Universal Nutrition has been a fitness-industry staple for 40 years and counting. If you've been into bodybuilding anytime in the last few decades, you've probably seen Universal Nutrition advertisements in muscle magazines, or containers of Animal Pak at your local gym.
Universal Nutrition has also pushed hard into the digital culture, regularly posting educational and motivational fitness content on its website and YouTube channel, as well as on Bodybuilding.com. The company is also known for the memorable consumer experiences it creates at fitness expositions, and for the highly-trained competitive athletes that handle marketing at the company's headquarters in New Jersey.
Bodybuilding.com recently caught up with Phil Kim, vice president of marketing and strategy at Universal Nutrition. Phil provided candid insight into how Universal got started, the back story on some of its more popular products, and a look to the future.
How did Universal Nutrition get started?
Universal Nutrition was founded in 1977 to provide elite bodybuilders around the world with the highest-quality nutritional supplements. From the beginning, it's been a family-owned company that does business the old-fashioned way—with a handshake.
We still operate that way. We're old school, but we're high-tech, too. From day one, our strength has been in our manufacturing process, which follows a stringent practice known as GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice). We believe that the best way to create high-quality supplements is to control the process from manufacturing to packaging, bottling, and shipping.
We also have our own full-service marketing department. This is where all our ads, creative, support materials, labels, and strategic marketing goals are imagined, created, and implemented. The marketing team works hand in hand with the design department, which brings the vision of marketing to life, whether in the form of the latest Animal ad or the newest Universal brochure. We also have a full printing department that prints our posters, product labels, flyers, and other collateral marketing and sales pieces.
Our sales department is staffed by industry professionals, many of whom have worked for the company for over three decades. They have seen it all and have a deep knowledge of the supplements we create and the people who use them.
Universal has been making high-quality supplements for 40 years, as of 2017. Tell us about your company's growth over the years and what the focus is moving forward.
Universal Nutrition has several brands. Animal is the biggest brand in our domestic market, where we do about 50 percent of our sales. Universal tends to be our strongest brand on the international market, which accounts for the other half of our revenue.
Of the two, the Animal brand has a significantly smaller footprint. Rather than being comprehensive, like with the Universal brand, we are more strategic about the type of product that gets launched. Lately, we’ve been focusing on releasing more convenient, powdered versions of our award-winning staples.For example, we created Animal Pak powder, the powdered-drink version of the original Animal Pak, as a Bodybuilding.com exclusive.
The Universal brand represents a comprehensive line of sports nutrition and bodybuilding products. We’re not interesting in trying to recreate the wheel or release “revolutionary” new products. As a manufacturer, we want to sell high quality, proven products at reasonable prices—products like flavored versions of creatine powder, for example.
What are some of your newest products?
The most interesting new Universal product is Amino Octane. Amino Octane is a mixture of stimulants such as caffeine and what we call "everyday energy aminos." It's a new product that will feature an all new look and design.
On the Universal side, we created flavored versions of creatine and glutamine powders. It's not so much that we're trying to recreate the wheel, we're just taking products that work and putting a spin on them to appeal to a specific set of consumers.
Over the years, what have been Universal Nutrition's top-selling products?
There's no doubt about it: The best-selling product is our Animal Pak, which contains multi-vitamins, antioxidants, ergogenic ingredients, performance enhancers, amino acids, and more. Next in line are Animal Stack, Animal Cuts, Animal Flex, and Animal Whey.
When should someone take Animal Pak?
My marketing team is made up of competitive powerlifters and bodybuilders, who all agree there isn't a perfect time to take Animal Pak. Typically, people take it with breakfast, but the timing isn't really that important. What is important is that you try to take it with a solid-fuel meal that contains some fat. Our bodies absorb fat-soluble vitamins better when eaten with whole foods that contain fat, rather than with a protein shake or powdered meals.
As for the Animal Pak powder, you can pretty much mix it with other supplements or beverages. Bodybuilders might combine Animal Pak Orange powder with Animal Fury Orange powder, mix them with water, and use them as a pre-workout.
Is there a difference in the formulas of Animal Pak and Animal Pak Powder?
Yes, there are some slight changes, but these were largely driven by more practical considerations. Generally speaking, you don't taste the ingredients in a pill as much as you do if they are in a powder. When we make the powders, our goal is to create a product that's just like the original Animal Pak, but will taste great. We think we’ve done just that—a product that fully captures the spirit of the original in a form that’s really easy and convenient to use.
What about protein bars? What does Universal have planned in terms of new bars?
Not many people know that we also make our own protein bars. We don't use contract manufacturers for anything that we sell. At the moment, we're working on a brand new concept for Animal. It will be released in early 2018 and we think consumers will sit up and take notice. This new bar will have a simpler formulation with more natural, wholesome ingredients such as peanut butter, whole oats, and carbs derived from natural sources like sweet potatoes.
Aside from its longevity in the fitness industry, what makes Universal Nutrition different than other sports-nutrition companies?
I think that what makes Universal Nutrition different is the way we do business. When we look at consumers, we don’t see an open wallet. While of course profits are important, we know there has to be more to a transaction between a consumer and a brand then a simple “buy." That’s why we engage with consumers like no other company in our industry, in my opinion. That’s why we give back to consumers in several important ways.
For example, we have three very simple ideas with regards to the Animal brand: education, motivation, and inspiration. Everything we do, in every way that we touch the consumer, we need to either educate, motivate, or inspire them. Ideally, we do all three at once. We also strive to engage with consumers in different ways. When they call us, they can speak with our customer service team staffed by competitive athletes.We meet them at The Cage at the Arnold Classic. They talk to our sponsored athletes. Wherever we interact with them, we try to treat them like family. We don't put our athletes on a pedestal and say, "Wait in line for two hours then pay us 10 bucks to get an autograph." Our athletes and our staff are right there on the floor mingling with people.
If you look at our website and social media feeds, you'll see that we don't spend our time talking about why our supplements are so good. Good products should speak for themselves. Most of our YouTube videos aren't even about our products. We focus on educating people about how to lift correctly and on inspiring people through motivational videos.
Our content is created using the DNA of the brand—of the family that still owns and runs Universal Nutrition. Yes, we're a supplement company, but we want to do more than sell supplements. Our goal is to build a community, to create a brotherhood of like-minded individuals who see weightlifting as a way to grow, both physically and mentally. That's part of the language of the brand and we try hard to live by it.