From A Third-Gen Past To A Next-Gen Future

From a family with three generations in the nutritional business, Lanco President Scott Slade brings next-gen innovation to the promotional products industry.

From the time he was a young boy, Scott Slade was surrounded by people who knew the nutritional supplements business. You might say it’s in his blood. “My family has been in the vitamin business for three generations,” says Slade, who today serves as president of industry supplier Lanco Corporation. “My grandfather started a vitamin company back in the 1960s, and then my father started his own vitamin business.”

By 1998, his father’s nutritional supplements business had merged with Nature’s Bounty, which was was later acquired by Carlisle Group. Today, the vitamin purveyor manufactures supplements that are sold under multiple brand names across the nation and abroad in chain stores such as CVS and Target.

After Slade graduated with a degree in psychology from Syracuse University, he joined his family members at NBTY, where he learned the ropes and climbed the ladder. By 2005, he had been named senior vice president over all active nutrition and contract manufacturing. At the time, the division he was overseeing was the chief product manufacturer for direct-selling giant Herbalife and also formulated its own brands such as Met-Rx and Pure Protein.

A Tale Of Two Industries

As NBTY grew larger and more complex, Slade found himself hungering for an opportunity with a bit more of an entrepreneurial spirit. So he went back to what he knew best—the health and wellness industry—and developed a line of anti-aging skincare products. After several years, however, the promotional products industry caught his eye.

“When I was in the health industry, I had bought promotional products as an end user,” Slade explains. “So I knew what that world was about from the outside. After the economy dropped in 2008, I saw that the promotional products industry was going to grow and come back—because everybody needs promotional products.”

In 2011, Slade invested in Lanco as the majority shareholder and worked his way into the corner office. Slade says there are parallels between the health and wellness industry of his past and the promotional products industry of his present and future. “Even in the supplement business, we were still a manufacturer,” he says. “There are consistencies between what we manufactured there and here at Lanco.”

Based in Long Island, New York, Lanco Corporation was founded in 1985 with the acquisition of a small company that manufactured chocolate confectionary molds. Since Slade took the helm six years ago, he has led the charge for Lanco, initiating a great deal of growth and change for the company.

By 2015, Lanco had outgrown its old office space and decided to custom-build new office headquarters with state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities. The move enabled Lanco to create, from the ground up, a 75,000-square-foot space “that suited both sides of the business,” Slade says. Food products are on one end, while the health and body products—plus the print shop—are at the other end, he explains.

“Since we are an FDA-approved food facility, we had to make sure we built the space to be compliant with strict regulations,” Slade says. “We have FDA attorneys who give us guidance and alert us to any changes in regulations. It takes a lot of time and effort, because for every request for information, you’re educating somebody along the way, whether that’s the distributor or their end-user customer.”

Because the cost of labor is high in the New York City area, Lanco has adapted accordingly, evolving into a hard-pressed diamond of a company with a laser-like focus on efficiency. “Technology has become much more of our DNA,” Slade says. “Also, we’ve really changed our culture since we moved to the new building. Now if someone sees something wrong, they don’t just fix that one problem; they change the process.”

An Industry Ripe For Change

As a large industry supplier, Lanco focuses on three main categories: Food products, including chocolate (30 percent); health and beauty items such as lip balm and hand sanitizer (20 percent); and hard goods, which include everything from microfiber screen cleaners to gift bags, as well as a sophisticated print shop (50 percent).

“What’s growing most for us now are our microfiber screen-cleaning cloths and other technology-related products,” he says. “Also, sunscreen with SPF protection is doing very well due to awareness about skin cancer, along with our custom-molded chocolates during fourth quarter.”

Slade believes the promotional products industry is ripe for change and expansion. “It’s a mature industry, and there hasn’t been real innovation in it for a while,” he says. “Trends come and go, yes. But the whole industry is different now. We have to look outside the box to find new opportunities to grow. It’s a hard game just taking market share from each other. Why not create a new market altogether?”

Innovation On The Horizon

Slade sees a wide-open market of opportunity for the promotional products industry that links to the nutritional supplements business from which he hailed. “There are some very interesting things on the horizon that kind of go back to my vitamin days,” Slade says. “I see a big opportunity ahead for nutritional supplements in the promotional products industry. It’s a proven fact that if employees take vitamins, they have fewer sick days and they’re more productive.”

Health problems are a major drain on the economy, resulting in 69 million workers reporting missed days due to illness each year, and reducing economic output by $260 billion per year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The CDC says that increasing the use of proven preventive services can encourage greater workplace productivity.

“Corporate wellness programs are something we as an industry should target,” Slade says. “I think companies will get behind the corporate wellness focus when we provide them with the data that shows what it can do for companies whose employees are taking supplements.”

Slade remembers when his family first got into the nutritional supplements business. “It was a niche thing back then,” he recalls. “Now it’s so accepted. The next time you’re at CVS, notice how many extra shelves are dedicated to vitamins and supplements. It’s much more than it was 10 or 20 years ago. Vitamins are mainstream now.”

The global dietary supplements market is expected to reach $278.02 billion by 2024, according to a 2016 report by San Francisco-based market research firm Grand View Research, Inc. The report also indicates that “rising consumption of clinical nutrition products as a prevention medium” is expected to have a substantial impact. Slade sees an opportunity to bring the nutritional supplements’s growth to the promotional products industry, for exciting possibilities.

“Nobody is really doing that in our industry,” Slade says. “It’s something that Lanco is in the process of working on right now, and we’re going to launch pretty soon. It’s an opportunity that has never been tapped before, and I think it could really explode.”

Brittany Glenn is a Dallas, Texas-based

freelance writer and a former PPB associate editor.