Ancient Plant Is Key

Posted on Jun 1, 2010 :: Small Business Spotlight
Sharon Verbeten
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Santal Solutions sees rapid growth

For thousands of years, an indigenous tribe in India has used plants as medicine. Arun K. Chatterji has been using the ancient knowledge of the Santal tribe, combined with his scientific research, to offer modern applications for people to improve their weight, blood sugar, cholesterol and stress. As founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Fox Valley-based Santal Solutions, Chatterji has transformed his research into a company that sources, procures and licenses dietary supplements with naturally occurring plant-based ingredients – all with a focus on bio-availability, bio-diversity and sustainability.

Santal Solutions was founded in 2005 as a subsidiary of Ayurvedic-Life International, a bio-medical company Chatterji founded with Dennis Torkko, a retired partner of a large accounting firm, in 2002. And it all began with one of those plants the ancient Santals used to maintain blood sugar levels, among other uses.

Chatterji, who holds a Ph.D. and was raised in a small village near Calcutta, India, always hoped to utilize his training in life sciences to bring the philosophy of Ayurveda – which means “signs of life,” – and the lessons of the Santal tribes to his endocrine research. So he began to study Gymnema sylvestre, a historic Indian plant, which dates back to 6000 B.C.

“It was like pieces from a puzzle I didn’t know I was trying to solve fell into place,” he says. “I knew [the Santals] were fairly healthy and chewed on the leaves” for medicinal purposes.

Chatterji eventually developed the technology to capture the most potent parts of the plant’s leaves. The “virgin isolate” extract is wild-crafted, all natural and sustainable – and it is the proprietary technology behind several of Santal’s products, including the company’s first established product, OmSanA, a supplement for improving blood sugar and cholesterol.

Research conducted at King’s College-London validates the Gymnema sylvestre extract for clinical use, according to a report published in Cellular Physiology and Biochemistry.

“It took over a decade to set up the sourcing” of the botanically pure materials, Chatterji says. “You take what you really need,” he says. “You do not devastate nature’s wonder.”

Biofeedback specialist Kari Uselman, owner of Wellness Essentials in Oshkosh, has tested and recommended OmSanA and other Santal products.

“I educate my clients on products that can support stress reduction in their body,” she says, noting that she appreciates that Santal is a local company with a determined focus on health and wellness. “They really are about helping people and I value that. They want to make a difference.”

The idea is to keep people healthy, says Torkko, Santal’s co-founder and president. “When Dr. Chatterji and I set out to develop our business, we wanted to help the millions of people around the world who have need for natural solutions,” he says.

An opportune time
With an increased awareness of health care costs and that individuals need to take responsibility for their own health, Santal’s products have come into the forefront. The company introduced its OmSanA product with retailers in the Fox Valley 18 months ago as a test market. Regionally, it is available in Festival Foods, Morton Pharmacy, Pick ‘n Save, 24 Walgreens stores and more than a dozen natural foods stores. Since it has been distributed nationally in the last eight months, revenue has doubled month to month, according to Torkko, and OmSanA is now available nationally in such stores as GNC and Stop & Shop, to name a few. Santal Solutions also licenses its key ingredient to a company in India that uses it in a product available there.

“We’ve seen a substantial increase in our business,” says Torkko. He attributes some of the increase to the health care reform issue. “Our products have seen an increase from some of the major players.”

Increased interest in natural supplements has also boosted business as people become more aware of the side effects of prescription drugs, says Chatterji. But while consumers may eagerly seek out supplements, he says some physicians are still hesitant to recommend them.

“It used to be that the medical community used to be against dietary supplements,” he says. “Right now, they are best described as confused. A practicing physician … at risk of promoting a supplement could cut into a prescription drug for that category of illness.” He stresses that his supplements are not intended to take the place of prescription medication, and users should consult licensed health care professionals before taking them.

“The medical industry needs to be supportive,” Torkko adds. He points out that of thousands of customers of OmSanA, just one has asked for their money back guarantee.
Products using Santal’s OSA technology are made both in the United States and India. The latter is through a partnership with East India Pharmaceutical Works, although Chatterji says Santal maintains control of the technology, from sourcing to manufacturing.

The natural leaf product is harvested in India; and for the U.S. market, its potent ingredients are extracted into a powder form and shipped to a contractor in Hayward, Wis., which manufacturers it in capsule form, then bottles, labels and ships it to a logistics company in Neenah. Six employees in Santal Solutions’ office are working on product sales and the development and patenting of new product lines.

Partnering and outsourcing has been an effective strategy for Santal.

“You have to identify where you have the need to partner, and then you look at what your options are,” Torkko says. “You have to make judgments. Can you work together? Can they exceed your expectations?

“We want to see that our product, our company and our people are represented exactly the way that we are,” he adds. “We’ve been very pleased. We know what we are willing to do and what we are not willing to do, and we are open about it.”

Finding successful partners has allowed Santal to focus its core competencies of product development, Torkko says: “Focus on what you do well.”

That’s a lesson the five-year-old company, with centuries of pharmacology knowledge behind it, has based its success on. That, and one potent ingredient.

“The first ingredient is a dream,” Chatterji says. “You have to really follow that dream…in terms of customers, that is very important.”