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Mel Rich 1944-2008

Mel Rich, an industry innovator in developing science-based nutritional supplements, died on October 18, 2008, at the age of 63 after a 4-year battle with cancer. President of Great Earth Companies, Inc., the franchising arm of Great Earth Vitamin Stores, Mel was known for creating leading-edge formulas and mentoring young people in the dietary supplement industry.

Born November 29, 1944, in New York City, Mel was the son of Sidney and Charlotte Rich. Sidney Rich founded Phoenix Laboratories, Inc., manufacturing generic pharmaceuticals and, by contract, dietary supplements. As a youngster, Mel helped his father by stuffing cotton into pill bottles. In 1968, Mel graduated from Columbia University, College of Pharmaceutical Sciences, with a degree in pharmacy and began working in the family business. Drawn to dietary supplement manufacturing, he became known in the industry for creating unique, credible products. When Great Earth Vitamin Stores was founded in 1971 by pharmacists Bernie Bubman and Earl Mindell, Mel began formulating and manufacturing products for the new company.

In 1988, the Rich family purchased the Great Earth franchising company, and Mel became Great Earth’s president. Believing that science should be at the root of all dietary supplement formulations and valuing efficacy over marketability, he sponsored human clinical research on many of the dietary supplements he produced. One of Mel’s associates said that he frequently passed up opportunities to manufacture enormous quantities of dietary supplements for some large companies because he did not find those particular products to be credible. According to associates, he developed several “firsts” for the dietary supplement industry; these include a mega-potency multiple vitamin, a patented time-released process for use in dietary supplements, an antioxidant formula, and “the highway of digestion”—an analytical laboratory procedure that simulates the human digestive process, allowing dietary supplements to be accurately tested to determine their ability to break down and be absorbed.

Upon hearing of his death, Mindell, author of the best-selling The Vitamin Bible, said, “Mel Rich was one of the pioneers of new supplements [who discovered] new ways to increase the bioavailability of nutrients. He was always looking and researching to better the industry with quality products. His enthusiasm to share what he discovered with me is something I will never forget.”

In 1996, Mel Rich founded Bodyonics Limited, and its brand, Pinnacle®, to develop and provide reliable sports nutrition supplements for bodybuilders wishing to avoid illegal, dangerous, anabolic steroids. He also developed Pinnacle’s unique packaging, which won several industry awards. Neal Spruce, founder of Apex Fitness Group and dotFIT, and past chairman of the National Academy of Sports Medicine, recalled Rich’s influence: “I met Mel in 1993 when I was beginning my company, Apex. His amazing intellect and innovations helped my teams create a great fitness platform, which carries his products and continues to be distributed all over the world. But Mel was so much more than a business relationship. He became a friend that shared the same values and vision.”

Gene Bruno, Great Earth’s vice-president of education, and dean of academics at Huntington College of Health Sciences, said he would dearly miss his mentor and friend. “He taught me the importance of manufacturing integrity-based formulations and dietary supplement science, not just products that sound good on paper. Mel also believed in me, which was a gift of unsurpassed value. I will always be grateful.”

Medicine hunter, author, and educator Chris Kilham described Mel as uniquely talented and bursting with creativity. “Mel sponsored several of my expeditions in the 1990s, and in doing so helped to further my career,” said Kilham. “A master of the big idea, Mel would at any time keep company with PhD scientists, Penthouse pets, and world-class athletes. He saw connections everywhere. Even during the very tough times of fighting cancer, Mel remained kind and generous. Mel Rich burned bright, and deserves to be remembered for what he was, a good and talented man who could not be contained or easily defined.”

Mr. Rich is survived by his wife Ronni, his mother Charlotte, and two daughters, Barrie Rich, MD, and Hallie Rich, who succeeds him as president and promised that she would continue his legacy with Great Earth.

—Mariann G. Wizard