Several significant events happened 25 years ago that forever changed our reality. In 1996, the first electric car and mobile flip phone were introduced.
That same year, Joe Zhou and Larry Kolb formed Technical Sourcing International (TSI), a global company that has pioneered supply chain integrity and purity standards in the dietary supplement industry, established the DHEA market, shaped the glucosamine/chondroitin category and created one of the first branded dietary supplement ingredients.
TSI is now driving innovation in emerging, trending, high consumer-need, global health categories such as muscle health and science- and evidence-based personalised nutrition.
TSI was established in both the US and China to supply quality certified, made-in-China ingredients to the US dietary supplement industry.
“The day TSI opened its doors was fortuitous. This was shortly after the DSHEA act had passed, setting the regulatory framework for the dietary supplement industry. We didn’t realise it at the time, but the entire industry was on the verge of explosive growth,” says Kolb.
A value-driven business model
In the beginning, TSI was sourcing ingredients and conducting third-party testing in China prior to shipping them into the US. It was a model that resonated with customers hungry for quality assurance.
“We saw tremendous growth and immediate profitability in those early years,” confirms Kolb. “In the early days, a lot of distributors weren’t focused on consistency or continuity in their supply chains. We were ahead of the game early on because, as a US citizen and a Chinese national, Joe created strong relationships and trust directly with the factories.”
Adds Zhou: “We helped manufacturers upgrade their quality systems. For example, we applied pharmaceutical-level standards to the sourcing and processing of ginkgo, one of our flagship ingredients that today is traceable from our own trees in China to the finished ingredient.”
Meanwhile, Kolb opened doors directly with brands like Weider and Natrol. “There were three closely connected links in our supply chain: manufacturer, TSI and the customer. In those days, it was quite an innovative business model. Adding analytical testing in our own labs was icing on the cake.”
By the late 1990s, TSI had appointed a UK distributor for the European market as well as an Australian distributor. The company also added sales and marketing offices in Tokyo, the United Kingdom and Australia. “That was the beginning of our global expansion,” recalls Zhou.
But that model still had its flaws. “Those days were extraordinarily challenging. Even though we were testing, we were the first to recognise that some adulterations got by us in the manufacturing phase,” says Zhou.
“That’s what ultimately drew us into manufacturing,” continues Kolb. “There were layers in the supply chain we didn’t control. How could we minimise the changing of hands in the supply chain and bring more consistency and transparency?"
“Our customers were calling for change. We needed to become a manufacturer allowing us to prevent problems and control quality. We needed to control the entire supply chain. We have always closely embraced what our customers want. And changing our business, almost at all cost, has been the underlying catalyst for all of our growth.”
TSI now operates three divisions: Innovative Products, BioActive Ingredients and Contract Manufacturing Services. The company supports product development and contract manufacturing for businesses of all sizes in Europe, Australia, the US and Asia.
“Had we just stayed a distributor, I don’t know that we would have survived. If we were to grow and bring value to our customers and shareholders, we had to take big, bold risks into infrastructure and manufacturing,” Kolb reflects.
Milestones in the joint, bone and now muscle health categories
Early on, TSI shaped its success with the launch of the new pro-hormone ingredient DHEA by licensing the rights to the synthetic DHEA process, and negotiated an exclusive supply with the one primary factory in China.
With strong relationships with US brands, TSI cornered the market on the very first production batches of DHEA. “That immediately put us on the map, soon after we opened our doors for business,” says Kolb. With the bone-health ingredient Ostivone, TSI also became one of the first suppliers to launch a branded ingredient. Actress Linda Evans was the spokesperson.
By 1997, TSI had also become the world’s largest exporter of joint health ingredients glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate from China, and remains the largest glucosamine exporter.
With its leadership in the skeletal muscle health categories established, the company is focusing on the muscle health market with its patented ingredient, myHMB, which is backed by more than 100 studies.
“Our innovations generated by our R&D are driving real value in terms of new market opportunities,” confirms Kolb. “myHMB is a highly beneficial ingredient that is meeting consumer needs. We’re educating and expanding the muscle health market by creating consumer awareness about the importance of maintaining muscle health beyond sports nutrition for the ageing consumer more than 40 years old.”
Healthy begins here
TSI Group’s new tagline, Healthy Begins Here, reinforces the company’s commitment to being at the starting point of market innovation trends. Now doing work in more than 34 countries, the company is continually adding to its innovation legacy.
“Throughout our history, TSI has proven that we can offer customers a turnkey solution that they can immediately launch to take advantage of the nutritional supplement market we’ve helped create,” states Kolb. “We’re setting ourselves apart way beyond price. We start by asking, “What does our customer really need for us to deliver? Quality is a given. What more can we do?”
The “what’s more” may once again have its roots in China, where TSI is heavily involved with the trend toward functional medicine supported by evidence-based nutritional science.
“We are actively involved with training healthcare professionals in personalised nutrition,” Zhou confirms. “The next wave will be for TSI to once again lead the industry in finding and developing science-based supplements to optimise the health of people worldwide.”