Going Mainstream

Nutritional supplements are now common household products, and Uckele Health & Nutrition plans to keep it that way

For more than fifty years, Uckele Health & Nutrition has been committed to the science of nutrition, formulating and manufacturing high-quality nutritional supplements for humans and animals. Chief executive officer Mike Uckele, whose grandfather founded the firm, shares where he hopes to take the business from here

Did you always know you would go into the family business?

Mike Uckele: My grandfather started the business in 1962, well before I was born, and growing up around the business I always knew I would enter it. The thought of doing anything else never even struck me as a possibility.

Was there something specific that appealed to you about nutrition?

Uckele: I’ve always liked the sciences, but I didn’t know I loved nutrition until after I got out of college and into the business. I began to understand why we were formulating products the way we did, and what the ramifications were of using a certain nutrient to prevent disease or improve health. I then realized the more I knew about nutrition above and beyond my competitors’ knowledge would put me in a better business situation. So I set out to learn as much as I could.

How have perceptions of nutrition changed over the course of your career?

Uckele: The industry has dramatically evolved over the past fifteen to twenty years. It used to be on the fringe, if you will. People who went to naturopathic physicians or chiropractors, or took supplements, were a little kooky. It’s mainstream now. I just got back from a functional medicine conference in San Francisco, and there was a room full of 1,500 doctors, all looking to be trained in the importance of nutrition—how eating right and supplementing properly can help achieve optimal health.

How has this informed your vision for the company?

Uckele: Our corporate vision is optimal health worldwide. Every facet of our business is predicated on how we instill optimal health in everyone we come in contact with—not just clients but suppliers, employees, and the community.

How does that vision translate into product offerings?

Uckele: It seems unlimited. There are nutritional components to health problems, whether you have cardiovascular health problems or arthritis or diabetes or allergies, and there are supplements that can be given to help improve those conditions. We look for those opportunities and have evolved accordingly over time. We’ve always been in the nutrition business, but initially developed supplements for production animals, mostly dairy and swine, some canine and equine as well. Today we make three primary lines, one for dogs, one for horses, and one for people. Within those lines, we have hundreds of products. In addition to our own brands, we also make products for about 100 other companies. And we do individualized nutritional consulting.

How do you get to the end users with your ideas?

Uckele: That’s where the real opportunities lie. There’s a big push toward functional medicine from the physician’s standpoint, such that in twenty-five years, I believe a majority of physicians in this country will be practicing functional medicine. With traditional medicine, the body is broken into different parts; diseases have one cause and one effect. If you’re a heart doctor, you only work on the heart. Functional medicine is a systemic approach where everything in the body is related.

If you look at the body as a whole, you can really put the pieces together. We’re not talking about a particular symptom or drug, but the upstream and downstream, certain nutritional deficiencies, and how we plug those holes. As we unfold these things, people will go to their physicians or specialized wellness centers and get some nutritional help.

Do you still enjoy working in a family business?

Uckele: There are tremendous challenges to being in a family business with multiple family members at the helm, but I’m not in that situation anymore. I worked for my dad and uncle until 2005, and then purchased the business from them. At this point I’m the sole owner and make all the calls.