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NDTO News Article

NDTO Member Profile: Swanson Health Products

Swanson Health Products is a good example of “Do what you love and success will follow.” When stopping by North Dakota Trade Office member Swanson Health Products’ headquarters in South Fargo, you can clearly see they’re excited about what they do. And with good reason – they’re in the business of making people feel good. And that business – manufacturing and distributing vitamins and supplements – is quickly spreading across the globe.

Swanson Health Products was founded in 1969 by Leland Swanson, the son Swedish immigrants who settled in the U.S. in the 1890’s. Leland had served in WWII and was working as a stockbroker when he began to suffer from arthritis while playing his favorite sport of golf. When traditional medicine could not provide relief, Leland began to research natural health supplements as a solution. His research led to a passion for health and nutrition. Instead of ordering a personal supply of supplements, he began to order supplements in bulk from a manufacturer and sell them via catalog. This was the origin of Swanson Health Products. Soon his sons, Jay and Lee, both joined as employees of the burgeoning business.

The company is now under the leadership of Lee Swanson, Jr., as president. Lee brought the company from a mail order catalog business to an online vendor during the 1990’s. Swanson began selling vitamins, herbal supplements, natural foods, and other supplies through their website, Global shoppers soon discovered Swanson’s website and little boxes of supplements began finding their way around the world. As a result of the company’s global exposure, international distribution offers came in from multiple countries. The company was hesitant at first to delve into international distributorship, but eventually Lee Swanson decided it was the next step. Now, Swanson has more than 80 distributors in 50+ different countries. Exporting has become part of their key growth strategy with international sales increasing by 30% per year over the last 3 years.

Swanson’s growth has catapulted as the world has become more health conscious. In general, as a country’s standards of living increase, its people begin to think about ways to increase their wellbeing. Many international customers turn to the United States for their supplements. According to Swanson’s International Sales Manager Doug Gillam, “The rest of the world wants the quality that is associated with American products. While most countries have some sort of vitamins, their quality may be questionable.”

Swanson’s website has the practical variety of supplements such as multi-vitamins and amino acids, as well as homeopathic remedies, beauty products, and sports nutrition. They also offer a range of organic, gluten-free, and non-gmo foods and beverages. Swanson even has a “Passion” line of supplements for their customers’ romantic needs.

Swanson strives to differentiate itself from competitors by offering a large variety of products. Owner Lee Swanson is ardent about finding new products and new benefits. “He’ll hear about a new berry or plant and come in to have meetings with our product development team,” said Gillam. “We try to research some of these tribal legends – are they real or just legend? Then we try to figure out how to get a supply of it.”

Peelu USA is a dental hygiene product Swanson carries that demonstrates the case where a legend turned out to be true. Peelu products contain fibers from the peelu tree, an ancient tree native to the Middle East and Africa. Travelers visiting these regions were observed returning with brighter and whiter teeth. Incidentally, they had all taken part in the local custom of utilizing chewing sticks cut from peelu tree branches and roots. The tree’s branches are the modern toothbrush’s predecessor and were even recognized in classical Arabic poetry as representations of white teeth and a fragrant mouth. The World Health Organization began recommending use of this tree for oral hygiene purposes in 1986. Swanson now offers peelu tree fibers in the form of gum, toothpaste, and powder.

Swanson’s continued expansion includes adding distribution centers closer to each of the coasts. The company now distributes vitamins and supplements out of facilities in Sparks, Nevada and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The headquarters and main distribution center remain in Fargo. The Fargo headquarters also houses their manufacturing operations. “We do more and more manufacturing each year,” said Gillam, “in order to stay as low cost as we can be.”

For more information on Swanson Health Products, visit