Walking through the 600,000-square-foot Optimum Nutrition factory in Downers Grove, Illinois is at least an intense sensory experience.
The huge scale of the object resembles the last scene from the Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the Ark of the Covenant is wrapped and placed among other shrink patterns. But with matching white lab coats, orange helmets and an all-pervading aroma of cocoa powder, I also felt like I had pulled the curtain back at Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. When we entered the adjoining room with smooth walls, where there were a lot of busy employees pouring ingredients into an industrial-sized funnel, into the mixing tank below, I almost expected August Fool himself to jam the pipe.
Despite all the nostalgia for pop culture, the immediate and lasting impression of visiting one of the largest sports nutrition companies in North America is how complicated and demanding the operation is to make the supplements that many of us are taking now. for granted. In an industry that has a reputation for being sometimes less strict, this was undoubtedly a serious business.
For several days, I was fortunate enough to be among a group of fitness insiders invited backstage to see how Bodybuilding.com's long-standing bestseller works. If you have ever had a scoop of Optimum Gold Standard Whey, AmiNO Energy or any of their other products, which are household names in the gym, here is the story behind them!
Consistency: New Quality
When the sports nutrition industry first began to gain momentum, what distinguished good companies and products from their not-so-good colleagues was not just taste, price, or even marketing. Most of all, it was a sequence. If at that time the community was as close as bodybuilders, then if the buyer unscrewed the lid to find lumpy powder or radically change his last purchase, rumors would quickly spread around the gyms. Today it is spreading faster than ever in the form of scandalous or enthusiastic online reviews.
That is why the Optimum Nutrition factory has about two dozen control points for quality control and consistency. Just when you think you saw the last person checking or testing a bottle of serum or before training, another comes. From testing each raw ingredient when it first arrives at the facility, to x-raying the bottles with caps on the final production line, to make sure the scoop is upstairs – yes, they know that you hate to fish for this plastic scoop – this the company does everything in its power to make sure that each bottle exactly meets the customer's expectations.
“The word“ quality ”has begun to lose its relevance in recent years,” says Mark Gooch, Director of Operations and our guide on this tour.
It's not that quality is not important – of course it is, and Gutz says that in search of ever higher quality Optimum Nutrition refuses more raw protein each year than its closest competitor sells. But he rightly points out that everyone claims to have the “highest quality product” or “the highest quality ingredients”. New accent? Coherence.
And here's why: more than ever, consumers realize that a single protein shake – no matter how good or tasty it is – will not lead them to their goals. The same goes for one meal, one workout – just one thing. And only after several months of careful eating, training and other support all together, you look in the mirror and understand that you have seriously changed.
Customers need to know what they get, not only in one jug of whey, but in each jug. Loyalty, not individual purchases, is what drives a company. And concentrating on consistency, says Gutz, Optimum Nutrition ensures that when you buy a bottle of Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard whey, you know exactly what you get again and again.
Changes over time
The Optimum Nutrition origin story is familiar to anyone who has ever opened a supplement container, felt disappointed, and wondered if they could have done better. Fed up with the lack of consistency and, of course, the quality of sports nutrition in the mid-80s, athletes brothers Mike and Tony Costello decided to do something about it: create their own company.
Thanks to word of mouth inspiration, Costello's young healthcare distributors have grown rapidly and become a global company. Today it covers not only the most recognizable brand of protein on the planet, Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard, but also several recognizable brands under one roof.
They have also come out of strictly bodybuilding supplements and now boast a huge assortment of products created to meet the health needs of each type of athlete or consumer.
“Our consumers are no longer just looking for good quality protein powder and don’t spend all their time lifting weights in the gym,” explains Sarah Titer, brand director at Optimum Nutrition.
She notes that over the past few years, weight lifting has become no longer an end in itself, but a means of supporting other activities and goals in the lives of their clients. Of course, there is an eternal call for building muscle and getting rid of fat, but today people who visit the gym are doing more than ever before and are taking more supplements to help them do this.
“This is no longer just“ building muscle, ”says Titer. “It's about rebuilding, repairing and rebuilding.”
Outside the shaker
Just as the definition of suitability has changed, protein powder is no longer sent to the shaker cup. It appears in latte, cookies, bread, and even donuts.
As Titer explains: “An ordinary consumer knows that the fitness industry has known for decades: we can all use more protein.”
Much of the recent expansion of Optimum products has been to create new, simple ways to get this protein. On the top floor of a sparkling glass building overlooking the tree tops of a nearby nature reserve, our ON owners laid out a buffet of their latest ready-to-eat foods and fitness supplements on the go, each of which was designed to make the transition from the gym to life easier.
Some include protein cake bites, protein wafers, protein almonds, and even whey protein isolate protein – seriously! There are also their incredibly tasty, gently flavored protein bites of nature, or at least until I tried to bring all the equipment home in my hand luggage (sorry, sorry.)
All these products are designed taking into account the fact that health and fitness should not only be in the gym, and protein – not only from the shaker.
“We set strict macronutrient and calorie guidelines for our products to use the best possible ingredients,” explains Andrew Lynch, vice president of research and development. “We continue testing and development until we get a final product that meets these standards, but still tastes great – we never want to sacrifice taste.”
Each of these new products has its own unique challenges in terms of nutrition, texture and shelf life. These issues are the responsibility of employees such as Matt Wengerhoff, Product and Innovation Technologist at Optimum Basement Laboratory.
“We use different methods to develop the best texture, miscibility, and taste for each of our products,” Wengerhoff said during a tour of the lab. “We test and re-test each product to ensure that it can withstand any conditions without loss of integrity, effectiveness or taste.”
Did you leave your pre-workout in your car in July? Did you deliver the package when you were out of town and you had to cross your fingers and hope that the humidity would not ruin it? The Wengerhoff team is responsible for ensuring that your product remains stable and efficient, no matter what. They still haven’t received a scoop that will magically float forever on top of protein powder, but I was told that they are working on it.
Proven number one
ON recognizes that the fitness industry is constantly changing, but has never been satisfied with the whims of the industry. As an industry leader, ON has always been the first to innovate and set positive trends in additive testing and top-down manufacturing.
And yet, like a proud parent, against the backdrop of all these innovations are proven products that have been known and loved by lifters for a long time: Gold Standard Whey, AmiNO Energy, Gold Standard Casein and Serious Mass and others. These are the first products that many athletes try, and for many of us they remain our favorites. Example: Optimum Gold Standard Whey was the best-selling product on Bodybuilding.com when I first started working here almost ten years ago, and it still is.
Want to know why people like it? On Bodybuilding.com alone, you'll find more than 9,000 reviews detailing, and thousands more for each of these other leading products. No other brand can claim the same level of long-term commitment on the part of its users, so ON recently launched a new marketing campaign based on one word: “verified”.
The executives I spoke to said their word choice was about reducing the noise of a noisy supplement market. "Proven" does not mean convincing you to take a one-time shot or shout out the same message as everyone else. It is about reminding customers of the quality and consistency that brought this company to the top of the industry and kept them there for decades.