Leading with Integrity
How the search for pain relief sparked a passion for wellness — and a booming business for Swanson Health
Our story begins with the nemesis of every person with a passion for physical activity: joint pain. And, as is fitting for publication in a business magazine, our story also involves just a smidgen of golf.
In the late 1950s, Leland Swanson’s knees hurt, and he knew it wouldn’t be long before he’d have to give up his love: playing golf. In a prescient and thoroughly modern move, he searched for pain relief in nutrition, devouring the research of legendary nutritionist Adelle Davis, and the works of Paul Bragg, the founder of America’s health food movement. Impressed by his findings and empowered by the results from the supplements he took to ease his pain, Swanson opened a mail order business selling vitamin E capsules in 1969.
Nearly 50 years later, the company he built is one of the most vibrant and innovative online health products companies in the world. Swanson Health began as a catalog company that, with the dawn of the digital age, morphed into an online enterprise serving millions of health-conscious consumers around the globe.
The rich collection of data amassed by Swanson during its dominance of the catalog sales market provides today’s company with an enviable platform for growth. “Swanson is in the unique position of starting out as a catalog company and making a successful transition to e-commerce, and in doing so we’ve built some incredible analytic and data capabilities that are beyond anything I've experienced either at a small or large company,” said Shane Durkee, the firm’s Chief Innovation Officer. “Just being able to leverage the nuggets from that data gives us a leg up on giant multinationals out there that just don't have that level of data on their customers.” A former executive at Schiff, Durkee knows whereof he speaks.
Such deep insights enable Swanson Health to pivot into new ways of meeting consumer demands. Take, for example, the firm’s new Real Food supplement line. Swanson Health’s analytics spotlighted a deep gap between the number of consumers taking multivitamins and those preferring the Swanson brand.
From an innovation standpoint, Durkee said, “We combined that information with a recommendation from dietitians around the country to get your nutrients from food, and we created the Real Food line. We launched men's and women's multi- and B vitamins, and we (will) have a full line of products in our pipeline over the next couple of years.” As a result, Swanson Health sped ahead of the curve just as the multivitamin segment of the vitamins, minerals, and supplements (VMS) market began ticking upward – positioning them precisely on trend.
Innovation Today, Better Health Tomorrow
Despite VMS sales booming overall, specialty stores in the sector are feeling a serious pinch from e-commerce and mass market sellers, driven significantly by millennial shoppers who prefer the speed and ease of online shopping.
“Swanson Health is in a unique position, operating an e-commerce company in a space where e-commerce is booming,” Durkee explained. “The younger generation is really primed to shop in the space, not only in e-commerce but increasingly in supplements, so it's all coming together into this perfect storm. It's an exciting challenge.”
The diversity of Swanson Health’s product portfolio addresses what the firm calls “the antidotes for everyday life” that span generations. “Every day, everywhere in the world, there are curveballs that get thrown at you. We see Swanson as a destination to help fight back,” Durkee stressed.
The blue light emitted by electronic screens is one such curveball. “We've developed a number of offerings, including an award-winning product called Vision Defense, which helps defend against the digital device blue light we are exposed to in everyday life.”
Another platform developed by Swanson Health this year is tailored to consumers seeking clinically-supported, nature-sourced, condition-specific supplements. The Pure Science Herbals line supports a range of wellness objectives, from improving cardiovascular, circulatory, and cerebrovascular health, to boosting cognitive function and energy – and, of course, reducing joint discomfort while supporting joint mobility.
Creating high-quality, nutrient-rich vitamins and supplements requires a high degree of precision, particularly when it comes to ingredient sourcing. Swanson’s innovation and procurement teams work directly with top ingredient suppliers who have sterling reputations in the space.
“We audit and verify their quality systems, and then we leverage those relationships with our manufacturing partners to ensure that any ingredient we use has been thoroughly vetted and tested and meets all of our quality standards,” he said. “Not only do we test incoming raw materials and outgoing finished goods in our facility, but we also require any contract manufacturer that we use to do the same. When their products come to us, we retest them so they get multiple rounds of scrutiny.”
Headquartered in Fargo, North Dakota, Swanson Health operates a GMP-certified manufacturing and testing facility in the state as well. “We have excellent, meticulous staff on site as well as an internal lab where we verify incoming raw materials and outgoing goods. In addition, we partner with large, reputable labs around the country to do exactly the same thing. We fully believe in our own lab, but we also like to double-check our own work,” Durkee pointed out.
Swanson Health also partners with a select group of GMP manufacturers. “If there's something we have an idea for that hasn't been done before, we look for a partner with the technological capacity to enable that innovation. We leverage in-house manufacturing and then (select) a small group of partners based on their expertise, quality, and experience overall.”
“We're obsessed with total-body health, and we have a full spectrum of wellness products to address body, mind, and home. We also empower the consumer to do their own research and self-educate, and to know the science we use to back up our products.” To that end, Swanson Health delivers a treasure-trove of online content to guide and educate consumers on everything from diet and exercise to creating healthier environments at home, at work, and everything in between.
After 50 years, the Swanson story doesn’t end with less joint pain and more golf. The Swanson story of lifetime wellness isn’t ending at all – it’s just beginning.
Once upon a time (well … in the late 1950s), a man with a passion for golf and wellness sought a way to alleviate his knee pain. His journey into the world of natural supplements and scientific research in health and wellness, plus his success adding supplements to his daily routine, nurtured a deep commitment to health and life-long vitality. This commitment became a mission to share wellness and nutrition directly with others, focusing on product quality and purity, while offering the lowest possible prices and superior customer service.
In 1969, Swanson Health fulfilled its first orders, helping customers on their health and wellness journeys. Today, Swanson continues its mission to bring innovative, science-backed vitamins, supplements and other health products directly to customers, helping customers and their families discover their antidotes for everyday life.