La Verkin, Utah
Contract supplement manufacturing
Ruesch encountered an opportunity while working in the supplement industry and started Vitalpax to pursue it in 2014. "I presented it to my boss at the time, he said he was going to pass on it, and off I went," he says.
Vitalpax got its start in a former cracker factory in La Verkin, a town of about 4,000 residents in southwestern Utah. "We were looking for ways to streamline getting certified, getting up and going," says Ruesch.
The company launched out of a 4,500-square-foot facility that was FDA- and USDA-ready with a staff of five. Today, Vitalpax occupies that first facility -- and about another 45,000 square feet in two other buildings in La Verkin.
It's a family affair, as Ruesch works with two brothers who are also co-owners, and points to the healthy lifestyle of great-grandmother Mattie Woodbury Ruesch as an inspiration for the business.
Vitalpax's operation employs cGMP standards and has earned NSF, USDA Organic, and other certifications. The company's turnkey contract manufacturing service covers R&D to production to marketing of supplements in capsule, liquid, softgel, tablet, and other formats.
Ruesch touts "unbeatable pricing" and a turnaround time that's about half percent the industry average. "A lot of manufacturers give four-month lead times," he says. "We're more like eight weeks."
Other differentiators: the ability to handle small-batch manufacturing and high-volume production, sourcing hard-to-find materials and ingredients, and such innovative packaging as desiccated vials to combat humidity.
"We have the relationships with the suppliers to get them the products they couldn't otherwise find," says Vitalpax CMO Darin McOwen. "It's very rare that we say no without going to the end of the Earth to make our clients happy."
Clients range from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies, as well as a number of celebrities promoting their own brands. "We have some pretty high-profile people we work with," says McOwen.
The company has experienced hockey-stick growth in recent years. Revenue doubled in 2020, as did the number of employees. "A lot of it is organic demand for health and wellness," says Ruesch. "We've seen COVID certainly be one of those factors. A couple of years ago, everybody that we knew in our space wanted more immune-boosting and -enhancing products."
He also points to Vitalpax's culture as a key to the growth. "Our corporate culture is the foundation of everything we are," says Ruesch. The book, Gung Ho! by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles, is "our culture bible. . . . Let's create this positive atmosphere of advancing health and wellbeing."
McOwen says Vitalpax's openness to small orders has also catalyzed sales. "We have a lot of clients who come to us with an idea, and because we're very hands-on, we really take an interest in helping them fulfill the idea from start to finish when they lack the experience. We have a lot of people who get involved and make it work, and what we've seen is if they're successful, we're successful, because they're ordering more, they're growing, and every order's a little bit bigger than the last one, sometimes much bigger."
The forecast is similarly dynamic. "We're very -- but cautiously -- optimistic," says Ruesch. "From a lot of large distributors, we have every indication to believe that orders will not only double but quadruple over the next year or so."
Challenges: "Finding talent to run equipment is challenging, primarily because there's not as many guys who are supplement manufacturers here in southwest Utah as there might be in New Jersey," says Ruesch. "A lot of this technology is not just open to the public -- you can't just go find a class on it. You have to have connections and you need to have a teacher, a master, someone you can be an apprentice to."
After Vitalpax struggled with sourcing such items as bottles and seals, "The supply chain has kind of reset itself and we're feeling less of a pinch," he adds.
Opportunities: Exports. Ruesch says the company has worked with the World Trade Center Utah to foster international markets.
"When we started our business, we were probably 90 percent international," he says, noting that the initial opportunity was with a customer overseas. "More recently, it was probably 90 percent domestic, 10 percent international. We're probably looking at 30 percent international, 70 percent domestic now."
McOwen points to products designed to boost immunity and relieve stress as drivers "simply because of the pandemic."
Needs: Vitalpax needs an equipment upgrade to expand its capabilities with gummies and soft chews."If we can take a particular type of ingredient and throw it into a different medium like a gummi or a soft chew, we give our clients a pretty huge competitive advantage," says McOwen. "How do we bring in innovative equipment to meet these demands for low-volume and high-volume batches?"
Ruesch says he would like to see more domestic suppliers: "Let's recapture manufacturing and bring it back home."