One of the unexpected knock-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic was a worldwide embrace of fitness. Lockdowns and social restrictions made it hard to enjoy as much active time as had previously been possible.
Instead of sitting around living off takeaway food and waiting for things to change, however, many people took their fitness and nutrition into their own hands.
The winners weren’t just those who got lockdown-fit; health food, nutrition and supplement companies experienced an unprecedented boom.
“We saw phenomenal growth,” reveals Peter Hurley, General Manager and Director ANZ of Herbalife Nutrition. “We grew extraordinarily. It’s one of those phenomenons you probably won’t see again, but we saw it through 2020–21.”
The world’s top source of active and lifestyle nutrition, weight management and wellbeing, Herbalife Nutrition seeks to support the health goals of clients by providing a personalized service.
“Our range comes in three parts,” Hurley says. “There’s our weight management range, which is traditionally meal replacements. That’s the core of our business.”
The second are the supplements, vitamins and minerals, and other tablet format health supplies. The third arm is a sports range targeted at weekend athletes that want to improve their performance.
“It’s the range we use to sponsor professional teams,” he explains. “But it’s also for the parents or young people that want to be a little bit better in their arena.”
In Australia, Hurley says those arenas are growing. “I think we’re now the fourth largest sports market in the world. We’re a very sporty nation, so having a sports range designed around the athlete has really helped Herbalife grow over the last few years.”
Founded by Mark Hughes in Los Angeles in 1980, Herbalife Nutrition is the realization of a personal mission. “He started the company with the aim of giving people a healthier option,” Hurley explains.
“Our nutrition value, the standard of our products, would be second to none.”
While the head office remains in Los Angeles, Herbalife Nutrition now has a presence in 94 countries and in 2021 enjoyed sales of around US$5 billion. This year, Herbalife Nutrition celebrates 40 years in Australia, a milestone the company’s celebrating with the release of a new app for distributors.
“It’s called HN Grow,” Hurley says. “Distributors can download it and gain all the factual information they need. It’s a learning base that is shared around the 94 countries we’re a part of.”
Regulations surrounding supplements and weight management products vary from country to country. Herbalife Nutrition must ensure its range complies with local laws, a responsibility the company takes very seriously.
“A number of years ago, we made that a real criteria,” he confirms. “Our nutrition value, the standard of our products, would be second to none.”
And that edict has endured. Herbalife Nutrition has a number of labs and testing facilities around the world dedicated to making sure what’s on the label is what’s in the product. In addition, its sports range is World Anti-Doping Agency tested.
“Athletes need our products to be absolutely clean,” Hurley points out. “When they take them, they know there’s no risk of any substance in there that’s banned from their sport. We make that guarantee to athletes that our H24 range is substance tested.”
During Herbalife Nutrition’s four decades down under, the brand has grown its distribution network to over 25,000 distributors, and a further 4,000 in New Zealand.
“If you’re trying to lose weight or gain muscle or just get a bit fitter, it helps so much to have that personal support.”
Hurley says these distributors are an integral part of the Herbalife family. “They’re the ones that set us apart from every other company in the space,” he reveals.
“They’re out there in local communities and making that connection. If you’re trying to lose weight or gain muscle or just get a bit fitter, it helps so much to have that personal support, and that’s what our distributors provide to customers: motivation and support to achieve their goals. We call it our ‘distributor difference’.”
Once they’ve signed up to Herbalife Nutrition’s network, distributors can purchase products at a discount. “Some just want to buy our products as a consumer, and then purchase more to sell around the community to make a bit of extra money,” he adds. “Then they’ve made a business out of the opportunity and they become what we call ‘business builders’.”
The idea of improving one’s fitness via nutrition was more than just business for the Herbalife Nutrition Founder.
“Mark Hughes set up the Herbalife Nutrition Foundation,” Hurley says. “It has focused on improving children’s lives through volunteering and donations, and it’s a way for us to give back to our communities.”
In Australia, Herbalife Nutrition has partnered with several local charities, including Sunshine Butterflies in Queensland, the Lighthouse Foundation in Victoria, the Perth Children’s Hospital Foundation, the Infants Home in New South Wales and Port Power in South Australia.
“Our distributors spend a lot of time raising money for these charities, building gardens and improving homes,” Hurley says. “I don’t think there’s a community we’re not involved in.”
“It was about making the world a happier and healthier place.”
For Hurley, arriving at Herbalife Nutrition was the culmination of a lifelong love of sport. “I was with Johnson & Johnson’s consumer division for close to 20 years,” he says. “They’re a wonderful company. I was the liaison between Johnson & Johnson and supermarkets in terms of supply chain.”
After leaving on good terms, Hurley took a four-month hiatus. “I learned to surf, I got fit again and then this opportunity came up,” he recalls.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t know the company when they first approached me, but Herbalife Nutrition sponsors the Western Sydney Wanderers A-League team and some of the biggest athletes in the world, such as Cristiano Ronaldo. I follow sport, so that got my attention.”
After digging deeper, Hurley discovered Herbalife Nutrition’s philosophy aligned with his own. “It was about making the world a happier and healthier place,” he says. “Coming from Johnson & Johnson, where we were looking to change people’s lives every day, it was a good fit for me.”
His addition to the team was also reflective of the company’s pledge to always look for the best talent. “We don’t have many employees in Australia, but we’re very open and inclusive. It’s so embedded in the culture that it’s not something we have to overthink.”
In fact, Herbalife Nutrition has 14 general managers in the Asia–Pacific region. “We meet via Zoom monthly to share trends,” Hurley explains.
“I’ve developed some very good friendships among the general managers, and there’s a really strong culture between us. It’s probably one of the friendliest organizations I’ve ever worked with in terms of making connections. Everyone’s here to help.”
That’s just as well, given inflation is on the rise. The skyrocketing figures of 2020–21 couldn’t last, and Hurley says Herbalife Nutrition is preparing for the downturn.
“We know economic conditions are going to get tough over the next 12–18 months,” he concedes. “That’s outside of what we’re able to control, but what we can do is support our distributors and make sure they can build profitable, sustainable businesses over that long period.”
“It’s probably one of the friendliest organizations I’ve ever worked with in terms of making connections. Everyone’s here to help.”
Many of Herbalife Nutrition’s distributors are on a journey of their own, be it fitness or business. “A lot of them still have full-time jobs, but as their Herbalife Nutrition distribution becomes more successful, that’s when they give up their work and join us full-time,” he says. “My focus is to make sure they’re looked after, because it’s going to get tough.”
As our aging population grows ever older, health care has become more important than ever. “We’re all getting older and living longer, so as a country we need to start looking after ourselves better,” Hurley adds.
“When people take on that challenge and transform their bodies, their mindset changes. They become more positive. For me, when I see people who’ve made that journey, it’s amazing. I love it.”