General Nutrition Centers Inc.: Delivering Potent Formulations with Proven Results

General Nutrition Centers Inc. (GNC) set the standard for nutritional supplements. Transparency, ingredient safety, reliability and truth in labeling are the defining characteristics of GNC’s corporate culture. The GNC team aims to keep abreast of the latest scientific findings to develop products with tangible benefits for consumers. While the product lineup is constantly evolving, GNC’s commitment to help consumers “Live Well” and provide superior shopping experience never waivers.

The GNC difference lies also in the company’s broad product focus. GNC develops and distributes both sports nutrition products and a wide variety of wellness products targeting issues like heart health, weight management, bone support, healthy aging and sexual health. The GNC global empire stretches across more than 4,800 retail locations across the United States, which includes over 1,000 franchises and 1,200 store-within-a-store locations in partnership with Rite Aid Pharmacy. In addition, Canada numbers amongst some 46 international markets with over 900 employees and 164 locations from coast to coast.

David Shakarian established what would later become GNC in 1935 when he opened Lackzoom, a health food store in Pittsburgh, Pa. Yogurt played a significant role in the company’s early days, as did honey, grains and healthy sandwiches. The company found itself in a prime position when a health food craze kicked off in the 1960s, and by the early 1980s GNC operated over 1,000 locations.

“The company has changed drastically since I joined in 1982,” reflects Gilles Houde, president and general manager of GNC’s Canadian operations since 2000. “Back then we sold a lot of food and cosmetics, whereas now we are primarily focused on sports nutrition and nutritional supplements to promote wellness at every stage of a person’s life.”

Support at Any Stage

GNC sells both proprietary products and those from third-party producers. Many of GNC’s proprietary products are manufactured in a facility in Greenville, N.C., which the company owns and operates. GNC’s Canadian division purchases mainly bulk from the Greenville facility, but there are a significant amount of items that require domestic production to meet Health Canada regulations. In such cases, GNC turns to a network of reliable suppliers to custom manufacture the products, and only after the company undergoes a rigorous auditing process to ensure the supplier upholds the same quality assurance controls.

“We believe these suppliers play a critical role in our success because we see them as partners for both innovation and supply-chain management,” asserts Houde. GNC strives to uphold the highest standards for safety, traceability and potency in all of its proprietary formulations. Suppliers are charged not just with upholding these standards, but also with keeping up with the demand of a national market. GNC leaves nothing to chance.

Houde cites the example of GNC Scientific Nutrition CoQ-10 as a reason why GNC insists on working only with certain manufacturers. The product is a nutritional supplement known for its antioxidant properties, which are geared to support a user’s cardiovascular health. Users of the product commit to taking the product daily and a warning label on the packaging advises users not to simply discontinue use cold turkey.

Should a consumer need to discontinue use of the product, the supplement should be phased out very gradually. “It’s one of only a few rare items we carry with such a warning, but we take it very seriously because we’re never going to risk having a customer come to one of our stores and not be able to get their hands on the product,” asserts Houde.

Completely Committed to Quality

In fact, one of Houde’s first tasks when he assumed the helm of GNC’s Canadian operations was to order the destruction of roughly 5,000 units of one of GNC’s best-selling items. The manufacturing facility producing the item found an irregularity in one bottle taken as a sample from the production line. Identifying the source of the irregularity would take days, and Houde decided not to waste any time before pulling the items and keeping them from making it onto store shelves. The source of the irregularity turned up to be a minor glitch in packaging, and an easily rectified one at that, but GNC stood behind the decision 100 percent.

“We’re just that kind of company,” adds Houde. “We’re never going to compromise on quality, because we value our brand equity and consumer safety above all.” To that end, GNC also invests internally to ensure a customer’s in-store experience exceeds all expectations. GNC maintains an ongoing and ever-evolving employee training program geared to ensure clients find the best products to achieve their goals.

Even so, GNC strives to ensure the program makes clear distinctions to employees between prevention, support and treatment. Employees are trained to be honest and encourage customers to consult with their doctor prior to beginning any nutritional supplement regimen. GNC does distribute a certain quantity of products capable of treating certain conditions, according to Houde, though GNC products are primarily geared toward prevention and wellness support, an important distinguishing factor.

Pursuing Innovation

In fact, Houde served on the board of directors of the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA), the country’s leading health food industry organization. Houde’s involvement was centered around seeing that supplements and natural remedies were regulated differently than pharmaceuticals. In 2004 CHFA’s years of lobbying and raising awareness paid off in the form of the Natural Health Products Regulations, which addresses safety and availability issues affecting natural health products. “It really made a lot of changes in our industry possible, and it helps assure consumers that any claims made on a product’s packaging are approved by Health Canada,” adds Houde.

Innovation continues at GNC with the recent launch of GNC’s proprietary Vitapak programs to support cardiovascular health through specific formulations for both sexes. Vitapak programs provide a total nutritional support solution by combining a multivitamin and a selection of active ingredients tailored to address specific health and wellness concerns, like menopause, weight loss, joint health and muscle building.

The new Vitapak products represent just one of many products GNC developed, and the next few years will bring more innovation to GNC’s product lineup. As GNC relentlessly pursues potent formulas with proven results, Houde and the team will work to ensure General Nutrition Centers Inc.’s reputation for unparalleled quality, ingredient safety and customer service remains sterling.