In early January of 2023, we kicked the year off right by hosting Jason Budsock of Animal at Universal Nutrition on the PricePlow Podcast. Many know Jason for his two decades at Animal – He’s JDawgXL in the forums and on Instagram, and is the Vice President of Products at the company.
In this discussion, we talk about Animal’s legendary past, the incredible product launches over the past year (see them on our Universal Nutrition news page), and what they have coming for us in 2023.
We reminisce about The Cage, and Jason explains how they were the original EAA supplement, released in the early 2000s after following two studies published in 1999 and 2000.
Some changes are coming to Animal Pak, a new value Whey Protein is on its way, and far more.
0:00 – Introductions
Jason is “the guy” at Animal and Universal Nutrition, but his official title is Vice President of Products, which goes from product concept all the way to launch. He’s been at the company for twenty years!
He started at the Vitamin Shoppe during college (note to young followers interested in getting into this industry: so many careers begin in retail), got a food science degree, but realized he didn’t want to practice as a dietician. So instead, he joined Universal Nutrition in the customer service department.
4:30 – 2006: Animal Flex and Animal Omega
Working in retail helps you realize that there’s far more than just sports nutrition. In fact, pre-workouts weren’t even much of a thing back when Jason started!
5:15 – The Animal Brand
You can do a case study on the incredible branding that is Animal, which all started with Animal Pak. Mike tells a story that Animal Pak was the second product manually entered into the PricePlow database – it was the thing behind ON 100% Whey.
Following Animal has been incredible – we’ve been secretly “stalking” the brand since we began!
6:45 – The Legacy of @UniversalUSA on Instagram
One of Mike’s favorite reminiscent things to do is to scroll way down on @UniversalUSA on Instagram, and look at the fun they had. Traveling the world and spreading the gospel of Animal Pak and Universal Nutrition, rolling with a huge crew, lifting, eating, having fun.
Those are the times that we should all aspire to have in our lives.
7:45 – Animal was the original lifestyle brand
Jason mentions that brands like Ghost have done great branding lifestyle content, Universal / Animal was the original lifestyle brand. They want to get back to that a little bit. They predate the “lifestyle” even further behind 5% Nutrition.
Ben mentions guys like Frank McGrath and Evan Centopani – Evan is still involved.
10:00 – Animal provides an experience
With the Animal Barbell club, and the Animal supplements (especially Animal Pak), there is an experience. It may not have been the first “pack” on the product, but it was probably the first one to go big.
The “pak mentality” allows the brand to do so much more, and allow users to customize their experience, such as being able to remove their stimulant pill.
Jason discusses Animal Rage being the first pre-workout, but Shock Therapy was actually long before it! Both great products, they keep it simple but strong. Jason talks about the first batch of powders that didn’t taste great, clumped, etc. But it smacked and people still talk about it today.
13:00 – Flavor technology over the years
When Jason started, there weren’t many flavor companies around. Now it’s a whole different ball game – there are flavorists and flavor houses. Universal does some stuff at their own manufacturing facility, but overall, there are so many great experts to rely upon.
14:45 – Universal manufactures its own supplements
Mike likes to remind everyone that Universal has their own manufacturing facility! They may bring in flavor systems from outside parties, but they manufacture it themselves. This gives them great adaptability and turnaround times.
This brings a lot of learned knowledge.
Mike loves how Animal Primal turned out, one of the best (if not the best) with 3DPump-Breakthrough.
17:30 – Product development: listening to the customer base
Jason talks about how the product development process goes, how they take feedback from customers through Facebook and Instagram DM but also from their CEO Bob Levi, who’s been there since early 2021.
It’s important to make the website navigable, but also have a product mix that covers what the consumers really want.
As a team, there needs to be focus – everything has opportunity cost.
20:30 – Some future product hints
The Animal Creatine Chews are doing really well, so you can expect to see more chew products coming from Animal soon. Mike rants about how much he loves them, and it turns out they’re actually pressed right at their own facility. “If you’re going to eat some candy, you might as well get some creatine while you’re at it.”
The benefit of the chewable tablets is that you can get solid doses in – 5 grams of creatine monohydrate is something you won’t find in just a few gummies! Chews can be more concentrated.
23:15 – Old school but still ahead of the curve
Ben jokes that Universal has been selling Uni-Liver for decades, well before this Liver King nonsense started. Meanwhile, Torrent was the OG post-workout formula that still makes for a fantastic supplement.
“The simple products are the ones that stand the test of time.”
25:30 – The Universal / Animal Demographic
Who is the standard user in the DMs on Animal? Is it still heavily strength athletes?
The mean range of Animal is 25-40, but of course there are the loyal Gen-X consumers who grew up with them. They are mostly still looking for strength and performance.
2020 definitely changed some of the products Animal put out, but it’s time to get back to their bread and butter.
28:00 – THE CAGE
The issue of things changing brings us to THE CAGE, which was an event using Animal’s booth space on the Arnold Festival’s expo floor. Loyal powerlifters around the community joined in for incredible feats of strength, and there were always great stories to come from it.
It’s very important for young people to see this. A lot of people aren’t going to be in team sports, but this is one way for many to find their tribe. It’s great to show in person that these feats of strength are possible.
Ben and Jason trade stories of old from the Cage. It brought huge energy that would suck you in like a vortex.
Some of the stories are in this video below, including the big Rob Hall vs. Steve Johnson:
Even more below:
It’s tough to explain the excellence that is the cage, but these professionally-edited videos definitely come close.
38:30 – Bodybuilders and Powerlifters
Earlier on, old-school bodybuilders and powerlifters trained more together. Reason being, everyone was big and everyone was strong. The only time you would see a difference was when the bodybuilders would start dieting down. But in the offseason, everyone would look the same. Animal captured a lot of that.
40:00 – Where does Animal move forward?
In the era of TikTok, where is Animal? Jason jokes that they talked about not going on TikTok, but of course they will be on TikTok. They’ll go where people want to be and do their thing there.
In the upcoming years, they’re focusing more heavily on product, but don’t want it to contrast with the lifestyle. The two can co-exist.
Jason wanted marketing to show more product, and it may have swung a bit too far, but now they’re going to show more lifestyle. They are going to try a few newer things with their huge array of products.
There are a lot of questions to fine-tune, and this is normal for a brand of 40 years. Do you focus on powerlifting and/or bodybuilding? Do you get more influencers?
43:00 – Any product leaks?
Animal recently worked hard to capture the creatine market (Animal Creatine Capsules, Animal Creatine XL Powder, Animal Creatine Chews). Now they’re going in bigger with whey protein. Listening to their consumers and retailers, they’re asking for a value protein, so they’ll be releasing a 100% Whey value protein.
Animal Whey will remain the same, they’re only adding a new product to the lineup. Animal Whey is a 50/50 isolate/concentrate.
Animal will be updating Animal Pak – it’s going to have less pills! It’s more concentrated, but less pills – a major change.
48:00 – Responding to 2020
In 2020, they had to shut the company gym down – they couldn’t risk folks getting sick and having to shut the manufacturing line down.
So they started training outside, using old school jugs and concrete weights. They also stunt where an employee named Joseph was getting ready for competition, so they tried to see how long he could live in the gym.
51:30 – Animal Nitro: The original EAA supplement
Animal’s been following research for a long time. Tipton and Wolfe had some of the original EAA studies, published in 1999 and 2000.[1,2] In the early 2000s, there were only BCAA supplements, or “amino acid tablets” that were really basically whey protein punched into a tablet.
When they saw that a 6 gram dose worked well in one study, Animal decided to take that and make a product out of it — Animal Nitro! This was a capsule product with 6 grams of EAAs.
Then there was also Animal NitroG, which was a powder with the 6 grams of EAAs and 35 grams of dextrose, as used in that study as well.
That was Jason’s first product launch, and that was well ahead of its time – nobody was doing essential amino acids – it was always about BCAAs back in those days, and for like 10 years. Things eventually evolved into Animal Juiced Aminos as well.
Way back, tryptophan wasn’t in those supplements – somewhere in Japan with a different product, there had been a contaminated batch, so it was banned in many countries.[3,4] To this day, Nitro doesn’t have tryptophan – the original studies didn’t either and they stayed true to that. But Juiced Aminos will be changing to include it.