Throughout the centuries, garlic has been reliably used for a range of purposes – some no doubt effective, while others nothing short of dubious. In ancient times, it was believed widely to have magical powers, including scaring away vampires, enhancing love potions, and assisting with exorcisms; this odd little vegetable, rarely eaten on its own, has a very colourful reputation.

Today, garlic is judged more by science than superstition, and is recognised as one of the healthiest natural foods available. Rather than warding off vampires, it can be a deterrent to colds, urinary and chest infections, with Nutra-Life Kyolic aged garlic – a unique aged garlic specially cultivated in Southern California, particularly sought after for its life-enhancing qualities.

Ryan d’Almeida knows his nutrition

Ryan d’Almeida, the CEO of Vitaco Health – one of the largest natural health supplement and specialist food and sports nutrition manufacturers in Australasia – swears by it. “While it’s been proven to lower blood pressure and build up immunity, new research has revealed it can reverse heart disease,” Ryan explains. “When the calcium in arteries is in soft form, Kyolic has been proven to reduce it.

Ryan D’Almeida, CEO of Vitaco
Ryan D’Almeida, CEO of Vitaco

“Over the years, people are less and less happy about being prescribed statins from their doctor, so any natural alternative to taking prescription medicine to lower blood pressure is being received really well. Kyolic is a tremendous product and has been featured in more than 700 published papers in medical journals.”

Vitaco, the name derived from the Latin word vitalis meaning life, exports products to more than 30 countries, selling health supplements, sports nutrition and snacks in pharmacies, sports stores, supermarkets and gyms. Its household names include Nutra-Life, Balance Sports Nutrition, Aussie Bodies, Bodytrim, Abundant Earth, and Musashi, as well as Healtheries, which has been voted as New Zealand’s most-trusted vitamin brand for 11 years, and is more than 110 years old.

Ryan himself has been involved in the food and nutrition industry for two decades, starting his career with Retail Food Group Limited in Australia and the UK, before spending eight years with Weight Watchers in various senior marketing and business development roles across New Zealand and Australia. He joined Vitaco in 2009 as commercial general manager. After three years, he was appointed the company’s general manager for food and sport before being promoted to CEO in 2014.

Vitaco controls the product from start to finish

While Ryan is based in Sydney, Vitaco has three state-of-the art manufacturing sites in Auckland. Two are in East Tamaki, with one dedicated to the manufacture of tablets, powders and capsules, and the other producing protein bars. A third, in Avondale, is where the factory has end-to-end extraction and freeze-drying facilities for premium-grade green-lipped mussel harvested from the sparkling waters of New Zealand’s Coromandel coastline.

Fast facts:
Vitaco Health’s birth as a company in 2007 came from a merger of two Australasian health and wellness companies: Nutra-Life Health & Fitness, a leading supplement and sports nutrition manufacturer, and Healtheries of New Zealand, one of the country’s largest and oldest health food and supplement manufacturers, and one of New Zealand’s most trusted brands.

“Green-lipped mussel is a fantastic raw material that we actually primary produce ourselves by removing the shell via a centrifuge process; then we freeze-dry it and convert it into green-lipped mussel tablets and capsules. It’s perfect for the joints and is something we export all around the world, both for humans and also for animals.

“What differentiates us from a lot of our counterparts is that we’re a manufacturer,” Ryan explains. “Under our own roofs in New Zealand, we manufacture around 60 per cent of our revenue. In our East Tamaki factory where we produce our bars, we’ll make in the vicinity of 25 million bars this year, most going to the Australian market. On the tablet and capsule front, we produce about 600 million tablets and capsules a year.

“We carry out our own quality control, whereas many of our competitors use third-party manufacturers and are not in control of their own manufacturing process. We do it from start to finish, and we know that what we say is going into it is going into it. This is why we’re getting traction and doing well in China. We triple test everything, and that’s something that the Chinese in particular are very focused on.”

We do it from start to finish, and we know that what we say is going into it is going into it.

“Health and wellness is an enormous growth area”

Ryan sees China, the Middle East and the UK as principal areas of growth. The Australian market still produces the majority of revenue at 60%, New Zealand at around 25%, and China at 10 per cent. “We aim to get China up to 50% in revenue sales within four years. Our revenue in 2016 was about $225 million, and we want to grow that into a $500-million business, with half of that coming out of China,” Ryan says. “We have more than 400 staff across Australia and New Zealand, and we have opened an office in China with four people on the ground, but we expect that will grow to 10 by the end of the year.

“Our Aussie Bodies brand, which is the number one sports nutrition brand in Australia, has been a phenomenal success for us. At some point in the future, we will get it ready for the Chinese market. But at the moment, our focus for China is around both our Nutra-Life and our Healtheries brands.

“Health and wellness is an enormous growth area,” Ryan adds. “For all the reasons we know, people are more aware of their health and looking after themselves. They want to live longer, healthier lives and they want to be more active throughout them. To be able to contribute to that market and build healthy lives is really important to us.”