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Following rapid growth, Medifast opens new R&D hub in Owings Mills

Medifast’s food scientists test products in The Medifast Innovation Center’s laboratory. (Courtesy Medifast)

With the opening of a research and development hub in Owings Mills, Medifast is hoping to continue its rapid growth trajectory, improve its products and explore the possibility of expanding its product lineup — all right at home in Maryland.

The company, which started four decades ago in Owings Mills and is now headquartered in Baltimore’s Harbor East, has seen significant growth over the past five years, doubling its revenue twice in that time; the weight management company surpassed $1.5 billion in revenue in 2021 and is considered a market leader in the industry.

“As a result of moving from a small-cap to mid-cap company, we’ve had the opportunity to continue to grow our investments,” leading to the creation of the facility, the company’s CEO and chairman, Dan Chard, said in an interview.

The 20,000-square-foot facility, called The Medifast Innovation Center, is at 11515 Cronridge Drive. The center contains office space, labs, and a pilot plant, which is a space where the company’s researchers can prototype and test a product before it is manufactured on a larger scale.

Chard said he expects the pilot plant to allow Medifast to bring its products to market faster.

Medifast’s business model revolves around the company’s core weight loss program, Optavia, which connects customers with coaches who guide them through their “weight loss journey.” Part of this journey is Optavia’s 5&1 diet plan, which encourages customers to eat six meals a day — five of which are food items, called “fuelings,” that are provided by Optavia.

Those fuelings are the main product that will be developed at the innovation center, but Chard said the company’s scientists will also look at developing products associated with some of the other “healthy habits” that Optavia’s coaches tout to their clients — exercising, staying hydrated and getting a good night’s sleep.

In addition to its lab space, the innovation center includes “collaborative space” that will allow different people and departments involved in the development and sale of products to come together.

“It’s a great place for our scientists, our product managers, our marketing people, to collaborate together,” he said.

The facility as a whole is sprinkled with special touches tailored to the Medifast brand — there are pictures and videos of customers and coaches throughout the facility, and one wall is covered in quotes from satisfied customers.

“Through Optavia’s plan and community, I no longer hide behind my weight. I finally feel free to be myself,” one testimonial reads. Another declares: “The Fuelings taste great!”

To encourage the center’s workers to practice healthy habits themselves, all of the facility’s desks are standing desks or can be adjusted to that height.

“We also focus on helping our own employees be healthy,” he said. “You’re healthier if you’re standing while you’re working, so we’re giving them ways to stay healthy.”

The Medifast Innovation Center is the company’s latest expansion in Maryland. Just this past February, it opened a new distribution facility in Havre de Grace.

The company’s next big goal is to exceed $3 billion in revenue.

“We’re Marylanders at heart, but we also have a broad mission to offer lifelong transformation to the world,” Chard said.