When Dan Richard’s late father, Elwood, started NOW Foods five decades ago, health food and nutritional supplements were in their infancy.

The family has grown the company globally to become the largest employer in Bloomingdale and biggest manufacturer in DuPage County. The business that started small has grown into a well-known natural products manufacturer with distribution in more than 60 countries offering more than 1,400 products from functional foods and supplements to sports nutrition and beauty products, as well as essential oils.

“We only make products we feel good about giving to our own families, so we know the products we bring to market meet our high standards,” said Dan Richard, vice president of global sales and marketing. The company has seen 32 years of consecutive growth and double-digit growth the past seven years.

Dan, the family owner of the company, said his father, who died of cancer about a year ago, inherited a soy powder business in 1960. Elwood had earned Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Monmouth University and graduate studies in physical chemistry and biochemistry at Indiana University.

He had a vision and strategy to grow the company. In 1962, the chemist opened his first natural health food store, the Health House, and today the suburban retail chain, renamed The Fruitful Yield, operates 13 stores. They are in South Elgin, Schaumburg, Lombard, LaGrange Park, Batavia, Bloomingdale, Darien, Elmhurst, Elmwood Park, Joliet, Oswego and two in Naperville.

Early innovation

In the early years of running the store, Elwood saw he was losing customers to a local supermarket due to the high cost of his products. He realized that in order for his health food stores to survive and thrive they needed to offer affordable natural products. Healthy foods wouldn’t last if no one could afford them.

So he started his own natural products manufacturing company to supply his stores, which afforded him complete control over product cost and quality. NOW Foods was born in 1968 in Melrose Park.

Over the years, the business expanded, acquired other companies and relocated to Villa Park and Glendale Heights before moving to its current location in Bloomingdale.

During the growth mode, natural products have become more mainstream and there is now a great deal of science behind the products that NOW makes.

Jim Emme joined the management team at NOW in 1995. Now CEO, he credits Elwood for creating a vision and an atmosphere at the company that he could not pass up.

“I instantly saw there was a good vibe here,” he recalls before he took a leadership role.

“Elwood’s vision and culture is still here,” Emme, of Bloomingdale, said. “It’s all about treating people with respect.”

Shocking growth

Dan Richard, who holds memories of growing up in the business and assisting in the packaging, says at times the growth seems “shocking” to him.

When he joined the company in 1985, sales were just under $1 million. The company’s sales are now more than half a billion dollars. The company, that has a division in Canada, is science based and products are thoroughly tested. Richard said the firm conducts more than 16,000 tests each month on raw materials and finished products in their state-of-the-art lab complex. He added that they have about 150 employees in their quality department as their products are regulated and highly governed.

Overall, the company has close to 1,600 employees in North America with about 900 people working in Bloomingdale and another 200 people in a new distribution center that opened last year in Roselle.

The company sells its products to grocery chains, online and in health food stores in more than 60 countries.

The largest growth segment is international sales, said Richard, 55. “We are seeing the fastest growth in the Arab countries,” he said, adding that there is a bright future in Web sales as well.

The business leaders give regular tours of the company to show consumers what they do.

To celebrate five decades, the company has launched the “Celebrate NOW” instant win game where consumers have a chance to win 50 $10,000 prizes. NOW is producing 1 million supplement bottles across 50 products with special gold caps. If consumers find a golden ticket inside one of these gold cap bottles, they instantly win $10,000.

Dan says the philosophy of offering customers the best prices is still key, as it was when his father started 50 years ago. “Health and wellness shouldn’t have a high price tag, and we’re doing what we do because we’re passionate about making good or better health a goal anyone can achieve,” he said.