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Vitabiotics boss and 'Dragon' Tej Lalvani:'China's two-child policy could make us very successful'

"Feeling tired?" adverts plaster the London Underground tube network a clever piece of marketing from Vitabiotics, Britain's largest vitamin company, targetingfatigued commuters on their way to work.
The company, best known for supplement brands such as Perfectil (for skin, hair, and nails), Pregnacare, Wellmanand Wellwoman, wasfounded in 1971 by British chemistKartar Lalvani, and is now run by his son Tej, who is one of the "dragons" on the BBC television series Dragons' Den.
A new series of the show, which features budding entrepreneurs pitching their business ideas to five multi-millionaires willing to invest their own cash for a stake in the company, started last week, and it is the second season Lalvani has appeared on.
It's a natural fit for the enterprising 44-year-old who has grown Vitabiotics' annual global sales from ?2m to ?300m since he took over the family business from his father, who remains chairman, two decades ago.
Despite inheriting the business, Indian-born Lalvani stresses that he worked his way upfrom the bottomafter graduating from university first as a forklift driver in the warehouse, then in product development, before becomingchief operating officer in 2008 and chief executive in 2015.
"When we became Britain's biggest vitamin supplement company in 2013 it was a huge milestone for us as a family business. As an independent company in a competitive market we've had to work with fewer resources than multi-national pharmaceutical firms which have much deeper pockets," he says.
Vitabiotics boss and 'Dragon' Tej Lalvani:'China's two-child policy could make us very successful'

The Dragons, from L-R:Touker Suleyman, Jenny Campbell, Deborah Meaden, Tej Lalvani, Peter Jones

Credit:
Andrew Farrington/BBC
Much of Lalvani's successhas been the result of effectivemarketing campaignsand rapid international expansion.Vitabiotics' is currently sold in more than 100 countriesacross Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
Most recently, Lalvani completed a $20m (?15.5m)deal withUS pharmacy giant Walgreens, allowing Vitabioticsto expandinto the American market, and China is next on the list.
"Since China introduced its two-child policy it has been a big focus for us. The majority of pregnant women take supplements after they've conceived, which means Pregnacare could be very successful there. Parents in China also love British brands.
"We currently sell online in China, and once we're registered with theMinistry of Health we can sell retail."
The aforementioned marketing campaigns, while mostly successful, thanks to a roster of celebrity ambassadors including model David Gandy and singer Nicole Scherzinger,have also landed the company in hot water at times.
Much like other big vitamins firms, Vitabiotics has faced scrutiny over claims it has made in its adverts. In 2014, theAdvertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned a television advert featuring English championship swimmer Mark Foster because it breachedadvertising rules by using a professor to make a health claim, which is prohibited in adverts about food or food supplements.
And in 2015, the regulator banned a Vitabiotics advert forPregnacare,a vitamin supplementdesigned for women trying to conceive, because itsaid there was no proof that the product could increase the likelihood of pregnancy.
Vitabiotics boss and 'Dragon' Tej Lalvani:'China's two-child policy could make us very successful'

Model David Gandy is one of Vitabiotics' ambassadors
Lalvani says these banned ads have been"few and far between" and were the result of frequent changes of already-unclearregulations about what you can and can't say in advertising. "We've donea lot of lobbying with the Government to get these regulations more clearly defined," he said.
He is bullish about the future of the vitamins and supplements industry. According to figures from research firm Mintel, the market was worth?423m in 2016 and is forecast to be worth ?460m by 2022.
"People today are more hectic, more likely to skip meals, more stressed, do more travelling. This all has a knock-on effect on the immune system and so people need supplements to improve their nutrition.
"It's definitely a growth market, particularly with people becoming more conscious about what they eat, and with the rise in vegan and free-from foods," Lalvani says.
Lalvani's interests go beyond vitamins and supplements.He and his wife Tara Ruby, who he married in 2011,also own a property investment business in London. "Property is a big interest of mine, it's ahobby and I pay close attention to the market," he says.
This is one of the reasons why he recently bought a stake inproperty management company Air Agents. According to the Evening Standard, rival dragonTouker Suleyman is also an investor in the firm, which takes pictures of properties, cleans them and manages them for Airbnb hosts.
Last season's Dragons Den saw Lalvani make more investments than any other Dragon on the show, and he claims to have made a few this season as well. "It has been great going back on the show as now I know what to expect. It's a great experience and there have been some really good entrepreneurs walk through the door", he said.
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