Thorne Research, a Bonner County, Idaho, nutritional supplement manufacturer, is moving to expanded facilities to keep pace with continued rapid growth.
Since opening an 18,000-square-foot production facility about a mile east of Sandpoint in 1990, Thorne has quadrupled the size of its staff and expanded its product line from just a few supplements to more than 200.
By year end, the company will move to a new location now in the final stages of construction in Dover.
This time, CEO Al Czap has planned ahead for more expansion. The 58,000-square-foot building was designed with oversized footings for expansion up to 80,000 square feet.
“When we moved here, we thought we had a small, mom and pop operation that would last eight to 10 years before we had to put in an addition,” said Czap, who formed Thorne Research in 1984 and relocated to North Idaho from Seattle six years later. “It started growing at a phenomenal rate. I have no more production capacity; I have no more office space.
“We turn down opportunities every week because I don’t have capacity,” he added. “My European distributors want us to expand over there, but I told them we can’t do it until we have more room.”
Products sold under the Thorne label are formulated for customers with the most severe allergies. Typically, they can’t take supplements containing any binders, fillers, preservatives or flowing agents. Even the capsules are specially produced to avoid allergic reactions. That specific clientele is served through a channel of preventive health practitioners and pharmacies.
Increased demand for nutritional supplements has fueled Thorne’s annual sales growth at an average of 30 percent for the past six years. Beyond that, consumer awareness about hypoallergenic products has introduced the line of supplements to a wider audience.
“The end consumer base has vastly broadened, but the channel to them has stayed the same,” Czap said.
The pipeline of physicians and pharmacists is appropriate given Czap’s passion for medical journals, reports and product studies. Ask him what drives company growth and he becomes a wellspring of nutritional information, shuffling through piles of articles and periodicals to prove his point.
“Here’s why my business is expanding,” Czap said, brandishing a folded newspaper. “It says here that the New England Journal of Medicine just realized that stick margarine is bad for you. I’m sorry, but the doctors I’ve been working with have been saying that for years.”
Part industry watchdog, part innovator, Czap also publishes the Alternative Medicine Review. Edited by his wife, Kelly, the review publishes articles and abstracts submitted by the medical community.
The articles bear arcane titles like “The Pathogenesis, Clinical Implications and Treatment of Intestinal Hyperpermeability” and “Nutrition and Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus from an Anthropological Perspective.”
But unlike many medical journals, the publication is not supported by advertising - hence the name “alternative.” Nor does it have a direct impact on Thorne’s sales, according to Czap.
“Net to me? Zero,” he said. “It’s a credibility issue.”
When the move to Dover is complete, Thorne Research will add new hires to its current staff of 55 employees. Packing and labeling will be automated, speeding up a manufacturing and “encapsulating” process that already is partially mechanized, Czap said.
With more equipment in a bigger setting, Czap predicts annual sales growth could top 40 to 50 percent.
“We could introduce 10 new products right now, but we don’t dare,” he said. “We’re running two shifts and just barely treading water.”
Czap added: “There’s nothing worse than a company that grows so fast it’s constantly out begging for money. Our benchmark is steady, not uncontrolled, growth.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
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