Combining Health with Heart—MonaVie By Barbara Seale
It has a scientifically validated product, an expanding international opportunity and a commitment-worthy charitable program. No wonder 4-year-old MonaVie can already boast more than $1 billion in cumulative sales during its short lifetime.
The company’s products are nutritional beverages with corresponding gel formulations, all based on the exotic superfruit, açai. Growing wild in the Brazilian rain forest, the tiny fruit’s powerful antioxidants and rich folklore form a firm foundation for MonaVie’s fantastic growth.
But Founder and President Dallin Larsen attributes the company’s rapid growth to one of his top business principles: Put distributors first.
“Distributors are the most important asset to any direct selling company,” he says. “Having been a distributor first, I understand how difficult it is to create a network or community. I honor that, and I’ve attempted to create a culture that rewards distributors for their efforts. A distributor can never earn too much money because it’s so difficult to create that network and keep it going.”
Dallin’s background—first as a distributor and then as an executive and owner of a now-major direct selling company—helped him develop his principles, which he emphasizes are more important than profits. But he also asserts that staying true to principles will produce a far greater chance of success, both in business and in life.
The Three R’s: Relationship, Relationship, Relationship
He also believes that while great products, excellent compensation and timing are important, what really drives any direct selling business is relationships. So that’s Dallin’s focus: Building and maintaining relationships in the field while he empowers the right people to run the day-to-day business. He views his commitment to distributors as the engine that drives the business and ensures that the infrastructure is in place to support MonaVie’s most important asset.
“We accumulated more than $1 billion in sales in three and a half years,” he says. “I’m proud of that record. We’ve never missed a weekly commission check. Distributors won’t be forgiving if you don’t pay commissions and ship products on time. So we expect to be exceptional in those areas.”
Dallin feels comfortable focusing on distributor relationships. He recently moved his family to Florida, far from MonaVie’s headquarters in Utah, just so he could focus on distributors without the distractions of the corporate office. Even without his day-to-day presence, he knew he could expect excellence from the carefully selected staff in the corporate office. His brother Randy and close friend Henry Marsh co-founded the company with him and are still company executives. Top management also includes other experienced experts who share the founders’ passion for the industry and commitment to MonaVie’s cause.
“Building the right management team here was crucial for us to have a strong foundation,” says Co-Founder Randy Larsen. “We’ve worked hard to get the right people on the bus. We’ve hired only people who are excellent in their field. For me, that’s been one of our major milestones.”
One of the drivers of the MonaVie bus is Chief Operating Officer Dell Brown, who first worked with the company as an advisor, then joined the staff. He believes his job is to make the founders’ dreams for MonaVie’s future come true.
“The vision of our founders is a big one,” Dell says. “Some would even consider it a pipe dream. I’ve taken it seriously in my role as COO. We’ve made big investments in infrastructure, such as information systems, supply-chain investments, physical facilities and hiring key staff. I’ve invested according to the vision. Some would say we’re overbuilding capacity, but we see it all as necessary infrastructure to support our grand vision. If we didn’t feel we were going to get there, we wouldn’t be investing.”
MonaVie has risen to the challenge of expanding production and carefully planning manufacturing operations. Dell says the harvesting season of the açai berry has put a rigorous burden on the company to be very good in its forecasting and supply planning. They’ve also had to plan for increases in manufacturing so they could meet production demands. Key issues in the MonaVie manufacturing process are cost, quality and time to market.
“We’ve chosen not to own our manufacturing operations, but we control every step of them,” he says. “It takes us about nine months to qualify a potential manufacturing partner, and it often requires us to purchase equipment. Our quality staff and manufacturing partners have very close interaction to ensure that our product is manufactured according to MonaVie specifications. We currently have manufacturing in North and South America, but we’re preparing now to manufacture on all continents.”
Go Slow to Grow Fast
Randy says that most of MonaVie’s rapidly growing business comes from the United States, but it also operates in Brazil, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Japan. With such a vigorous domestic business, MonaVie’s management has slowly and methodically expanded internationally, making certain that its infrastructure could support growth. But more countries are on the horizon.
“No other network marketing company in the history of this 125-year-old industry has grown as fast as we have grown,” Randy says. “Now it’s time. We’ve built the foundation. It took us a bit of time to build an organization that would let us launch into different countries. We’re expecting an amazing year of growth in 2009.”Building the organization includes both infrastructure and leadership. As always, distributors come first.
“You could do everything right operationally, and you can have the perfect offering and an exceptional company, but if you don’t have leaders who can build organizations in those countries—who have proven track records of success—it’s not going to fly,” Randy says. “We want to do it right first.”
In every country where those leaders share the opportunity and MonaVie nutraceuticals, the same products are offered and the açai berry is the star of them all, making the story and opportunity easy to tell. The company offers MonaVie Original for overall wellness; best-seller MonaVie Active, featuring plant-derived glucosamine, which has been scientifically shown to promote healthy joint function by targeting mobility and flexibility; and the latest addition to the product line, MonaVie Pulse, containing plant sterols (which studies suggest play a key factor in lowering cholesterol), resveratrol and omega-3 fatty acids. Each formula is available as a bottled juice or in convenient, portable, single-serving gel formulas.
In each formula, the açai berry is the “crown jewel.” This small, black-purple berry grows in clusters on the açai palm in the lush rain forest of Brazil’s northern Amazon region. Indigenous people have revered it for centuries as an antidote for numerous ailments.
As Brazilian legend goes, the benefits of the açai berry were discovered by a tribe in the Amazon rain forest. The tribe had been faced with a long drought. Food was so scarce that the king issued a mandate that any child born during this time would be killed to conserve what little food they had.
Even when the king’s daughter gave birth, the baby was killed. The daughter became so distraught that she fled the tribe and ran deep into the rain forest. Finally, she collapsed out of sheer pain and exhaustion and awoke to find herself lying against the açai palm. According to lore, she saw the fruit and began to eat it, regained her strength and returned to her tribe where she shared the fruit. With this newfound food source, the king was expelled and the tribe flourished.
Regardless of whether the story is historically accurate, one thing has been proved by science: The açai berry is a powerful source of nutrition. Açai contains concentrated levels of anthocyanins—a powerful family of antioxidants that assists in neutralizing the harmful effects of free radicals. Through an exclusive freeze-drying process, MonaVie captures the vital nutrients found in this delicate fruit. MonaVie’s freeze-dried açai powder boasts an ORAC score (a measure of antioxidant power) higher than any other fruit or vegetable tested to date on a gram-for-gram basis.
Such scientific evidence is important to MonaVie. It has supported five peer-reviewed scientific studies that have been published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry—three on the MonaVie juice itself and two others on the açai berry. Studies showed that consuming the juice or the berries (versus a placebo) resulted in statistically significant increases in the blood level of antioxidants.
Just 4 ounces of MonaVie Pulse juice blend per day provide a level of phytonutrients and antioxidants that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies as heart healthy. MonaVie Original and MonaVie Active use the açai berry plus 18 other fruits, each chosen for specific reasons, such as mouth feel and natural sweetness, in addition to their health-giving qualities. The formula for MonaVie Pulse uses a different combination of fruits that were selected for their heart-health benefits. In each MonaVie juice, the benefits of the fruit combination is greater than any single fruit could offer. And the company updates the formulas as new science emerges.
MonaVie Vice President of Product Development Jeff Graham says that MonaVie juices contain a higher concentration of açai fruit solids than other açai juices. And as a key benefit, he points to a surprising but potent component: oil.
“Depending on the time of year and exactly where it is harvested, the natural mono- and polyunsaturated fats can be 40 to 60 percent of the fruit’s volume,” he says. “Fat is heavier than water, and it rises to the top of the juice. A lot of companies remove the fats and just keep the juice. But the network marketing channel allows us to tell people about the healthy fats, why we leave them in and why they’re healthy and good for you.”
He says that in retail environments, the oil has been removed and the juice has been clarified in almost every açai product on the shelves, giving them a grape juice mouth feel. MonaVie doesn’t remove the fat particles, which are omega-3 antioxidants, but it makes them smaller. The fat particles are one reason that MonaVie’s mouth feel is rich and smooth. In blind taste tests, almost all participants love the beverage.
Sustaining the Source
Because Brazil is the source of the açai berry and other fruits in the formulations, MonaVie has a special connection to the country. To honor and support Brazil’s people and the Amazon rain forest itself, MonaVie engages in the MORE Project as well as in a committed program of sustainable harvesting. [See sidebar on the MORE Project.]
“I wish you could see the effect of the global demand for Brazilian fruit,” Jeff says. “It means that more and more people have full-time employment. They’ve become conscious of sustainable harvesting because picking fruit, not chopping down the palm trees, creates an influx of capital in the country and improves day-to-day living standards. It’s remarkable to be involved with something like that.”
The secret began to spread about the highly nutritious Brazilian fruits, including açai, around 2000. Until then, the 100-foot-tall açai palm trees were cut down and used for lumber and for the hearts of palm found inside the trunk. Harvesters would sometimes receive less than $1 for cutting down the tree. And tree by tree, the rain forest was shrinking, along with the oxygen the trees provided the world as they filtered carbon dioxide. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the practice wasn’t good for Brazil’s economy, the environment or the harvesters.
Açai palms grow wild in the rain forest along rivers. Each tree can produce more than 2,200 pounds of berries in its lifetime, but until processing plants were developed, the fruit was only consumed locally. In just a few years, the number of processing plants has grown to approximately 30. MonaVie’s investment in açai berries helps create a market that generates jobs, supports families, leaves trees in the forest to produce abundantly and helps the environment. And it also plants additional açai palms, helping reverse the damage done by past practices.
The company’s environmental and philanthropic focus, along with its tasty, proven products, a generous compensation plan, the lavish trips it gives to top producers and its plans for continued international expansion—Mexico is next—keep drawing new distributors at a double-digit pace.
Executives see continuing opportunity in the Hispanic market and the younger generation in the United States as well as in other countries. And they hint that they’ll introduce additional products when they can see trends and opportunities for growth that support them.
“The thing we know is that the importance of health and financial independence doesn’t change from country to country,” says Co-Founder and Executive Vice President Henry Marsh. “We’re still in our momentum phase, and we currently have only a small percentage of revenue coming from international markets. We’re just getting under way in Japan and Brazil, and we haven’t opened anything in Europe yet. I’m very optimistic that we have a long way to go before we have to worry about leveling off.” Maintaining that momentum has helped create a company that Founder and President Dallin Larsen believes is built to last. “When the world around us is changing, I want our company to be constant,” Dallin says. “This is a company you can count on and that you know will stand the test of time.”
Giving MORE Hope
The richness of the antioxidants in MonaVie products’ crown jewel, the açai berry, contrasts sharply with the poverty of the country where it grows. In gratitude for all the country delivers to the company and its distributors, MonaVie’s MORE Project systematically improves lives there.
The MORE Project—an acronym for MonaVie Operation Rescue—is a nonprofit foundation that pays 100 percent of the operational costs of projects dedicated to improving the lives of people living in the extreme poverty of the slums, or favelas, of Brazil. Every dollar donated goes directly to in-the-field operations, and both executives and distributors contribute money and volunteer their time.“We wanted to create a way for people to give back,” MonaVie Founder and President Dallin Larsen says. “As [distributor] income increased, they would be able to have the joy that comes from helping those less fortunate. Because we’re taking the açai berry from Brazil, we focused on giving back to Brazil.”
The World Bank reports that some 20 million indigent Brazilians live on less than $2 a day. Knowing that it can’t meet the needs of all of them, MonaVie focuses on Vila Ipiranga, located just outside Rio de Janeiro and home to about 100,000 people.
Families are often led by single mothers, and 8- to 10-year-old children become involved with drug rings or prostitution.
“They face a future of violence and death,” Dallin says. “We’re there because I’m supposed to be there. It’s been a life-changing experience.” He says the project touches more than 1,000 children each day.
It starts with the most basic need: food. The MORE Project offers two healthy meals a day to the favela’s needy children, who often don’t receive adequate nutrition in their homes. But MORE doesn’t stop there. Those children can also participate in after-school educational activities, learning math, reading and writing, along with music and art. They can also get dental care as they need it.As those children grow into teenagers, they can choose from the 79 vocational classes the MORE Project offers. Classes include language skills in Portuguese and English, sewing, mechanics, sales, jewelry making and more.
Finally, the MORE Project repairs and rebuilds homes in the favela. By U.S. standards, many homes are uninhabitable. They have dirt floors, leaky roofs and no toilets. In addition to turning the homes into dignified places to live, the MORE Project is building an actual village, Village MonaVie, which will serve as a sanctuary for children.
The MORE Project has become a major part of the MonaVie culture. Some 100 photos of Brazilian children who formerly lived on the street but are now being helped by the project adorn the company’s corporate walls, and the project has become a source of pride and satisfaction for employees and distributors. MonaVie constantly seeks creative ways to support the project.
“While I was in Brazil, I met a single mother making bracelets made from the seeds of the açai berry and selling them on the street,” Co-Founder Randy Larsen says. “I bought 10,000 of them, and she now has 20 employees. We sell them to distributors, and the profits go to the MORE Project. So now we not only use the berries in juice but also sell jewelry made from the seeds. They’re a great conversation piece for our people.”
MonaVie executives remark on the impact that the project has had on them personally, as well as on distributors who have volunteered in Brazil. In fact, on a recent incentive trip, 25 Black Diamond-level distributors were so moved by the company’s efforts that they donated $250,000 on the spot to purchase additional land in Brazil for the Project.
“I don’t want to minimize the impact we’re having there, but the lives of people who give are greatly blessed,” says MonaVie Co-Founder and Executive Vice President Henry Marsh. “As a company, we feel very strongly that we have to have a culture of giving to be successful and continue the phenomenon. For me it has been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Once you have a certain amount of money, it’s no longer about the money—it’s about making a difference in the world.”
The MORE Project accepts donations of money or volunteer time. Distributors can automatically make contributions based on commissions or auto-ship orders. Please see http://www.TheMOREProject.org for details.
MAP Out Success
MonaVie Co-Founder and Executive Vice President Henry Marsh knows a thing or two about achieving goals. The four-time Olympian set four American track-and-field records and was ranked No. 1 in the world for three years in the steeplechase, which required him to run and leap over water jumps for 2 miles. He uses his insights to help MonaVie distributors break through their psychological limitations to achieve their personal goals using his own road MAP.MAP is actually an acronym for mentors, ability and passion. Each word has special meaning in direct selling. Marsh explains:M: Mentors. “Mentors are the coaches who help anyone build knowledge. In network marketing, there’s no excuse for people not having the knowledge to be successful,” says Marsh. “Your upline wants you to be successful and helps you learn sales techniques; the company wants you to be successful, so it provides training materials. At MonaVie, we do a lot with distributors. We empower leaders to teach recruits how to sell, and the corporation keeps control over product materials so we stay within the bounds of claims requirements.”A: Ability. “In athletics, you don’t get to be No. 1 without the proper genes. But in network marketing, any gene will do,” says Marsh. “It’s all about partnering. Partner with the people who complement your weaknesses, so together you have all the abilities you need. You can’t be successful without a service attitude toward people. It’s what unites a team.”
P: Passion. “If you don’t have passion, it doesn’t matter how much M and A you have,” Marsh says. “What’s the most important thing to you? MonaVie, as fabulous as the company and product are, is only a vehicle to accomplish the things that matter most in your life. Financial independence, time with family, community and service work—it can be a vehicle for any of them. When people understand what they want most in life, they become passionate. When they apply that passion to their ability and knowledge, they do great things.”