By supporting the positive aspects of bodybuilding culture and athletes who train hard,
Universal Nutrition has become a leader in the market.
By Staci Davidson, Knighthouse Media
Family companies aren’t exactly rare, but when a family company succeeds for years and years, it’s a good bet that something special is happening in that operation. Universal Nutrition is a good example of this. The company has been family owned and operated since 1977, and not only has that contributed to a familiar culture, but these caring values also extend to how Universal Nutrition thinks of its customers. As a producer of nutritional supplements, Universal Nutrition uses its values to support the bodybuilding culture and have a major positive impact on that community.
“There’s definitely a vibe running through the company that reflects family values,” Vice President of Sales and Marketing Tim Tantum says. “We may not be actual family members, but we feel like we are part of something big and when we have something to say, we are listened to. But it’s more than just the ownership. In our factory, we have about 40 individuals who are all part of the same family – sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts. It really resonates – we are all out for the common good and the company is built like a large family. That feeling extends out to our customers and all the people we work with.”
Universal Nutrition was established in 1977 in Linden, N.J., during “the golden age of bodybuilding,” as the company describes. Among the first bodybuilding products the company offered were a milk and egg protein and a desiccated liver. In 1980, the company’s current owners bought the company and brought its operation to New Brunswick, N.J., where the business continues to operate. By 1983, Universal Nutrition introduced Animal Pak, which is its invention for a system that delivers timed and properly dosed nutrition. Today, the company offers an extensive line of products for recovery, fat burning, weight gain, strength and performance, including proteins, amino acids and protein bars.
However, Universal Nutrition is dedicated to being more than just a supplement company, while at the same time taking great pride in the quality of the products it brings to market. The company’s goal is to be a positive member of the bodybuilding community and continue to change the industry in all it does.
“One, we are a manufacturer,” Tantum explains. “A lot of brands have someone else manufacture for them, but we answer to a higher authority. The company that made it is who sells it, so our brand is connected to our manufacturing practices.
“Additionally, we’re not just selling a product,” he notes. “We’re not going out there saying you will gain 50 pounds of muscle overnight. We have a commitment to nutrition and lifestyle in our marketing. It’s more about the lifestyle and being inclusive and building comradery, not just about selling a bottle of protein.”
Universal Nutrition attends and sponsors a lot of bodybuilding events to promote a strong and healthy lifestyle. At the annual Arnold (Schwarzenegger) Sports Festival Expo in Columbus, Ohio, the company sets up its flagship powerlifting showcase event “The Cage,” which spans multiple booths and connects the powerlifter show to the retail component, where attendees can talk to sponsored pro bodybuilders athletes and powerlifters, pick up some gear and receive free swag. At this year’s event, Dan Green hit a 900-pound deadlift (his first time hitting this milestone in the Cage), and Stefi Cohen set a personal record with 545-pound deadlift at 126 pounds.
The company also posts motivational videos online and educational material. One of Universal Nutrition’s ongoing features is its series “Big on a Budget” videos, where professional bodybuilders are given $70 to $100 and are asked to shop for a week’s worth of groceries. Tantum notes this is all part of the brand’s dedication to giving people experiences they won’t forget. “We want to educate, inspire and motivate people to go to the gym and get healthy,” he says. “Those are our guiding principles – Education, Motivation, Inspiration.”
Universal Nutrition is confident in marketing this way because it knows the quality of its products is genuine. The company works closely with its vendors to ensure it’s using the best ingredients, and follows all of the Good Manufacturing Practice standards. In addition to that, it completes significant testing throughout the process and has a quality control team that takes a strict look at all of its processes and procedures. Continuous improvement is important to the company.
“Right now we are looking at all of our current products and revisiting them,” Tantum says. “We want to ensure our formulas and technology are as current as they can be and are relevant. The number of ingredients available is restricted, but we also want to make sure our products meet the challenges of today’s athlete. Our line is extensive and addresses most of the areas for nutrition, but we are reviewing the formulas to be sure they are what they should be.”
Tantum got his start in the company in 1982 and is proud to have seen the Universal Nutrition culture influence the brand to be something that brings people together, connects them and strengthens the bond of bodybuilding. “I was always into sports but I wasn’t going to make that a career, so working here was a way to stay in touch with that,” he says. “I have a science background and a business degree, and I’ve been able to keep that passion for sports and gyms without being a professional athlete. I started here out of college, and it’s been great to have an opportunity to grow and work in all aspects of the company.”
By working at Universal Nutrition, he says, you feel like you are making a difference because of the company’s dedication to building strong and positive bodybuilding community. One of its signature programs is ABC – the Animal Barbell Club – and is another example of Universal Nutrition’s outreach activities.
“This is something we run ourselves or we buy out a whole gym, and we invite anyone who wants to come train with us,” Tantum explains. “One of our brand ambassadors will come and work with everyone. We bring in catering afterwards, so we train together, talk together and eat together. Sometimes we’ll do this in connection to a trade show, like the Fit Expo in Los Angeles in January, and sometimes it’s more grassroots and we’ll set it up with someone who is a fan of the brand at the local gym in their area.
“We also have a strong brand ambassador program with gyms and at military bases,” he adds. “We will send samples, trial sizes, host events and give out t-shirts and other products. We have a military care kit for anyone who writes us with an APO address. We will ship a care package to virtually any APO in the world, and we send 5,000 to 7,000 every year free of charge to service men and women.”
The company isn’t seeing as many large bodybuilders in the market as it has in the past, so it is focusing on bringing its brand to the person who enjoys going to the gym and training hard. If a man or woman puts a lot into training, Universal Nutrition wants to support them.
“We are expanding into that bigger market,” Tantum says. “Any person who goes to the gym, trains hard and uses weights as part of their regimen, they could be our customer. We can bring them into the Animal lifestyle by training them and educating them. Education is how to bring people in, and we always want to ensure we are supplying the best product and getting that information to them in the most effective way.
“When I look at the relationships I’ve built in this company and in the industry, it’s great,” he continues. “We’ve put ourselves in a position where we are a respected brand, and a big part of that is how this culture was built. You walk through the factory and you see how the ownership has been a part of supporting the families who work here.”