Monday, April 23, 2007

Seeking Supplemental Success

Seeking Supplemental Success
Local Firm Hopes to Carve Niche in Health Product Market
By John Ireland/Business Writer

Syntec Nutraceuticals president Joe Wang, project manager Billy Yeh and I.T. manager Yevgeniy Adikanis inside the firm's Vacaville office. (Brad Zweerink/The Reporter)

Visions can be born in the strangest of places, in the wildest of environments. And they don't come much wilder or more desolate than the Tibetan Plateau, the high-altitude steppe in East Asia that covers most of Tibet as well as China's Qinghai province.

It was to this bleak landscape, surrounded by saw-toothed mountain ranges and brackish lakes, that Edward Yeh and Joseph Wang traveled to research the konjac, truly one of the world's ugliest plants. The exterior of the konjac resembles snakeskin, and the plant produces a flower so evil-smelling that bees shun it, leaving flies to do the dirty work of pollination.

But the konjac also produces a large, beet-like tuberous root that the natives of the plateau have long recognized for its ability to help maintain healthy intestinal functions.

It was this health component that Yeh and Wang say motivated them to fly halfway across the world, from Vacaville to an area commonly referred to as "the roof of the world."

The two men were also in search of a new business venture, having built their Vacaville-based company, Synder Filtration, from a 13,000-square-foot operation in 1994 to where it's now a major supplier of membranes for paint recovery to the automotive industry.

Having successfully produced an industrial project, Yeh and Wang desired to turn their focus to a consumer product. Careful research revealed the growth potential in the area of health supplement products.

Members of the baby boomer generation - those born between 1946 and 1964 - are growing old, and they don't particularly relish the idea. They also have the disposable income needed to do something about it, whether it be plastic surgery or Botox injections or health supplements.

"The whole mentality of the population toward health supplements has changed," Yeh said. "Twenty years ago, people talked about them, but that was it. Now people are talking about this formulation for joints, and that formulation for your prostate. The mentality of society is that it now accepts that certain food ingredients have a health benefit."

And so Yeh and Wang formed Syntec Nutraceuticals. Along with appealing to their business sense, the idea behind the company also played to their professional strengths - Yeh is a biologist, while Wang has a PhD in chemistry.

They picked up a former cheese factory in Wisconsin for a song, scoured the world for the plant-based ingredients they needed, combined them in a process that only fellow scientists can comprehend, and then turned to an L.A.-based market research company to help devise a sales plan.

The result of that brainstorming was the idea of going the direct-marketing route, a selling technique that has worked wonders for a little company you might have heard of called Amway.

Syntec started selling its product on Sept.1, 2006, and Yeh, who is the company's CEO, admitted to being amazed by how quickly the product has moved.

"Every month, (the income) is going up," he said. "We are fascinated about this whole thing. This is not like an industrial product that takes forever (to build a market). With this, it's a brave new world."

Because you can't swing a Birkenstock in a health and diet food retailer without hitting dozens of supplements that promise to deliver a healthier, more active you, the founders of Syntec knew that they needed to be different in order to catch consumers' attention.

One of their innovations is the actual form of the product. Instead of a capsule or tablet or pill, which are not always absorbed by the human digestive system, Syntec's supplements come in pouches as a powder that you mix with water.

"We have one of the most expensive delivery systems in the marketplace, and one of the most unique," said Billy Yeh, Syntec's project manager. "A health supplement is only as good as the body's ability to use it."

And a health supplement's profit may be only as good as its hype. That's another area where Syntec has taken a different approach.

"A lot of companies promise specific results within a given period of time," said Billy Yeh. "We try to take a more truthful approach to things. We promote a healthy lifestyle in general."

"There is no guarantee of who is going to see more or less of what," said Edward Yeh. "We never tell people this is going to work for you. We tell them: You know your body better than anybody else."

The Syntec lineup currently includes a multivitamin supplement, a plant-based antioxidant formula, a product that promotes general health by supporting a healthy gastro-intestinal tract, a supplement designed to boost mental acuity, and another - the one containing konjoc - which cleanses the body of all the nasties that can lead to weight gain.

An impressive lineup indeed, but there is always room for more product. Whispers of a desert plant in South Africa that helps reduce weight in the native population has Edward Yeh reaching for his travel agent's phone number.

"We've read about it," he said, "and now we want to go there and take a look."

For more information about Syntec Nutraceuticals, visit

John Ireland can be contacted at

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