When Jason Watkin loaded his Volkswagen Golf onto a ship destined for Europe during his 20s, the last thing he expected was to someday become the CEO of one of the country’s most successful supplement companies, makers of Purica.
“I filled the car with five or 10 years worth of supplements and had planned to move to Europe permanently,” Watkin said during a recent interview.
With a background steeped in Western sciences like chemistry, biology and pharmacology, yet infused with experience in traditional Chinese medicine, philosophy and comparative religion, Watkin quickly found himself administering nutritional advice to top-level ballet dancers gathered to train and perform in Amsterdam.
“I began nutritionally consulting the ballet dancers for the Royal Dutch Ballet, Frankfurt Ballet and many Russian dancers,” he said.
Offstage, Watkin glimpsed the real-life tragedies and dramas faced by the majority of young dancers eager to make their mark, as well as veteran dancers keen to avoid injury and stay on top of their game.
“[The ballet world] is really stressful, which was perfect for me because I had studied about stress and these dancers were under tremendous amounts of stress,” he said.
“I was behind the scenes and it was brutal.”
Watkin used his background to develop special supplements tailored to the needs of the high-performance athletes under his care, many of whom suffered from inflammatory conditions, autoimmune disorders and a range of psychological and emotional stresses.
It wasn’t long before Watkin — and his patients — noticed the nutritional programs were having a real impact on dancers’ lives by increasing stamina, improving healing rates and generally creating a better state of wellness.
“I was getting kind of excited, but I’m not coming at it from a business perspective at all. I was just happy because I was going to be able to stay there,” he said. “The results were amazing.”
“The whole thing about recovery was to try to make you heal like a kid,” he added. “It’s not the fountain of youth or anything like that, just addressing what happens to a cell as it ages.”
Watkin’s European foray came to an inevitable conclusion but not before many of the Dutch doctors who’d become familiar with his work gave him the encouragement to make his unique blend of restorative nutrients — largely based on products derived from grapes and tea extracts — available on a broader scale.
Back on Vancouver Island, he continued on a trial-and-error basis, mainly working with horses at a Nanaimo veterinary clinic, to perfect the first of many products marketed by Biomedical Laboratories under the Purica label.
Nearly two decades later, the company is at work on a state-of-the-art headquarters in the Cowichan Valley.
Purica brand products are available in pharmacies and health food shops across Canada and the company has plans to expand its presence in retail outlets south of the border. The company also has an entire line of products dedicated to animal health.
As a Salt Spring resident, Watkin is excited about the prospect of developing links with local growers as the company strives to include as many BC-sourced ingredients in its products as possible.
“We have some cool plans to tie people in the Cowichan Valley and Salt Spring, to get moving together,” he said. “We moved here because we were looking for a community that we felt would be really co-operative and open-minded and progressive without being confrontational. We moved to Salt Spring because it just came upon us and it’s been wonderful.”
The company’s success mirrors what company spokesperson Rob Adelson sees as a large-scale awakening by people who are taking a pro-active solution to health and wellness issues. In the same way people have turned to organic food and healthier lifestyles, he said, supplements have found their niche among users from all demographics.
“In the last 10 years people have been connecting the dots about what’s affecting their health,” Adelson said.
Connecting people with opportunities for better health, he added, has always been at the root of the company’s philosophy.
“The company wasn’t really started by a bunch of people who wanted to make some money. It began with a group of people who said, ‘This thing is actually helping people. Let’s see what we can do to help more people,’” he said. “The mission is real and it’s sincere. It’s not an idea that people are looking at now and then.
“People call, and they call frequently to say, ‘You wouldn’t believe what happened to my dog or my horse or to me or my brother.’
“It makes it a really unusual business.”
And, Watkin chimes in, that’s what makes it so much fun.