The equine nutritional supplement business has grown to the point of providing horse owners an overwhelming array of choices. When faced with such choices, the busy consumer often defaults to products from a familiar name. If that name is Grand Meadows, there's good reason to do so.
Founded by Angela Slater in 1984, Grand Meadows has been there since the beginning. There were very few horse supplements on the market back in the early 80s. Vitamin and mineral blends of the time targeted general well being. A lifelong horse person, Angela had spent many years in the human nutritional supplement business. Frustrated over the poor quality formulations and quality of products available for horses, she decided to make her own.
"My motto going into this was having a high quality product at an affordable price, and being ethical in our labeling and in how we do business," says Angela. As she began researching formulations for GM's first product, Grand Vite, she drew inspiration from a veterinarian's observation that still guides the company today.
"The worst environment exists when a horse is confined to a small stall, is stressed by performance and fed a limited variety of feeds, usually only twice daily, and especially when the hay is grown in soil that is farmed intensely and stored for an extended period of time," Angela paraphrases. "The best environment for the horse to get required vitamins and minerals exists when a horse is free to roam over large areas, continuously eating a variety of plant and grass species grown on a variety of soil conditions."
Carefully controlled blending of ingredients is critical.
Not many performance horses lived in that ideal environment back then and even fewer do now. Angela recognized that effective supplementation could help compensate for that reality.
"The foundation for Grand Meadows has always been to focus on promoting nutritional supplementation based on world-wide leading, scientific research for a healthier horse," Angela explains. "Ensuring optimum health, better performance, staying sound and active and increasing longevity through effective nutritional health is our goal."
Grand Vite was introduced in 1985, and its formula hasn't changed much. Like the rest of the Grand Meadows line, it begins with the highest quality raw materials, tested for purity before blending. The finished formula is then tested for consistency from the first scoop to the last. "That ensures what we call in our industry Good Manufacturing Practice, GMP," Angela explains. "It means that what goes in from the start will determine the ultimate effectiveness of the finished product."
At Grand Meadows, GMP applies to everything: from choosing the best ingredients and the best blenders for purity, potency and consistency, to labeling that's honest and understandable to the average horse owner. That modus operandi has remained unchanged even as Grand Meadows has grown to produce 17 products (11 for horses, four for dogs and two for people) distributed throughout North American and well beyond.
The Grand Challenge of Grand Vite
Angela's experience with and access to
research about human supplements gave her a
big head start. Connections with the leading animal health experts in the world at the Swiss-based healthcare company, Hoffman-Laroche, along with recommendations from the late
Dr. Harold Hintz, were extraordinarily helpful in
Still, it was no easy task.
Grand Flex in the final stages of production.
"There was no Internet at the time, mind you!" Angela laughs. And no government-endorsed standards regarding nutritional needs in the horse: that wouldn't emerge until 1989 with the National Research Council's Nutrient Requirements for Horses study. She also consulted with other experts in the field of equine nutrition, most notably Orange County veterinarian Robert Bettey, DVM, and had pre-vet students at UC Davis scour the school's veterinary medicine library. It took nearly two years to develop the formula detailing what nutrients to include and, equally important, at levels and ratios that would tangibly effect the horses. Twenty-seven years later, the Grand Vite recipe has withstood the test of time.
Even as a front-runner in the field, thriving in the now-saturated industry has been challenging. "I think one of the big keys is simply that we've been doing this for a long time. We have an excellent staff and we are both cutting edge and very efficient in how we do things.
"We concentrate on useful formulas designed for specific purposes," Angela continues. "Always with the foundation for effective, long-term health of the horse and affordability for the consumer. It helps that we don't have a big product line and that, with each product, we include only the ingredients that we know work and we price them with a low profit margin. My partner Nick (Hartog) and I aren't driving fancy Mercedes!"
Angela sought a partner shortly after the introduction of the joint supplement, Grand Flex, in 1994. Professionally connected and personally fascinated with human and equine nutrition, Angela had had her eye on glucosamine back in the 1980s. She conferred with biochemists and followed several studies on the functionality of
this nutraceutical. Prior to 1993, there were no human products with glucosamine, let alone
horse products, which were primarily chondroitin-sulfate based.
Grand Flex was the first to include glucosamine in an over-the-counter formulation for horses. After consulting with experts, particularly the microbiologist Dr. Mark Olsen, Grand Meadows formulated Grand Flex using Glucosamine HCL, not glucosamine sulfate or chondroitin sulfate. "That ensured the efficient purity of the main nutraceutical ingredient, which we combined with a formula that specifically targeted joint health."
That same year, 1994, Michael Plumb's Horse Journal published an evaluation of joint supplements and Grand Flex earned the top ranking. "It was a very exiting time and it really impacted my passionate little business," Angela recalls. "It was more than I could handle alone." She sought a partner who shared her ethical
values and commitment to GMP and best quality, effective products.
The London-born Nick Hartog had been a distributor for Rio Vista Equine Products. Since becoming president and co-owner of Grand Meadows, he's driven the company's growth while also spearheading efforts to raise the standards for all facets of the equine supplement industry.
In 1999, Nick founded a non-profit organization that morphed into the National Animal Supplement Council in the early 2000s. The "Wild West" nature of the supplement industry catalyzed the Council, says Nick. "There were new companies popping up all over the place, labeling was a joke and with half the products, you couldn't figure out what was in them. There were all kinds of claims, especially relating to speedy results."
Nick recalls that Grand Meadows was the only equine supplement manufacturer in attendance at a 2001 meeting to get the ball rolling toward self-regulation in the industry. "To me, that says a lot about who Grand Meadows is."
Today, the NASC counts almost all manufacturers among its voluntary membership. "The NASC has had a profound effect," says Nick. "It's forced manufacturers to be more transparent."
There's plenty of work still to be done. The next hurdle is finding a regulatory niche for equine supplements within federal law. The Food and Drug Administration classifies animal supplements as "unapproved drugs of low regulatory priority," Nick explains. "That's the 'box' we can operate in." The product category was not addressed in 1994's Dietary Supplement Health Education Act, which established regulations for human supplements. Since then, animal supplements have existed in
a no-man's land when it comes to regulations
that could protect both consumers and the
Very active as an NASC founding board member, Nick is optimistic that animal supplements will find a "legitimate place" within the FDA's regulatory realm, possibly within this year.
Sharing top billing on the NASC agenda is the issue of raw material accountability. Per a program introduced last year, NASC members must submit the raw materials they use, most of which come from China, to one of three labs in the U.S. for a secondary test beyond what was conducted in their country of origin. This test of the ingredients' activity, plus screens for salmonella and toxicity of any metals used, is a "huge step," Nick says. He applauds large retailers like PetCo and PetSmart for emphasizing products with the NASC seal
and hopes that smaller, feed and tack stores will follow suit.
Grand Meadows partners
Nick Hartog & Angela Slater.
Ham & Egg
Angela and Nick make great partners. "We go together like ham and egg," Angela says. Grand Meadows is headquartered in Southern California's Orange, but its presence and its principals are everywhere. The company is a generous sponsor of all manner of equestrian competition throughout the country and Angela and Nick are out amongst their customers more often than in the office. A dressage rider, Angela keeps her own horse at her home in Santa Ynez and is frequently found ringside at major California competitions.
Nick is even more peripatetic. He's the actor in Grand Meadows' series of educational online videos and, for the last few years, has spent much of his time exploring foreign markets.
In general, the rest of the horse-owning world is far behind the United States in its use of equine supplements. That's good news on one hand, but breaking into foreign markets is a complex and slow-going challenge due to import restrictions and different systems for retailing product.
Grand Flex, Grand Vite, the relatively new Grand Digest and the rest of the Grand Meadows line are now officially for sale in Korea, Japan, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, Belgium, Holland, France, Sweden, Italy, Spain and Portugal. "We are coming in with a much better product than anything they have on the market," Nick relays. "The challenge is to get people to feed proactively, as they do now in the States, rather than reactively." They need to buy into Angela and Nick's conviction that Grand Meadows' products supplement a horse's diet and lifestyle to protect and improve basic health, performance and longevity. Rather than react only after their
horse goes lame, loses energy or declines in general condition.
In GM's educational videos, Nick notes that not every horse needs supplements. Horses, he points out, haven't changed over the years, but their lifestyles and what we ask of them have. Those are the factors that drive the need for supplements and it's likely that they will intensify in the future.
"Creating a product that helps horse's health, condition and vitality has been very gratifying," says Angela. She's passionate about nutrition and nutritional ingredients and predicts both have a bright future. "Microbiology is going to be so prominent in our lives. We will see a lot more novel ingredients that can enhance our cell structure and help us ward off diseases.
"The possibilities are endless," concludes the forward-thinking founder of 28-year-old Grand Meadows. "It's a very exciting time."