WholeFoods: Congratulations on 25 years in business! Please tell us how AIDP got started.

Lee: AIDP officially started in 1996. It all started with vitamin C. With the introduction of a friend, I became the sole representative of a vitamin C manufacturer in China. The manufacturer shut down later when the vitamin C market crashed. But we continue to sell vitamin C today. I had learned back then that nutraceutical products were getting popular with consumers. It is a stable business that is recession proof. Then, I continued to grow the nutraceutical business by adding more products to our portfolio.

WholeFoods: How has AIDP grown and evolved over these past 25 years?

 Lee:We have been very fortunate and have grown organically for the last 25 years. We were mainly trading commodities in the first 10 years. But I noticed the commodity market changing and the world was getting smaller. It was easier for foreign companies to do business in the U.S., and many Chinese factories were setting up offices here. The value in commodity trading is getting less. The growth is limited. Our biggest shift came in the mid-2000s, when we started to develop research-based branded ingredients. The value in the supply chain lies in brands and intellectual properties. Developing exclusive relationships and representation was fundamental to our growth.

In addition, we needed to hire the right people to support these unique products. I have the right people to help me grow the business at the right time. We have an excellent team.

 WholeFoods: What business philosophy has helped AIDP achieve success?

 Lee: Do the right thing first and the money will come. Selling products that work is one thing we believe in and benefit from. We want to sell products that are beneficial to consumers. Better yet, the product’s benefit should be verifiable. For example, I am one of the first ones who tried Magtein and felt the benefit. Now research has verified that it reverses brain age by nine years, and helps maintain good mood and sleep. One can feel it.

Also, treat your employees well and they will take care of the business. We established a 401k and profit sharing program when we had a handful of people. We keep instant noodles and snacks in the cafeteria for free. We give employees flexible hours so they can take care of their families. Employees come to work to make their life better. I help them to achieve their goals. When they are happy people, they will take care of business.

WholeFoods: How are you leading to foster positive change?

Lee:AIDP is a fast-paced, creative environment, which is not for everyone. We give people a lot of autonomy and authority; with that, comes the expectation of results. We foster a team approach, where employees help one another even if it is not in “their job title.” I invest in my employees by providing personal growth opportunities and ongoing job training to keep up in today’s fast-changing marketplace. We also like to have fun. There are monthly celebrations in the office and several company-wide activities throughout the year.

Also, be responsible for consumers’ health. We are in a business of making people healthier. But many products have side effects or are not meant to be taken every day. When I was selling an herb 15 years ago, I required customers to add “take a one week break after taking it for three weeks” on the label. It gives our body time to recover from any potential side effects. Later on, this requirement has been adopted by many herb marketers.

Edward Lee, Founder and CEO of AIDP

WholeFoods: What is on the horizon for the company?

Lee: AIDP will continue to provide meaningful solutions for both health and happiness. We have products in the pipeline that take years to grow. The future looks promising. Our goal is to continue to grow the branded ingredients business and make more brands, but provide unique delivery options. Also, the supply chain delivery may be ripe for change, and we will keep at the forefront of these changes.

WholeFoods: What do you see as important goals or areas of focus for the natural products industry in general? How is AIDP helping its partners to meet those goals?

Lee:The industry has experienced fast growth by trying all kinds of new ingredients. Sooner or later, we will run out of options of exotic ingredients. But there are products around us that are beneficial, yet consumers don’t realize it, like curcumin, collagen, and magnesium. Research and marketing must work together to promote food-grade ingredients that are truly beneficial to human beings.

The natural products industry benefited from COVID-19 as consumers realized the importance of overall health. A goal of the industry is to highlight the significance of preventative care and promote how the body can heal itself with the right nutrients. There has also been a shift in delivery formats, as food and beverages are now providing functional benefits. This segment requires a different set of rules and pricing than the supplement category. The goal for the industry is to help educate the consumer on the investments and benefits of these products.WF