, and I’ve been a fan of NOW® Foods for a long time. So Neil, thank you so much for being my guest today. I wish you the best you today. Thank you.

Neil E Levin  52:46

Thank you.

Steve Lankford  52:47

Bye bye

Neil E Levin  52:48


Steve Lankford  52:48

If you would like additional information, please visit HealthQuestPodcast.com. We’ve provided additional details and links on the podcast page. Remember, this is your process of discovery. Continue to search continue to learn. The more you know the better choices you can make better choices lead to better outcomes. If you like HealthQuestPodcast.com. Please recommend us to your friends and social networks. We sincerely appreciate every like every star and every review. Together, we can lead others to better health one listener at a time. Thank you for joining me today. I’m glad you were here. Make it a good day and join me for another interesting Health Quest podcast.

Close  53:40

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