Nature’s Sunshine Products, the Utah-based company that revolutionized the nutritional supplement industry, this month celebrated its 30th anniversary with a convention in Fukuoka that brought together top executives and its Japanese “family.”

The breakthrough that put Nature’s Sunshine in the driving seat of the industry was a simple one, according to Eugene Hughes, 72, founder and senior vice president, who had a bleeding ulcer 30 years ago.

“Someone told me to take cayenne pepper, which is obviously very hot, and when I ate it that created heat in my body which moved the blood and took care of the ulcer,” he said. “But then my wife had the idea of putting it in a capsule to get it right to the heart of the problem.” Until then, no other company had come up with the idea of a dissolving capsule as a “delivery system.”

And from those humble beginnings arose a company that utilizes multilevel marketing and direct sales and in 2001 reported sales revenue of $318.7 million. Disclosure rules covering publicly traded companies limit the amount of financial information the company can release, although the United States accounts for a little over half its revenue, with the rest of the world making up the remainder.

Today, Nature’s Sunshine manufactures and markets tablets and encapsulated herbal products, natural vitamins, food supplements, skin care and other related products. Headquartered in Provo, the company does business in more than 25 countries around the world — and is actively looking to increase its presence in Japan.

Describing the Japanese market as “priceless,” Daren Hogge, president of the company’s international division, said, “Right now we’re targeting well over 100 percent growth a year, trying to double what we have year-on-year. We’re being very aggressive, but I think that’s achievable.

“Our success is built on a love of people,” he said. “The company exists to help and that’s our foundation. We call our distributors our family and we only succeed if they succeed.”

Pauline Hughes, one of the founders of the company and a board member, emphasized Nature’s Sunshine’s commitment to the three core values of quality, service and integrity, pointing out that millions of dollars are spent each year on ensuring the quality and efficacy of the products.

On average, a product undergoes between six and eight months of testing at the company’s state-of-the-art facility in Utah — which has just undergone a $20 million upgrade that will enable it to double output — before it is released on the market.

“That keeps the standards of quality and integrity very high, and its something that not all our competitors do,” said Peter Dale, president and managing director of Nature’s Sunshine Products, Japan.

“Another thing that helps us is our 5A1 Dun and Bradstreet rating, which sets us apart because we’re basically the only company in the industry that has it,” he added.

Nature’s Sunshine has a range of 500 products in the U.S., but not all of them are available in Japan due to local restrictions on the contents.

“We respect the regulations in the local market, but do we wish that all 500 products could be sold here?” asked Hogge. “Absolutely, because we wouldn’t sell them elsewhere if we didn’t think they could help somebody or if it has been proven in another market that they do help people.”

To comply with local regulations, the company has “tweaked” the formulas of many of its products available here, although Hogge pointed out that they would not change the formula to a degree that would make it ineffective.

Research shows that protein and fiber products are particularly popular with young women as well as elderly women with digestive problems, while the energy-related items are favorites with men.

The company has also started manufacturing some new lines in Japan, including the Enepolis energy drink, which contains propolis, royal jelly, ginkgo, black vinegar, vitamin C, vitamins B1, B2, B6 and B12 and ginseng — and packs quite a pep-up punch.

“We encourage and look to our presidents and general managers to find a way that we can manufacture some of our lines in the local markets,” Hogge said. “When we enter a market . . . we have a philosophy of coming to give, not to take, which is why we hire so many local people.”

Nature’s Sunshine went public in 1976 and first arrived in Japan eight years ago. The firm presently employs 22 people here, but hopes to take on more distributors in the near future; the company’s oldest distributor is a remarkably active 84-year-old.

As well as Japan, Nature’s Sunshine is planning to expand into Singapore in the near future, according to Brady Jex, director of its international division, while other target markets include China, India, Taiwan and Thailand.

“Asian countries are very family-oriented and network marketing does well in this region,” he said. “It fits well with the way we like to do business.”

“We’re just trying to share what Nature’s Sunshine has and somehow that has taken hold with people,” Hogge added. “What really sets us apart is our love of people; we want to get in there and help.”

And the man who set the whole company in motion is still a Nature’s Sunshine devotee. “I’ve been taking the products ever since the company started,” Eugene Hughes said. “Vitamins, minerals, all the products. I’m very loyal and I feel good; I work out twice a week — do you want to feel my muscles?”

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