by Christian Duque
Ultimate Nutrition was a powerhouse in the fitness industry. Back in the earliest days of StrengthAddicts.com, they’d send me huge boxes of samples for all my events. They were all over the magazines, they had Das Freak Markus Ruhl, and more recently they had two Mr. Olympias, in Dexter Jackson and Phil Heath. They had a wide array of products, tons of flavors, and worldwide distribution. Their marketing was always on point, their booths at huge fitness expos were out of this world, and the company, which started in 1979, never seemed to miss a beat. Their products seemed to sell well, they never put their stuff in Walmart, and they never played the price game. That being said, they had something for everyone, including vegan athletes.
But perception oftentimes doesn’t go hand in hand with reality. Although Ultimate Nutrition seemed to be a company consistently in the plus column, they really may not have been able to compete. It seemed they had trouble continuing to be interesting, cutting-edge; being innovative is essential in the social media driven market of today. Come to think of it, I can’t tell you the last time an influencer got excited about an UN product. Without sounding like a hater, because I used to be a huge fan, it’s like they’ve been on the descent for quite some time. I still remember their Muscle Juice weight gainer. I know, I know, wtf was I of all people doing with a weight gainer, but back in the day I got so lean, I needed to keep some weight on and that product was the thickest, creamiest, most decadent HEALTHY drink you could ever imagine. I still remember the Cookies & Cream flavor – OMG! That gainer put anything Steak & Shake could make to shame; it was better than any Johnny Rockets malt, too. Ultimate had great products, but again, we’re talking about the past. I used to drink those shakes in 2005!! Who knows how long it’s been since the company was on the upswing.
Anyways, this past Monday, when employees arrived for work, they found their facility shuttered, their employer out of business, and some 150-200 employees out of a job, with zero notice, except for a printout taped to the door, outside. How did this happen?
For starters, as I alluded to earlier, the business side of the fitness industry is in constant change. In the old days, you couldn’t buy EAS unless you had a silver spoon in your mouth or you were a baller. That was, perhaps, one of the most expensive brands out. Today, you can buy EAS at discount stores and once you sell there, you can never sell for top dollar again. Back in the day, you had magazines everywhere, people bided their time each month for FLEX, MD, Iron Man, and Muscle Mag to come out. Muscle Mag went bankrupt, Iron Man (if you can find it) is a Men’s Physique type publication, Flex merged with M&F, and MD (while still doing great work) has shrunk in pages and their circulation is a shell of what it once was. Times are constantly changing – those who can’t change fast enough – have to call it a day. Even more recently, the biggest brands of the 2000’s, today, hardly get much notice. When Ronnie and Jay battled, it was a Muscle Tech and BSN world, but today, both of those companies have been forced back into the shadows, behind edgier, possibly trendier, and definitely more exciting brands.
Many of the big companies have been scrambling for the better part of the last ten years. They no longer sponsor athletes, many don’t even sponsor contests, and most won’t touch print. These old dinosaurs also don’t advertise much online, largely because many of their ad execs want to pay digital prices when digital was second fiddle to print. Most of the big websites will sell to smaller upstarts willing to pay more to get big, than nickel and dime with giants, who think they’re the only show in town. The (smart) big companies have branched out with more cutting edge product lines and imprints. Look at VPX with BANG. I’m not sure how many young people go crazy for Shotgun or even Redline, but everyone loves BANG. Other companies have products more in line with what the younger generations want, like nootropics, CBD, and various types of fat burners. There’s no money in protein powder, yet how many protein products did UN have? Protein usually takes up a lot of space, it’s expensive to ship, it expires sooner and whey (for example) spikes in costs sporadically. On top of all those woes, anyone can walk into a Walmart and buy Whey Isolate at under $23, so why would they order it online?
That being said, many consumers used to shop with the huge companies, largely out of loyalty to the stars they loved, stars these companies kept on the payroll. If a huge company has no athletes, no advertising, and keeps pushing boring supplements, how long could it possibly go for?
I’m very sad to see Ultimate Nutrition go and I almost wish a serious investor took the risk and bought the company. Someone like Jared Wheat could take a failure like Ultimate Nutrition and resurrect it from the ashes, but the question is, is it even worth it? Who knows how deep in the red they are? That being said, the company name has undeniable value and they have some product names like Iso Mass, Muscle Juice, Red Zone and Iso Sensation, that people have been seeing and using for years – that too is very valuable. People in the U.S., Latin America, Europe and throughout Asia have been swearing by this company for generations.
Who knows, perhaps if the right investor approached these bloodsucking banks with cash in hand, maybe they’d give it up cheap. As the old proverb goes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Maybe these poor people’s jobs could be saved, the company could open its doors again, and most definitely start making money again. That sure would be a happy ending, but happy endings are few and far between, in this market.
The fitness industry is perhaps the toughest place to be successful. It’s like when Frank Sinatra sang about NY; if you can make in the fitness industry, you can make it anywhere!! Sadly, most can’t.
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