Wakunaga Celebrates 40 Years

Written By:
Jamie Dinar
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Wakunaga of America Company is proudly celebrating 40 years of delivering high-quality medicinal herbs to consumers. From its headquarters in Mission Viejo, CA, Wakunaga not only stands true to its commitment and focus on research, but also to addressing the public’s health concerns with beneficial supplements.

A Look Back at the Early History of Wakunaga
Eugene Schnell, Ph.D., a former professor at Berlin University, headed the Drug Administration of Japan after World War II. After witnessing firsthand the utter destruction of the land and deteriorating health of its people, Schnell campaigned for basic natural nutrients to further protect civilians against disastrous postwar health conditions.

Manji Wakunaga, a banker, listened to Schnell’s pleas and agreed; he was disenchanted by Japan’s weakened pharmaceutical industry. Wakunaga believed in an obligation to research and development rather than misleading advertisements.

The two joined forces in 1955 to establish the Wakunaga Pharmaceutical Company in Osaka, Japan. Shortly after, Schnell created a method to produce the famed Aged Garlic Extract.

After phenomenal success in Japan, Wakunaga and his son, Gisuke, established Wakunaga of America Company and the Kyolic brand in 1972, headquartered in Honolulu, HI. But the originators of the brand aren’t far removed from today’s operations. In fact, the founders recently flew to California to celebrate their company’s success and accomplishments over the years with employees.

Why Aged Garlic Extract?
Possibly the most renowned product in the Wakunaga of America line is its flagship product, Kyolic, an Aged Garlic Extract.

 “Garlic has been around for thousands of years; it’s in the Bible and was even used by Egyptians while building the pyramids,” says Wakunaga of America Company director of sales, Jay Levy. “It is powerful in history… Everybody has heard of garlic and has some type of anecdotal story with it: rubbing garlic on your chest to get rid of a flu or cold, keeping vampires away… But [people] don’t really understand the health benefits of it.” This is where knowledgeable retailers have helped make the Kyolic brand a success, as we will address later.

Garlic has a social stigma, too, says Levy. It has a strong odor and when eaten raw, it can cause irritation. Overcoming these issues is where Kyolic surpasses other garlic extract brands. Through its aging process, harsh and unstable oil-soluble compounds are converted into more stable, water-soluble compounds. This is where the Kyolic extract actually gains nutritional value that isn’t found in average raw fresh garlic. Odor and irritation are diminished in this process too.

Levy helps put it in perspective. “You can take something and make it more medicinal with a stable aging process,” says Levy. For example, you can age soy to produce an even more healthful tofu, or you can age cabbage to produce sauerkraut, a source of vitamin K2.

Kyolic brand is another example. Though its aging process may take a while, it is worth the wait for the beneficial outcome. First, the garlic is grown on Wakunaga’s own farms, notably without any chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. Only the finest, best-grown garlic is used for the production of Kyolic. The cloves are then cleaned and sliced until they are ready to be stored in a stainless steel tank, unheated, for up to 20 months (this stage of production is where the garlic loses its unstable organosulfur compounds and its odor).

In the end, this care is a trademark of Wakunaga of America Company that has helped make Kyolic Aged Garlic Extract a top-seller among supplement retailers. The benefits are clear, and the company has underscored them with an emphasis on research. To date, Kyolic had been the subject of more than 700 scientific studies, and the number is still growing. Research topics range from its well-known heart and immune health benefits to support for the brain, digestive system and more. Notably, in 2002, a landmark UCLA Medical Center study found the branded aged garlic extract reduced several risk factors of cardiovascular disease.

Beyond Garlic
Since its beginnings in Honolulu, the company has expanded worldwide to sell in Canada, Europe, Australia and Asia. More locally, Wakunaga recently opened its third facility in Mira Loma, CA, allowing extra room for its production and distribution efforts. This is the company’s largest plant expansion in its 40 years of service.

Kyolic Aged Garlic Extract is formulated in three different ways for consumers’ convenience: liquid, capsule or powder. In addition, it is used in several combination products for condition-specific needs.

Wakunaga offers much more than just its well-known Kyolic Aged Garlic Extract. Wakunaga’s second highest selling product, Kyo-Dophilus Probiotics and Kyo-Green launched in 1988. Logic and ModuCare products were added later in 1997 and 2008, respectively.

The Retailer Relationship
Within the realms of the natural foods industry, Wakunaga aims to please. Its emphasis on retailer relationships and consumer education is important. “We’re not a mass market company,” states Levy. “The brand needs somebody to tell the story… that’s why the natural food industry exists…they are willing to carry items and educate where the mass market stores like Walmart can’t.”

The quality and care Wakunaga provides is a perfect marriage with retailers’ educational touch. After all, 60% of all people who purchase Kyolic products will come back for more, says Levy.

Congratulations, Wakunaga of America, on 40 strong years, and here’s to many more to come. WF

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, August 2012