Reasons to be cheerful

Health is on trend so make the most of it, Dragon Touker Suleyman tells Alistair Forrest.

There’s another Dragon in the natural health and fitness den.Touker Suleyman, best known for his fashion brands, is convinced that Healthista lean energy protein powders and nutrient blends are catching on with women who are serious about their fitness regimes.

More than a decade ago Duncan Bannatyne launched his Health Clubs chain and more recently Deborah Meadon invested in Good Bubble children’s bathtime products. It remains to be seen whether the latest Dragons’ Den recruit, Tej Lalvani of Vitabiotics, warms to natural health propositions on the TV programme.

Now Touker has backed Anna Magee’s Healthista range which was developed by Rick Hay, a lecturer at the College of Naturopathic Medicine.

Anna, former Daily Telegraph health features editor, has a team of specialists helping the 10,000 daily visitors to healthista.com achieve their fitness goals and a range of five products listed at Tree of Life, CLF and The Health Store – with more to come.

“Anna is a very credible journalist,” says Touker. “She and her business partner approached me and her experience and the number of viewers she had with her online magazine [giving dedicated information on health, fitness, sex and fertility] showed me the potential she had.

“What also attracted me is that health is on trend. We are all eating better, looking after ourselves better.”

This begs the question, is Touker a closet fitness fanatic? He skirts that with aplomb. “I wouldn’t say I had great experience of the health and nutrition market but I immediately saw the potential in Anna’s experience. I am not one who is going to drive this through my own experience – but pick up any newspaper or magazine and it’s all about health. It’s on trend whether we like it or not.”

There are two sides to Touker’s new business – a magazine and online shop together with products supplied to independents via wholesalers, backed with the added value potency of a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) app called FIT HIIT plus recipes, workouts and a weight loss programme. This unique offer is designed to deliver more resources for health and weight loss than simply buying a product.

“We are going to promote the products that customers believe in,” says Touker. “We are supplying the likes of Whole Foods Market and independents so that the range will grow organically.

“The Healthista brand will develop through an online shop and then by introducing new, additional own brand products that will sell through the website and also through stores around the country.”

Will there be more products and will they extend to other demographics as well as fitness-focused women? “That’s up to Anna. I am not hands on. What I do know is that health and fitness is a growth market. Healthista is aimed at the women who are concerned with things like beauty, health, fitness or any health matter specific to them.

“As far as new products are concerned, you don’t run before you can walk. We need to get the women’s products sorted out first and then move on to other products.”

Independent focus

Touker has a soft spot for independent retailers. “We need independent shops especially for smaller brands that can’t or won’t go into the multiples – the independents give those smaller brands a chance.

“Their experience has an important bearing as they are probably a family business with a long background in natural health and thus able to provide a better customer service, and more localised so that people come in to talk about their problems.

“Personalisation is what consumers need. Personalisation is going to be a big thing in health because we are all different and we all need different things. Successful retailers have a personal relationship with the customer and give people what they need rather than what they think they need.

“Healthista will only promote products we believe in whereas the supermarket will put lots of products on sale just to see what happens. Healthista products require a personalised service according to each customer’s specific need.

“Added value is so important because it gives a brand credibility. We want people to believe in these products and buy them rather than stack them on the shelf and tell people to buy them. We are starting with 10,000 visitors daily and 22,000 loyal subscribers, a very strong position. People trust us and it’s all about trust. Healthista is the next generation of website where the customer is well informed by specialists – Anna has a team of journalists and credible health experts there who understand the products and are all actively involved.”

Advantage independents

Touker is an admirer of the training investment in the independent health food sector, such as the courses run by the Health Food Institute, and the resulting relationship with customers.

“Independents have got to specialise and they know what their local customers want,” he says. “A retailer in a village may have to stock a lot more different products than a specialist in a larger town. Customer demographics vary from shop to shop and one size does not fit all.

“The bigger retailers will employ people on minimum wage who will go from one job to another, whereas independents tend to have staff who actually care about their customers and their health.”

What next?

Is Touker looking to invest more in the health and fitness sector? He is wary of this question as I knew he would be, not wanting to overload his in-tray with hare-brained schemes. But he says: “At the moment my focus is with Healthista but if another business comes along that has a synergy with what we’ve already got then yes, but we are not actually going out there looking at this stage.”

Viewers of Dragon’s Den will know that a good idea must go hand-in-hand with good management and any Dragon will want to make money and add value. “But at the moment with Healthista we have quite a lot on our plate with the product, so in the short term, unless there was a synergy with Healthista, I would say ‘no’.

“But Healthista is a great platform for bigger things, including partnering with brands and promoting those brands that we believe in.”

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