Inside This Issue - News
Supplements pioneer begins next chapter
August 20th, 2012
LOS ANGELES – Over the course of a career that spanned 46 years, David Brubaker can rightly claim to have participated in the creation and development of the modern nutritional supplements industry.
The University of Southern California graduate, who most recently was chief executive officer as well as cofounder of NutraGenetics LLC, retired at the end of June.
However, Brubaker remains deeply and passionately involved in the industry, as he expands his activities with Vitamin Angels and Operation USA, two philanthropic organizations that are providing nutritional assistance to children around the world.
After completing his graduate degree at USC in the late 1960s, Brubaker joined Bergen Brunswig Drug Co. and became brand manager of the company’s Health Rite vitamin line — the first line of natural vitamins to hit chain drug store shelves. It was not that job that sparked his passion for the nutrition field, though, but rather meeting Nobel prize–winning chemist Linus Pauling, author of the best-selling Vitamin C and the Common Cold.
“I realized there was a lot of good science on nutrition that was not being told,” recalls Brubaker, who still has an autographed copy of Pauling’s revolutionary book. “I became fascinated with learning more about how to maintain health through nutrition.”
In 1973 Brubaker’s career took off when he was recruited, at the age of 28, by P. Leiner & Sons, a Welsh gelatin manufacturer, to start up a United States subsidiary to produce vitamin soft-gel capsules. Brubaker was the very first employee of Leiner Health Products, and he led it, in partnership with Michael Leiner, son of the parent company’s founder, from its founding until 1997.
During that span the company’s sales skyrocketed from $3 million to more than $500 million. Leiner owed its success to being consistently ahead of the curve, often, in fact, leading the industry into its own future.
"We took the approach that we would produce vitamins to O-T-C drug specifications," says Brubaker. "We were the first to move to a USP manufacturing premise, even though it cost more to manufacture to those quality standards."
The move was a resounding success because having the best possible quality private label vitamins was just as important as low cost to the major chains. By the end of the 1980s Leiner’s products were in more than 50,000 food, drug and discount stores.
Leiner also led the industry, even before the enactment of DSHEA in 1994, in disseminating nutritional information on its products. "We made nutritional benefit statements — without making therapeutic drug claims," Brubaker recalls. "We were also the first company to develop a nutrition hotline, and we provided point-of-purchase information that explained the benefits of different vitamins."
By 1997 Leiner’s success had carried it well beyond the entrepreneurial stage, and Brubaker left to blaze new trails. The same year he founded Feeling Fine Co. with Dr. Art Ulene, the first physician he had met who was passionate about the value of supplementing the American diet.
His dedication to science-based nutrition, which had propelled the growth of Leiner, led Brubaker in 2003 to found NutraGenetics, where he has partnered with two notable scientists, president and chief science officer Andrew Myers and chairman Lou Ignarro, winner of the Nobel Prize in medicine for his discovery of the health benefits of nitric oxide.
In the course of his career Brubaker has been inspired by several people. Meeting Sam Walton in the late 1970s and hearing his enduring message about listening to the consumer, he says, was what led Leiner to discover through focus groups that shoppers wanted sound nutritional information and that the vitamin category was beset by confusion and misinformation.
The power of vitamins to do good on a massive scale was illuminated for Brubaker in the 1970s, when he learned that more than 500,000 children went blind every year due to xerophthalmia, a vitamin A deficiency. "We saw an opportunity at Leiner to manufacture vitamin A and donate it to UNICEF and other agencies that could distribute it," he says. "A pill that cost 10 cents to make could keep a child from going blind. We also partnered with Operation USA to get vitamins to their clinics in the field, and I’m still on their board of directors."
About five years ago Brubaker met Howard Schiffer, founder of Vitamin Angels, a rapidly growing and professionally managed philanthropic group that is making an enormous impact around the world distributing vitamins to children and expectant mothers.
"I was so impressed that I volunteered to be on the board of advisors, and I plan to get more involved, now that I have more time to focus on being significant, rather than successful," Brubaker says. "I’m still in the vitamin industry, but now I’m focusing on how we can give them away to those who drastically need them, and I’m bringing my entrepreneurial spirit and skills to help make a difference."