(Disclosure: This post was sponsored by FitFluential on behalf of NOW Foods –  All opinions are very much my own.)

In a word… wow.

“I just wanted to let you know… I am genuinely impressed by the level of honesty, integrity, and care in this company. You guys have something special here… This company has… soul.”

Those are pretty much the words that came out of my mouth on my way to the airport shuttle to come home… just 24 hours after arriving in Illinois for the NOW Foods “Influencer Immersion Event”.

I like to think I’m a pretty smart guy…

but sometimes I still manage to get caught off-guard… and by the time I was leaving the 2 day “Influencer Immersion Event” at NOW Foods headquarters… well… I’d say I was not only caught off-guard… but thoroughly blown away. No, not because of an impressive facility or big revenue numbers… something else. Something much more important and, frankly… very rare in corporate America… Something I found in Anytime Fitness that made me think I found a unicorn. Well… I found another unicorn.

Sometimes the best things are unexpected.

I do “influencer” campaigns whenever I can. They’re basically where companies work with “influencers” to share a product with the influencer’s audience. The influencer will get compensated for their time / effort / social exposure with cash, product, or both. Generally, the opinions expressed are always honest and always solely that of the influencer. The posts and opinions always tend to be good because, well, you sign up for these campaigns… and you’re probably not going to set yourself up for a bad review, now are you? So naturally, when a campaign opportunity came along for a supplement/natural foods company… and what a sweet set-up it was… I dove at the chance and put in for it.

I didn’t even know what NOW Foods was before this.

As any responsible person would… I did some reading online prior to flying out to Chicago, and I got a really good impression of the company. It seemed like they really cared about their products, their customers, their people and (did I mention?) their product. They seemed like they went to some heightened efforts to ensure quality and transparency, and they made a big effort to share information and engage with their customers. Good first impression, we’re on the right track.

doing the right thing now foodsThen I got there… and I started to find out just how serious they were.

I had arranged, ahead of time, to meet with the CEO (Jim Emme) for a one-on-one interview/chat for my podcast. He was an incredibly personable, very real, very non-corporate guy. Not what I had expected (that’s a good thing). We had an awesome conversation, he was very easy to talk to, and we covered it all. Through our conversation, I could tell that it wasn’t just BS for an interview… he genuinely cared about quality, his customers, his employees… It’s tough to get across, but you can listen for yourself on episode 36 of the podcast.

I may have taken the opportunity after our chat to go for a run with another blogger – Cynthia of “You Signed Up For What?” – of course I did… haven’t you caught on by now? hah!

Dinner that night was more of the same.

We were brought to an exceptionally nice restaurant not far from the resort. They had a custom (healthy) four-course menu arranged for us ahead of time. We had four large tables in the room, and after we all sort of chose tables the NOW leadership members present sort of divied themselves up among us. Jim ended up at my table, and he spent the whole meal just chatting, answering questions, he REALLY wanted to dig in, get to know us, and have us get to know him and NOW. Early on, before the meal started, he got up to speak to the group, as did Dan Elwood (the founder’s son). They both said a lot of the same things Jim said in our chat earlier at the hotel. You could tell they meant every word. It was refreshing to see that coming from corporate leadership.

It also became very clear from conversation… that Jim had actually read (and enjoyed) all of our blogs. Not only that, he actually made some of the recipes, including one from Neli of “Delicious Meets Healthy” that apparently he “wouldn’t shut up about” at the office (other staff confirmed that – hah!). We all know the brand usually selects the influencers they work with on a campaign, but it became clear that NOW really did pay attention to who they invited to this event… and that they had a genuine interest in connecting with us and getting to know us.

Day 2… they put their money where their mouth is.

We started our day off with a pretty solid boot-camp workout at the resort’s fitness club before getting going because… let’s be real… you bring a dozen-and-a-half health & fitness influencers together… it’s just kind of a thing you do, right? And of course there’s that jerk (me) that goes for a run BEFORE the hour-long bootcamp (totally necessary, right?). Afterward they provided protein shakes based on our preferences, all made with NOW products, of course (tasted great, too). As I eyeballed the custom-printed ingredients label on the shaker cup we made our way to an “Essential Oils education & DIY session”.

The education began, and… WHOA…

First off, we weren’t just learning about NOW and how they roll… they were teaching us about the stuff itself. This first session/time-block/whatever… it was essential oils. I never realized there was so much to it… had no idea what essential oils were or what to do with them. I didn’t know what a carrier oil was or how potent stuff was or anything. Not only did I learn a ton… I also learned NOW’s process… and the short version here is… they’re providing a product that’s just as good, if not a HIGHER quality than their competitors… at literally a fraction of the cost. They compared a popular oil – “Thieves Oil” – to their “Nature’s Shield” blend. Basically the same. Thieves Oil was about $40 for a .5 oz bottle… NOW’s oil? $19.99 for a 1 oz bottle (get it here: NOW Nature’s Shield Oil Blend,1-Ounce). Half the cost, twice the size. That’s where something Jim said the day before stuck out:

“The question shouldn’t be “why are we charging so little”… you should be asking why are THEY charging so much.” – Jim Emme

The rest of the day was much of the same –

We went over to the plant next, where we watched a short video, got a great q & a session, and toured the plant. We saw the manufacturing floor, the labs, the office space, the old warehouse space (they just relocated to a larger space)… all of it reinforced the things Jim and Dan had said earlier on. Seeing the plant floor – the equipment, the staff, their inventory control, safety precautions… every little bit really just goes not just one step beyond the necessary… but two or even three.

Funny thing happened on the plant floor…

Jim felt the need to point something out by the large mixing hoppers. They wash them after each use, right? Well, the faster they can get them dried out after washing… the better, right? So Jim points out this particular piece of equipment on the wall. Looks like some sort of funky blower unit. Lo and behold, it’s not some expensive professional piece of equipment… it’s a gerry-rigged thing with a $2 giant salad bowl from Wal-Mart. In a facility with millions of dollars of high-grade equipment… they’re still saving where they can. Hah!

Throughout the whole plant tour – one thing was apparent…

NOW was going to go at least one step further whenever the opportunity presented itself, whether they needed to or not. Ingredients are tested for quality before they arrive? Let’s test ’em again. There’s already 4 layers of purity/contaminant check? Let’s do a 5th. There’s an ingredient that’s contaminated with Listeria but not the batch WE got? Let’s do a voluntary recall anyway. They don’t bother with proprietary formulas, either, and they’re very honest about what their products are and aren’t… including whether they’re non-GMO. They go to some great lengths, by the way, to ensure as many of their products as possible are Non-GMO. It’s just something they’re committed to.

It was also apparent that they know what they’re talking about.

We had a great sports nutrition q & a during lunch at the corporate offices. We fired LOTS of questions at the guy as he ran through his powerpoint, and he did pretty darn good with the answers. That session sparked a lot of discussion, and I definitely learned a few things.

Then we went to the kitchen… and saw the fun!

Oh my good lord… Chef Suzy Singh in the “culinary innovation lab”… what a hoot! She was so fun, and you could just SEE her passion for what she does. We learned about the NOW Real Food products, the new Nutty Infusions (infused nut butters), and the Ellyndale food lines. We got to be some of the first people to taste the Nutty Infusions, did an oil tasting (whoa… there’s a new one for me) and did make-your-own Q-Cups (quinoa cups). I learned a ton and saw the passion the staff has for what they do. I also saw the serious level of quality that goes into making their “real food” products, and what the difference is with “natural” foods. It was impressive to say the least.

After everything was through, we had a short while to connect with the staff and with the other bloggers/influencers that were there. I can’t thank NOW enough not only for the opportunity to check out the facility and learn so much… but for bringing all of us influencers/bloggers together. It was a great opportunity to connect with like-minded people, and I certainly intend to keep in touch.

Turn after turn, step after step… I was only MORE impressed.

Seriously, the longer the tour experience went on, the more impressed with NOW I became. The level of care is simply stunning. I rarely feel so strongly about a company, but frankly… I feel compelled to recommend NOW to everyone I know for whatever product they’re looking for if NOW makes it. There’s something special going on in that place that’s really tough to describe… but you could maybe call it “soul”. It’s what I found at Anytime Fitness that made me fall so in love with the place. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d run into it again in the corporate world… but here we are. That’s what prompted me to stop and say those words at the top of this post before leaving, and it’s what’s going to keep me coming back for more. I was lucky enough to find another unicorn, I’m CERTAINLY not going to let it out of my sight.

Check out their site, take a peek at what they’re about and what they sell, and I’d love to urge you to buy their stuff. If you follow this link to do so you’ll even support So THIS Is Fitness a little bit 🙂 Also, check out the conversation I had with Jim Emme in the player below or by subscribing to the So THIS Is Fitness podcast in your favorite app!

Have YOU tried NOW products? Hop into the comments and let me know your favorite stuff!

Oh, and you can win some stuff too.

When I arrived at the hotel their were two big ol’ bags of product waiting for me. “Goodie bags”. Well, I get to give away a set of the same stuff I got, worth over $350 I’m pretty sure. Want in? Hit the widget below and enter! It’s only open for a week – get in while you can!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Did I mention shopping?! Shop NOW Foods products on Amazon!