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VALLEY BUSINESS | VITAMIN MAKERS: IN NEED OF PEP?

Super-Food for Dogs Makes Owners Sit Up and Take Notice

Health: Robert Collett started the company as a line of nutritional supplements for the family pet. It has evolved into products for their masters as well. Now the plan is to combat specific ailments in both.

September 26, 2000|KATHLEEN O'STEEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

VALENCIA — There was a time when a cup of kibble and a can of dog food were all that people thought a dog needed for a complete diet.

Although that's often still the case, a growing contingent of pet lovers feels that Fido needs to get in on the trend of super-foods.

That desire has helped fuel the bottom line of Designing Health, a Valencia-based company started in 1992 by a veterinarian.

The company, founded in the Sylmar garage of Robert Collett with an initial investment of about $200,000, has grown to nearly $5 million a year in sales of nutritional supplements for people and animals.

The company's first product, a powdered nutritional supplement for dogs called the Missing Link, has become so popular that it's made Dog World magazine's list of prominent products.

"Dog supplements are a growing field," said Jason Stipp, associate editor of Dog World, "and so we're doing a roundup of notable products for our December issue. We don't do any scientific testing, but we basically take them out for a test run. The Missing Link has promising results."

The results have included healthier skin and coat and a higher level of energy.

The idea for the product came about after Collett, who had been practicing veterinary medicine for nearly 23 years, began noticing that younger dogs were increasingly falling victim to the ailments of old age.

"I was seeing lots of problems with dogs suffering from diabetes, arthritis, skin diseases, autoimmune problems," said Collett, company president. "Everything that ends in an -itis, which means inflammation."

"He thought the problems might be connected to their diet," said Bernard Collett, Robert's brother and chief executive of Designing Health.

So the Colletts--Bernard has a doctorate in natural resource science--put their heads together with nutritionists and started devising a whole-food concentrate, one that is sparingly processed, which addresses things dogs need such as essential fatty acids, including the Omega 3 fatty acid.

"I had been doing a lot of reading because I, myself, was suffering from diabetes," Robert Collett said. "And I got riveted on the essential fatty acids. I didn't know they would help the body stop inflammation."

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In 1994, the company's first year of sales, it sold a little under $300,000. But that figure, according to Bernard Collett, more than tripled the next year, to $980,000.

"But to keep it functioning in those early days, my brother had to invest several hundreds of thousands of dollars," he said. "You just have to have that capital until you make it around the big curve."

In the intervening years, the company went on to create nutritional supplements for cats, then horses and, most recently, birds. And pet-store shelves soon became full of other brands, as well.

"What we've started to realize over the years is that animals' diets are pretty good. The general level of nutrition is certainly better than it was years ago," notes Martin Glinsky, an animal nutritionist and supplement manufacturer who acts as a consultant for Petco, one of the stores that sells Missing Link. "So that while most of the time supplementation may or may not be needed, when an animal is under stress--perhaps they jog with their master, the family is moving, there's a new baby or a new pet in the house--they might respond to supplementation."

In 1996, Designing Health took its second big step--coming up with a formula for humans, marketed under the Master Nutrient brand.

"All of our ingredients are of the highest human food grade," Bernard Collett said. "When people began to understand this, as they were buying the supplement for their dogs, we found out that they were taking the supplements themselves. That was the genesis for the Master Nutrient line."

The all-vegetarian powdered supplement is processed in a patented cold-processing operation that keeps the ingredients from disintegrating from the ravages of light, heat or oxygen. The company is about to release its second line of human supplements, called the Omega Blast, which it is billing as a meal replacement product--something mixed in a glass of milk or water that is convenient and healthy. According to the company's chief technical officer, Sonja Slavic, a nutritionist, it offers 1,200 mg of the essential fatty acid Omega 3 and 18 grams of soy. The flavors include chocolate, berry and vanilla nut.

"What we've been trying to do is carry the relatively rare and fragile Omega 3 acid in a food supplement," Bernard Collett said. "It's something people have to have."

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