Having acquired Naturade in 2012, Kareem Cook assumed the position of chief marketing officer within the company. Influenced by obesity, diabetes and heart disease in their own families, Cook and co-owner Claude Tellis have repositioned Naturade to address the diet related illnesses epidemic in underserved communities by providing “Whole Foods quality products to a Walmart consumer.” They have been profiled in Fast Company, Forbes, Ebony, Black Enterprise and many other publications for the work they are doing to address the health crisis.
Question: You took over Naturade in 2012. What led you to make that decision?
Answer: We felt the time had come to take action and we bought Naturade. The company had been around since 1926 and had a stellar history and brand within the health and wellness world. We thought we could take this amazing company and refocus it around clean, great tasting weight-loss and nutritional shakes. In 2012, for the first time in its 86-year history, Naturade became black-owned.
Question: You have a focus on diabetes and heart disease. Why is that?
Answer: Claude Tellis and I have known each other for 31 years. We met as students at Duke University. We both come from large families and back then we had long conversations questioning why everyone in our families seem to die from diet related illnesses, diabetes being the No. 1 cause. When we graduated from business school, we revisited our conversation from our Duke days and decided that we would dedicate our professional lives to addressing the crisis. In 2002, we founded Healthy Body Products. Through that company we played a major role in getting the law changed banning junk food in the Los Angeles public school system and were awarded the vending contract for all of the schools and YMCAs. We took out the sodas and junk food, and replaced them with water, juice and healthy snacks—all within the first two years of existence. Eight years later, we purchased Naturade. It is and has always been personal for us. We want to save the lives of the people we love and the people you love.
Question: How does your company address diabetes?
Answer: In 2012, the American Diabetes Association found that there were 86 million people who are pre-diabetic. We recently had a conversation with the current president who informed us that that number is at 130 million people in 2022. We talk to a consumer that has been largely ignored by most health and wellness companies. We are offering a way to lose weight and stay healthy by selling products that taste good and speak directly to them. If a company’s singular goal is to drive revenue, they sell their products to consumers looking for their product. In our industry, those are the people who are already healthy. We are going after consumers who may need to be convinced that they need to change their dietary habits in order to live longer, healthier lives. It’s more expensive to go after that consumer because it requires education and high marketing costs. A prime example is the Natural Products Expo West convention. About 90,000 people attend that show and there are dozens of companies that sell similar products there. The companies and people who attend that show are among the most health-conscious people on the planet. Conversely, The Essence festival happens every year and 550,000 people of color, mostly women, attend. These individuals index higher than average in diet related illnesses and we are the only company there educating and offering them our products as an option. That is the problem.
Question: What advice do you offer natural product retailers for addressing diabetes with their customers? How can they help?
Answer: Retailers should bring in products and companies that sell healthy products to consumers who don’t often shop at their stores but should. When people find out that Naturade is in stores, they will come in there to find us. They will also discover other products in the store and most likely learn from the experience.
Question: What’s next for Naturade?
Answer: In the last two years, the world saw exactly what we have been saying for decades. Most of the people who died from COVID were overweight and/or had pre-existing health issues, diabetes being a leading co-morbidity. Both me and Claude lost family members during the last two years due to COVID and it was their diabetes that was the underlying factor. Retailers opened the doors for us. We received distribution in Costco, Whole Foods and Target. Influential individuals like Magic Johnson and Grant Hill decided to invest in us, which has allowed us to amplify our message and reach more people. Expect Naturade to continue to grow and try to do great things in this world, while doing good business.