By JASON SUBIK
AMSTERDAM – Freddy Luna has a dream: to provide custom blend vitamin supplementation to help fight malnutrition around the world.
“I have found my purpose in life and the mission behind this is to do God’s will. I want to fight malnutrition around the world. We’ve got people in Africa dying from the lack of iodine. We’ve got birth defects in South America from the lack of folic acid. We’ve got millions of kids dying, in India for example from the lack of B vitamins,” Luna said.
Luna, a Mexican immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1988 and became a citizen in 2000, created his company Vida-Blend Inc. in 2010 after having worked at a major Capital Region area vitamin fortification company for almost 20 years. Luna said he had studied chemistry in Mexico and then worked his way up from a low level employee at his previous employer to a production manager, and learned the many complexities of the vitamin fortification business.
Vida-Blend creates custom-made pre-mixed vitamin powders for food companies, so they can add nutrition to their products.
“Lets say for example there is a big company that makes cereals and what they are doing right now is they put into their cereal -their oatmeal, whatever – they are adding all these powders with folic acid, B1, B2, B3, B5, B12. Now that’s a lot of work and also it opens up the opportunity for production mistakes,” Luna said. “So, what I do is I go to them and I say ‘you don’t have to do all that. Leave the vitamins and minerals to me. I’ve been doing this for 20 years.’ Now with them going with me they don’t have to outsource 20 something different vitamins from different suppliers. They won’t have to keep records of those different ingredients. They can get everything they want in one premix I make for them. Every food that is for human consumption, that could be fortified. In this industry, everyone is my customer. If you eat cereal in the morning, you’re my customer, if you drink a sports drink, you are my customer.”
Luna said over the course of his last eight years at his former job he realized his employer had many large company customers, but a smaller, leaner more focused company could better service mid-sized companies, such as convenience store chains that make private-label products or niche food manufacturers like baby-food makers. He said at his old company an order for a smaller firm might be delayed by three months, where his growing company can now turn around a similar sized order in a matter of weeks.
But starting the business was not easy.
“I had the dream. I knew I could do it, but I didn’t have any money,” he said.
Luna said he eventually found investors to help put together the $750,000 he needed to buy equipment and rent his location on Route 5S, but he then ran immediately into a major problem. He said when he started out it could take as long as two years for his company to establish a customer relationship with due to the many safety and quality inspections that need to be made first.
He said he had to refinance his operation with a silent partner, a family member, which enabled him to survive the difficult first two years as an independent entrepreneur.
“It was tough, but we got through it,” he said.
Company officials estimated revenues grew at the firm grew by 100 percent from 2013 to 2014 and then by 50 percent from 2014 to 2015 and are on track for at least 30 percent growth this year.
“The finances are now going good. Things are getting more comfortable,” Vida-Blend CFO Joseph Olbrych said.
Vida-Blend recently achieved the Food Safety System certification 22000, which is a globally recognized safety standard that helps the company gain new customers faster because most companies trust the certification.
Luna said since he started Vida-Blend he has increased his employees from two to 18 and he foresees employment growing to 65 within five years. He said he would also like to build a custom manufacturing facility and expand with other locations outside of the area. He said his business is only scratching the surface of the potential market for vitamin fortification of mid-size companies. Luna said his religion is a driving force in his life, which includes a family with four children, a son at West Point Academy, a daughter finishing up her National Guard commitment and planning on attending Siena College as well as twin 11-year olds enrolled at Mekeel Christian Academy. He said in addition to his private company he has also created a private non-profit that will, provided his company grows enough, eventually help provide nutritional fortification around the world. He said within 20 years he hopes Vida-Blend will be worth $1 billion.
“Then we’re going to go these countries and say ‘we’re going to fortify your flour, we’re going to fortify your bread, we’re going to fortify your rice, your beans at cost or no cost, depending on where we are at that time, just to help with malnutrition. The real thing behind all of this to help people and to get the word out that God is real and that Jesus loves them.”