By Glen Martin | Dec 14, 2021
Foothill Ranch and Rancho Santa Margarita, California
Development and contract manufacturing of tablets, capsules, and premixes
There are scads of supplemental tablets, capsules, and beverages out there, each with a unique -- and often complicated -- formula. Some of the brands are large and well-known, but others are small -- boutique, even. A curious person might wonder how a mom-and-pop operation that purveys, say, a limited line of herbal extract capsules can support the production facility, staff, and inventory needed to manufacture its products -- all the while maintaining rigorous quality control?
Short answer: they probably can't. More than likely, they enlist the help of a contract research manufacturer like ProTab Laboratories. And not just little companies, either. ProTab also serves some of the largest health and lifestyle supplement brands extant.
The company started out in 2004 manufacturing tablets and capsules on a contractual basis for supplement brands, says ProTab's Director of Sales, Tim Nguyen.
"The founder had a lot of enterprises going, including botanical extracts," says Nguyen, "and he thought, 'Why don't we have a contractor sector?' So, one of the first objectives of ProTab was to package those extracts for products sold by other companies. And that approach still applies today, in that we don't have any brands ourselves -- we sell to brands, and they sell to retailers or directly to consumers."
ProTab Laboratories’ leadership eventually saw that there was potential for their service beyond supplement pills, and that's when they hired Nguyen, a chemist by training who had deep expertise in "premixes"-- formulated supplemental powders that are used in nutritional or fortified beverages.
"With all our products, the process is basically the same," says Nguyen. "[Our clients] tell us in broad terms what they want -- sometimes it might amount to a back-of-the-envelope description. Our R&D division creates an exact formula and provides a sample. Based on verification and approval of the sample, we can then manufacture the product in quantity -- premix, regular tablets, chewable tablets, capsules -- which the brand then sells under its own label. For tablets and capsules, we can also provide a bottling and packaging line."
Moreover, says Nguyen, ProTab Laboratories essentially foots the bill for everything from R&D through final product approval.
"Our customers only pay us when they place their first commercial order," he says.
Nguyen observes that ProTab's revenues have surged by 40 percent annually in the six years he has been with the company. Much of that growth can be attributed to the expansion into premixes, he says, but other factors are also in play.
"We're known for our flexibility in meeting client needs and our quick turnarounds," Nguyen says. "We're not based overseas, so our clients know their orders will be filled far more quickly than from a foreign competitor. We deliver on or before deadline, and we were able to maintain that even during the worst of the COVID pandemic. In fact, we went through the low point of the pandemic and came out of it with our business doing better than ever."
Other strong selling points: product reliability and inventory management.
"Quality and inventory control give us huge advantages, especially where foreign competitors are concerned," Nguyen says. "Product uniformity is critical in this business -- in fact, it's the most important single element. You have to be able to achieve a uniform blend time after time, and your clients have to know and trust in your ability to deliver. Also, our customers know that if they work with us, they don't need to maintain their own inventories of multiple ingredients -- and they don't have to deal with a lot of different suppliers. They can -- and do -- come to us for everything."
Challenges: "We're facing the same thing everyone else is facing -- supply chain issues," says Nguyen. "We have multiple suppliers for each raw product we use, but the port situation is a real problem. Further, the supply chain shortfalls are driving up prices. And when our costs go up, we have to pass them along. Our customers understand that, of course, but nobody likes it. Not us, not them."
Opportunities: "At this point 70 percent of our business is premix for beverages, and that's a sector that's still expanding," says Nguyen. "And with COVID, everyone -- including beverage brands -- wants to expand into immunity categories. So, we're expecting particularly dramatic growth there."
Needs: "Right now, the big challenge is in hiring qualified people," Nguyen says. "We're constantly looking for new talent, especially on the production side."