Sydney mother Jane Meng has taken a science-based approach to nutrition saying it’s not only improved her family’s health but created a great business opportunity
8 December 2019 | Marcus Reubenstein
The rise of the imported supplements business in China should have taken nobody by surprise. An ever-expanding middle class and consumers obsessed with product origin, and quality, has proved a boom for foreign brands.
This boom has not only created opportunities for big manufacturers but for a myriad individuals and companies involved in the sales, distribution and marketing of healthcare, supplements and nutrition products into the world’s most populous market.
One of many who’s seized on that opportunity is Sydney mother of three Jane Meng. For the past two years she’s been taking, and selling, supplements made by US company USANA Health Sciences. The company has been trading in Australia since 1998, it’s listed on the New York Stock Exchange, has zero debt – almost unheard of for a listed US company – and last year posted US$1.189 billion in worldwide sales.
Founded in 1992 by billionaire scientist Dr. Myron Wentz who obtained his PhD in microbiology and immunology, USANA calls itself a business built on science. Its multi-level marketing business model promotes the science behind its products rather than relying on sponsorships, celebrity endorsements and mass market advertising.
Lots of brands little differentiation
Armed with an MBA from UTS and seven years of experience in accounting, in 2013 Jane Meng decided to open a shop in the inner western Sydney suburb of Burwood selling a range of well-known Australian nutrition and health-based brands.
“I was in the right industry and I was targeting the right consumers,” says Meng, “but I had the wrong products. I was selling mainly to the daigou market, who had many options for buying the products I was selling.”
So-called daigou are individuals who buy small quantities of retail products and ship direct to customers in China, who are usually friends and family members.
One of the things she noticed about the range of products she was selling is they all had one thing in common. As she says, “It was the brands I was selling that made me realise these companies were very similar. They were quality products, but their growth had come through their branding and marketing departments.”
While Meng was still operating her shop, one of her top selling brands, Swisse was sold by its Australian owners to Hong-Kong company Biostime for $1.67 billion.
The company had begun its life in the 1960s, eventually opening its first store in suburban Melbourne as a sideline business attached to an organic bakery owned by founder Kevin Ring. It took nearly thirty years for the company to develop and market its first flagship product “Swisse Women’s Ultivite”.
Its real growth began in the mid-2000s with the appointment of a new CEO who poured much of the company’s efforts into marketing. At one stage for every $1 spent on product ingredients Swisse was spending nearly $40 on marketing and sponsorships.
A science-based approach
With the pressures of a raising a young family, and managing a small business, taking a physical toll, Meng begun to research which supplements best suited her needs. To her surprise it was not one of the brands she was selling but USANA which proved the best fit.
“When I first encountered USANA, the whole sales approach was different. The associate who introduced me to the products was actually a doctor who is now with the company full-time.
“Even before recommending products she was able to explain the science of nutrition and supplements. To me this was more important than simply trusting a product because of its country of origin or famous brand ambassador,” says Meng.
She not only began using USANA’s range of supplements, her family and elderly parents also began supplementing their diets with, she says, great results. By that stage, she’d also decided to close down her shop in Sydney and at the beginning of 2018 she started as a USANA sales associate.
Born in Xi’an, China, Meng arrived in Sydney in 2003 with a degree in structural engineering and went on to study accounting and complete her MBA degree in 2006. It was her background in financial accounting that convinced her of the strength of the USANA business.
Says Meng, “USANA has no debt, it bought the land and building for its Australian health sciences centre with cash. The company has posted record sales every year for the past 18 years and because it is a New York listed company all its financial accounts are public.
“This says two things to me, first, financially this is a very well-managed company and second its growth is funded by product sales not debt. To achieve more than one billion US dollars in sales based on scientific research and personal recommendations, instead of advertising, told me this was a great product.”
An education in nutrition
Now approaching her third year as a sales associate with USANA, Meng’s network of customers and sales associates continues to grow, both in Australia and China. According to her, “The science-based approach really makes sense, because we educate people about nutrition first and then introduce them to the products that best suit their needs.
“Because I understand the science behind these health-based products I am confident to recommend them to anybody; most importantly, I trust USANA enough to give my children and my parents these supplements.”
The company does not sell through retail channels instead selling through more than 300,000 associates worldwide. As a multi-level marketing business, each associate must continue bringing on board associates and customers who are called preferred customers.
Most associates do not actively build a network and thus do not generate any significant income from USANA, however, its sales success indicates there is a substantial market for its products.
Positive reviews drive sales
The company’s associates point to a number of favorable product reviews which often rank USANA among the top supplements in the market. One of the United States’ most influential reviews, conducted by ConsumerLab.com, has named USANA as the best the vitamin and supplement brand in the direct sales category for the past six years.
USANA has also appeared numerous times on the popular Dr Oz television program, whose host Dr Mehmet Oz commercially endorses its products. At the beginning of this year his program began airing in Mainland China and Dr. Mehmet traveled to China with USANA to film a special episode that aired in February 2019.
The company says the Dr Oz partnership is a good fit because his endorsement comes from a clinical perspective. It’s also an endorsement coming from a source known, and trusted, by a growing number of Chinese consumers.
China is also a focus for Meng. “This market will continue to grow,” she says, “so there will be opportunities, for some time to come, for people to join USANA and build their own successful business network.”