ChromaDex Corporation (CDXC) Q3 2020 Earnings Call Transcript

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ChromaDex Corporation (NASDAQ:CDXC)
Q3 2020 Earnings Call
Nov 4, 2020, 4:30 p.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by and welcome to ChromaDex Corporation’s Third Quarter 2020 Earnings Conference Call. My name is Jody and I will be the conference operator today. [Operator Instructions]

This afternoon ChromaDex issued a news release announcing the Company’s financial results for the third quarter 2020. If you have not reviewed this information, both are available within the Investor Relations section of ChromaDex’s website at www.chromadex.com.

I would now like to turn the conference call over to Brianna Gerber, Vice President of FP&A and Investor Relations. Please go ahead, Mrs. Gerber.

Brianna GerberVice President of FP&A and Investor Relations

Thank you. Good afternoon and welcome to ChromaDex Corporation’s third quarter 2020 results investor call. With us today are ChromaDex’s Chief Executive Officer, Rob Fried; Founder and Executive Chairman, Frank Jaksch; and Chief Financial Officer, Kevin Farr.

Today’s conference call may include forward-looking statements, including statements related to ChromaDex’s research and development and clinical trial plans and the timing and results of such trials, the timing of future regulatory filings, the expansion of the sale of Tru Niagen in new markets, future financial results, business development opportunities, future cash needs, ChromaDex’s operating performance in the future, and future investor interests that are subject to risks and uncertainties relating to ChromaDex’s future business prospects and opportunities as well as anticipated results of operation.

Forward-looking statements represent only the Company’s estimates on the date of this conference call and are not intended to give any assurance as to actual future results. Because forward-looking statements relate to matters that have not yet occurred, these statements are inherently subject to risks and uncertainties. Many factors could cause ChromaDex’s actual activities or results differ materially from the activities and results anticipated in forward-looking statements. These risk factors include those contained in ChromaDex’s Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q most recently filed with the SEC, including the effect of COVID-19 pandemic on our business, results of operation, financial condition and cash flow.

Please note that the Company assumes no obligation to update any forward-looking statements after the date of this conference call to conform with the forward-looking statements, actual results or to changes in its expectations. In addition, certain of the financial information presented in this call, references non-GAAP financial measures. The Company’s earnings presentation and earnings press release, which were issued this afternoon and are available on the Company’s website present reconciliations to the appropriate GAAP measures.

Finally, this conference call is being recorded via webcast. The webcast will be available at the Investor Relations section of our website at www.chromadex.com.

With that, it’s now my pleasure to turn the call over to our Chief Executive Officer, Rob Fried. Rob?

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

Thank you, Brianna. Good afternoon, everyone and thank you for joining our third quarter 2020 investor call. I’m pleased to say that ChromaDex had another strong quarter financially and strategically. E-commerce sales grew by 7% sequentially, and 21% year-over-year. Sales to Watsons were 93% sequentially and 10% year-over-year. Tru Niagen overall net sales were up 22% year-over-year.

In addition, we delivered an adjusted EBITDA loss which we define as EBITDA excluding legal expense of only $125,000 in the third quarter and breakeven year-to-date, an important achievement for this Company. The science on Niagen has been very strong since our last update. We announced completed clinical and preclinical research in areas such as autism, cardiovascular and immune health, fuel immune health [Phonetic] and most recently on coronavirus. Frank will go through this research in more detail shortly as well as some additional preclinical research showing that Niagen may have an impact on several of the nine hallmarks of agent, which are gaining the attention of the scientific and investment communities of late.

Earlier this year, we committed to advancing collaborative COVID-19 research on Niagen and sharing the findings when appropriate. I’m very proud to say that we’ve delivered on this commitment. I have more studies in the pipeline. This includes our collaboration with the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases or NIAID, the division of the NIH to assess the therapeutic potential of Niagen in COVID-19 animal models. And last month, we announced results of a controlled clinical study in Turkey. Showing that in nutritional protocol, which included nicotinamide riboside in combination with the therapeutic standard of care, reduced recovery time in COVID-19 patients by nearly 30%, 9.3 days to 6.6 days. This study included 100 patients with mild to moderate COVID-19. Researchers are now enrolling for a Phase III clinical trial with 300 patients. We are very proud to support research to find answers to this global pandemic and we look forward to sharing more results of these endeavors in future updates.

ChromaDex also delivered on our launch expectations for Tru Niagen with Nestle Health Science, one of the world’s great food science company. Last month, Nestle launched Celltrient Cellular Energy, a protein based flavored drink mix featuring Tru Niagen. This is one of three products under the new Celltrient brand which will help address the effects of age associated cellular decline or AACD. Nestle began marketing in August by launching the new unbranded website, myaacd.com, to educate consumers about AACD. According to that site, AACD is the time-related deterioration in the way our sales function as we age. Often begins in our 40s and accelerates in our 60s. This partnership with Nestle Health Science to launch Celltrient Energy is an exciting opportunity to reach a new base of consumers and introduce them to the cellular health and healthy aging benefits of Tru Niagen.

We’re proud to be in business with Nestle. We are encouraged by their commitment to this new product launch. Two, additional accomplishments on our core e-commerce business this quarter were one, the relaunch of our US truniagen.com website, which features our full suite of products and improved customer experience and two record breaking Labor Day promotional event, leveraging our new CRM, which enabled us to customize emails and offers by audience segmentation. We appointed a new Head of Marketing earlier this year, which assembled the strong new team with expertise of acquisition, retention, creative in third-party marketplace.

Going forward, we see opportunities to optimize each of these areas. We also continue to build upon and protect our intellectual property, which includes our ongoing litigation against Elysium Health. In Delaware, the patent cases scheduled for trial in September of 2021 with the Markman Hearing in December of this year, where the judge will rule on claims construction. We remain as confident as ever in the strength of our licensed patents following the Elysium’s unsuccessful attempts to validate them with the PTAB office in the US Court of Appeals.

We are also very confident in the other litigation against the regime and never paid the NR that ChromaDex supplied to them. W.R. Grace which holds patents on the two known nicotinamide riboside chloride morphologies in cells with ingredient [Phonetic] Niagen, exclusively to ChromaDex has also sued Elysium for patent infringement. We are encouraged to see a blue chip manufacturer like W.R. Grace protecting intellectual property surrounding Niagen. W.R. Grace is an important partner of ours. We see a tremendous opportunity to grow the Tru Niagen business with them over time. ChromaDex will not be incurring legal fees for that case. And it does not impact our litigation against the leasing. Although we believe it further validates Elysium’s egregious behavior.

As I reflect on the quarter, and the year-to-date, I’m extremely proud and grateful. I’m proud of the entire team at ChromaDex who pivoted quickly in the coronavirus hit, adjusting, marketing, messaging, advancing the science, adjusting to a virtual work environment and reducing cost. This is reflected in the stability of our operations as well as our strong financial results year-to-date. I’m also proud of our science and to be part of the conversation around potential solutions to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

This is unique for a dietary supplement company and thanks to our deep commitment to science and our hundreds of research collaborations globally. We’ve been able to quickly put together these studies. We will continue to invest in the science behind Niagen and fiercely protect our intellectual property against infringers which we believe creates long-term value for our shareholders. And I’m grateful to our business partners, Watsons, Nestle Health Science and W.R. Grace among many others, who believe in Tru Niagen and have committed to building the business with us.

With that, I will pass the call over to our Chairman, Frank Jaksch for an update on scientific research. Frank?

Frank L. JakschCo-Founder and Executive Chairman of the Board

Thank you, Rob. Since our last update, peer-reviewed publication of research on NR and NAD has continued to accelerate. In addition, there were two newly registered clinical studies on NR and ChromaDex signed nine new research collaborations as part of our served program. There are now 43 ongoing completed or published clinical trials currently registered on clinicaltrials.gov to investigate the pharmacokinetics and health benefits of NR. In addition, 11 clinical trials are registered to test NR in combination with other ingredients for a total of 54.

Earlier this year, we committed to advancing research on NR-related to COVID-19 and are encouraged that our ingredient is being studied as a potential nutritional solution. As Rob noted, we recently announced initial results of an open label, randomized, placebo-controlled Phase II study, which included a 100 COVID-19 positive patients with mild to moderate symptoms, and were published in medRxiv of pre-print server for health sciences. This clinical study was registered in October by ScandiBio Therapeutics and conducted at the University of Health Sciences, Istanbul, training and research hospital in Turkey. The objective was to assess the clinical efficacy, tolerability and safety of the combination of a nutritional protocol including nicotinamide riboside in the local standard of care that includes hydroxychloroquine compared to a placebo and the local standard of care.

The key findings were, the combination treatment reduced average recovery time by 29% compared to the placebo group, there was an improvement in markers of liver function for a combination of treatment on day 14 compared to day zero as measured by plasma ALT, AST and LDH, and adverse events were uncommon, benign and self-limiting.

According to the investigators conducted the study, the Phase III trial will be double-blinded and include 300 patients at eight clinical sites in Turkey. We are currently exploring other research opportunities to see how NR may be part of the solution to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our second clinical study was registered in August by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the NIH and the University of Washington to assess the mechanisms by which raising blood and heart NAD levels in humans helps mediate changes in mitochondrial function, protein and epigenetic modifications as well as inflammation. If the results are positive, this would provide evidence to proceed with additional studies of NR as a potential nutritional solution for heart failure patients.

In August, we announced the results of a pilot study, which indicated that Niagen may reduce inflammatory cytokines in Stage D heart failure patients. This marked the 11th published clinical study and the second study focused on the potential cardiovascular benefits of Niagen in humans. According to the lead researchers by increasing mitochondrial have peripheral blood mononuclear cells or PBMCs in the study, patients pro-inflammatory cytokines production was reduced. A key marker study was IL-6 unknown pro-inflammatory molecule that was suggested to play an important signaling role between mitochondrial function and inflammation in PBMCs. These new findings build upon the growing body of evidence identifying how Niagen may support cardiovascular health.

Rob mentioned the nine hallmarks of aging in his remarks, a reference to the land mark article called the Nine Hallmarks of Aging published seven years ago. A group of researchers identified nine cellular and molecular hallmarks of aging that contribute to the aging process and together determine aging. Many listening may be familiar with some of these such as cellular senescence, telomere attrition, stem cell exhaustion and of course mitochondrial dysfunction, our strategic focus.

I’ll briefly highlight two important preclinical studies that were published in October, which are related to the nine hallmarks of aging, stem cell exhaustion and telomere attrition. First, a mouse study published in Nature Immunology found that NR improved T-cell function, which is a component of new cancer immunotherapies. T-cells are immune cells tasked with recognizing and eliminating affected damaged or cancer cells. This research built upon a previous preclinical study that found NR could improve cancer treatment by preventing chemotherapeutic induced stem cell depletion including T-cells. We know mitochondrial function is essential to the function of energy expense itself including stem cells and immune cells.

The results of these recent preclinical studies suggest that NR can support these cells. However, further research is required to verify this. Proper immune cell function in turn may play a key role in a wide array of diseases, including many forms of cancer. Stem cell exhaustion as explained in the nine hallmarks of aging is the age related deficiency of stem cells which contribute to many of the physical problems associated with aging including a weak immune system. As such while early, this is an interesting area of research for NR.

Second, a preclinical study from the National Institute of Aging at NIH published in the European Molecular Biology Organization journal found that replenishing NAD within NR alleviated telomere damage providing a protective effect to DNA as cells replicate. Telomere attrition or shortening is another in the nine hallmarks of aging which refers to the gradual loss of protective caps of chromosomes. It is well accepted that telomeres play a significant role in aging and attrition has been linked to many age-related health conditions. These promising findings suggest that NAD repletion with NR may play a role in maintaining healthy telomere function, however, additional research is needed.

In summary, we are committed to remaining a global scientific authority on NR and NAD research and being an innovative science based responsible company. The growing body of clinical research supports the potential for sales of our patented NAD boosting ingredient, Niagen and our consumer product Tru Niagen. I look forward to sharing more in the future updates.

With that, I’ll pass the call to Kevin Farr. Kevin?

Kevin FarrChief Financial Officer

Thank you, Frank. We continue to focus on operational and financial discipline on our path to achieving cash flow breakeven. This discipline is again evident in our third quarter 2020 financial results, which reflect continued progress against our key financial objectives and strong underlying business performance. The underlying business as measured by adjusted EBITDA, excluding total legal expense was a loss of $125,000 in the third quarter, essentially breakeven and a $1.7 million improvement year-over-year. Compared to the second quarter of 2020, we delivered slightly lower net sales driven by tough comparison with the $1.6 million Horizons purchased last quarter, sequential and year-over-year growth in our core Tru Niagen consumer product sales, higher gross margins, higher advertising expense as a percentage of net sales, and lower general and administrative expense.

I’ll begin my review of the sequential P&L results and will then discuss the year-over-year trends. For the three months ended September 30, 2020 ChromaDex reported net sales of $14.2 million, down 7% compared to $15.3 million in the second quarter of 2020, which as I said included a $1.6 million purchase from our shareholder Horizon Ventures, who donated Tru Niagen bottles to healthcare workers in Hong Kong hospitals during the height of the pandemic.

Tru Niagen sales were up 2% sequentially or mid-teens excluding the Horizon’s purchase. Importantly, this growth was driven by our e-commerce and Watsons businesses, which were up 7% and 93% respectively compared to the prior quarter. Sales to Watsons were $2.5 million in the third quarter roughly double the $1.3 million of sales in the second quarter with sequential growth in both Tru Niagen and Tru Niagen beauty brands. Conversely, and is expected, we experienced headwinds from our Niagen ingredient business in the third quarter and we continue to expect lower Niagen sales in the second half of the year.

Our gross margin was up 20 basis points from 59.4% in the second quarter of 2020 to 59.6% in the third quarter of 2020. As a reminder, last quarter we included 110 basis points from a rebate related to prior year supply chain efficiency initiatives. So, the underlying improvement was stronger. Product cost savings initiatives, favorable mix and overall scale on our supply chain drove the improvement in gross margins.

Total operating expenses for the third quarter of 2020 were $12.7 million, down $0.1 million compared to the second quarter of 2020. Selling and marketing expense was up $0.3 million to $5.2 million in the third quarter of 2020 compared to $5 million in the second quarter of 2020 consistent with our expectations. As a percentage of net sales this expenditure was up of 440 basis points in the third quarter of 2020 versus the second quarter of 2020.

We continue to monitor daily e-commerce metrics such as customer acquisition cost to adjust messaging and spending. At the same time, we increased spending this quarter consistent with our full year financial outlook. Some of the investments this quarter were focused on brand building, which was the higher customer acquisition cost in the short term, but is important for increasing awareness and for long-term customer retention.

As reported, G&A expense was down $0.3 million to $6.5 million in the third quarter of 2020 versus $6.9 million in the second quarter of 2020. This included $1.9 million of legal fees and $0.2 million of severance and restructuring expense in the current quarter. Excluding legal fees, severance and restructuring and equity compensation expense, third quarter 2020 G&A expense was lower by $0.1 million versus the second quarter 2020 comparable G&A expense.

Legal expense was up $0.1 million compared to the second quarter of 2020. No trial dates have been set in California, due to the coronavirus. There were ongoing investments in the Delaware patent infringement case as we prepared for the claims, construction, Markman hearing in December 2020 and trial in September 2021. We also incurred expenses related to ongoing discovery in the New York litigation. While overall legal expense was lower than expected this quarter, we expect these to ramp up in the fourth quarter, driven by the New York and Delaware litigations.

For the third quarter of 2020, our operating loss was $4.2 million versus $3.7 million in the second quarter of 2020. The net loss attributable to common stockholders for the third quarter of 2020 was $4.2 million or a loss of $0.07 per share as compared to a loss of $3.7 million or a loss of $0.06 per share for the second quarter of 2020.

Moving to our year-over-year financial results, total net sales were up 18% year-over-year compared to the third quarter of 2019 with 22% growth in Tru Niagen, 21% growth in e-commerce and 10% growth in Watsons being the key highlights. Gross margins increased by 360 basis points to 59.6% compared to 56% in the third quarter of 2019. Marketing efficiency as measured by selling and marketing expenses percentage net sales improved by 150 basis points. General and administration expense was lower by $1.4 million due to savings from organizational realignment initiatives, and lower legal expense. Finally, our operating loss improved by $2.7 million year-over-year, driven by efficiencies across all areas of the P&L. We will help investors better gauge the underlying financial performance of our business and progress toward cash flow breakeven.

In the second quarter of 2019, we introduced a new non-GAAP measure, adjusted EBITDA excluding total legal expense. ChromaDex defines adjusted EBITDA excluding total legal expense as net income or loss, which is adjusted for income tax, interest, depreciation, amortization, non-cash stock compensation expenses, bad debt expense related to Elysium, severance and restructuring expenses and total legal spending. We’ve included a reconciliation for the appropriate GAAP measure in our earnings release slides. As I previously highlighted, adjusted EBITDA, excluding total legal expense was a loss of $0.1 million in the third quarter of 2020, compared to a profit of $0.5 million in the second quarter of 2020. Total year-over-year we delivered a $1.7 million improvement in the third quarter of 2020 versus a loss of $1.9 million in the third quarter of 2019.

Furthermore, this metric has improved from an average quarterly loss of approximately $4 million in 2018 and $2 million in 2019 to breakeven in 2020 year-to-date as we put important foundational processes and systems in place. Moving to the balance sheet and cash flow. We ended the quarter with $15.5 million in cash and have not accessed our $7 million committed line of credit. In the third quarter of 2020, our net cash used in operations was $3.8 million versus $1.6 million in the second quarter of 2020. The difference this quarter was primarily driven by higher working capital investments. To date, we have successfully navigated the business during the coronavirus pandemic managing our working capital. At this time, we do not expect any supply chain disruptions from the coronavirus and have implemented risk assessment strategies to manage this moving forward.

As it relates to our 2020 full year, our outlook is unchanged from our second quarter. We expect to deliver continued top line growth, including growth in our e-commerce business. We continue to expect gross margin expansion due to a favorable mix from our growing e-commerce business, the product design changes implemented in late 2019 and additional supply chain cost savings initiatives which we implemented beginning in the first quarter of 2020.

We continue to expect an increase in selling and marketing expense of $3 million to $5 million, including investments in brand awareness and investments in new market launches including our cross-border platforms in China. We expect continued improvement in selling and marketing expense as a percentage of net sales, driven by strong sales from returning customers and scale on our business.

Lastly, we continue to expect the G&A excluding severance and restructuring expense and legal expense will be up by $1 million to $2 million year-over-year comparable 2019 G&A expense excluding the Elysium related bad debt expense in 2019. Adjusted EBITDA, excluding total legal expense remains a key metric. We expect a significant improvement for full year 2020 versus full year 2019, but as we said, there may be quarter-to-quarter fluctuations driven by timing of our marketing campaigns and R&D investments.

We continue to believe we can achieve cash flow breakeven at $17 million to $19 million of quarterly revenues, if the litigation ends and legal costs decline. Total operating expenses will likely be higher in the near term, driven by higher litigation expense. As a result, we need to achieve sales of approximately $19 million and gross margins that is slightly better than 60% to achieve this.

We believe we will deliver higher gross margins as we execute on supply chain cost savings initiatives and are on track as we exit 2020. This remains an important objective for the Company, we’ve made significant progress and we’ll continue to manage all levers of the P&L to deliver on this commitment.

Before we conclude, let me briefly touch on the economics of the Nestle Health Science supply and license agreement. As Rob mentioned, Nestle recently launched their Celltrient Cellular Energy product with Tru Niagen online in the US. We wanted to update you on the accounting for the supply in Niagen, related royalties and the upfront exclusivity fee and product launch fees. As a reminder, there are certain commercial milestone payments tied to the sale of Tru Niagen to Nestle as they launch in new markets.

The aggregate payment is up to $6 million to ChromaDex which will be payable as the product launch milestones are achieved. We expect to collect the $1 million of cash related to US launch in the fourth quarter. The supply of Niagen and related royalties will be recognized upon the shipment of Niagen. The $4 million upfront exclusivity payment and the product launch fees provide for material rights related to this exclusivity over the term of the contract. The term is through 2036 when the last patent issue to our exclusive manufacturer related to the crystalline forms of NR chloride expires.

The upfront exclusivity fee and launch fees will be deferred revenue. The deferred revenue will be recognized. Based on the shipments in the current quarter relative to our estimated quantities over the term of the agreement. We will be required to revise our estimates on a quarterly basis and true-up revenue recognized as necessary. On the upfront fee in milestone payments, most revenues will be driven by ingredient sales and royalty payments from Nestle in 2020 and beyond.

But we continue to expect the contribution to be small in 2020 and 2021. There is meaningful long-term potential to create significant revenues and profits from our business partnership with Nestle. In addition, Nestle raise awareness of Tru Niagen through its marketing programs and continued global expansion and distribution in the years to come. We’re proud of our strategic partnership with a well-respected food science company like Nestle.

In summary, we remain committed to delivering profitable growth and achieved an important milestone of profitable adjusted EBITDA excluding total legal expense year-to-date. I’m very proud of the entire ChromaDex’ team’s execution and financial discipline. Operator, we’re now ready to take question.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

[Operator Instruction] Our first question comes from the line of Jeffrey Cohen of Ladenburg. Please go ahead, your line is open.

Jeffrey CohenLadenburg — Analyst

Hi, thank you for taking the questions. I’m just curious, I know you’ve mentioned additional potential partnership opportunities in the past and being in communication with some other partners. So I’m just wondering, have any of those moved a bit closer toward a firmer agreement following Nestle’s launch of Celltrient?

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

Yes, we have been in discussions with several blue chip companies and some have moved forward but none are imminent. They’re ongoing discussions.

Jeffrey CohenLadenburg — Analyst

Okay, very good. And I guess my follow up is more toward marketing. Do you have any insight upon Nestle’s target consumer and what kind of overlap is there between what, your Head of Marketing, the demographic they’re working on and what Nestle — and who Nestle is targeting?

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

Well Nestle’s product as you know is a protein based product and it’s a powder product, and it’s a complement to their suite of products that are targeting the anti-aging market. Obviously, Tru Niagen as well as Celltrient is an anti-aging product, so there is some overlap in the target market. We think that their target audience is a bit older than ours. There is overlap with the Celltrient product with their existing boost product that is complementary to the boost product. But we don’t really know yet the details of their target audience or their primary consumer at this point because it’s new. We’ll be calibrating with them and sharing information with them as we go along.

Jeffrey CohenLadenburg — Analyst

Okay, thank you. I’ll take the rest of my questions offline.

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

Thanks.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Brian Nagel of Oppenheimer. Please go ahead. Your line is open.

Brian NagelOppenheimer — Analyst

Hi, good afternoon. Thanks for taking my question.

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

Good afternoon.

Brian NagelOppenheimer — Analyst

Congratulations on continued nice progress here. So the first question I have, just with regard to sales. And Kevin, you spoke a lot about the difficult comparison with last year, which disrupted the sales trying a bit here in the third quarter. If I’m doing the math right, I exclude that it still seemed as though the pace of sales slowed somewhat further from Q2. So I guess the question I have is, am I right. But also probably more important is near to what extent. I think we talked about this last quarter due to what extent is the COVID crisis continuing to weigh somewhat upon on sales of the Tru Niagen products in the US and elsewhere and maybe any thought — any commentary on the sequential trends. So we think how — as COVID has started to maybe abate in some places, are you seeing sales rebound?

Kevin FarrChief Financial Officer

Yeah, I think with regard to the organic growth this quarter. I think it is lower, but it’s on a sequential basis, because of the one-time purchase that we had in the second quarter. If you take that out from a total Company’s perspective, we grew at 3%. If you look at it from a Tru Niagen perspective, it actually grew high teens for us. So it was some good organic growth in the quarter that was masked by the $1.6 million purchase that we’re comparing to in the second quarter. The COVID thing is hard to more or less calculate. We think that retail is obviously, when you look at Watsons in the rate that we’re growing last year and they are up 2% year-to-date this year, but last year they were growing at a much greater rate. So we know it’s impacting our retail operations. We also know that’s impacting the new markets that we launched in 2020 but it’s overall, it’s hard to tell.

Looking forward, we expect to continue to grow, but the environment is volatile. On a sequential basis, our e-commerce business remains the core growth engine. And if you look at our year-to-date results, due to the legacy B2B businesses that I mentioned, the micro economic impact of coronavirus and the Horizon Venture purchase, there has been some volatility quarter-to-quarter, but when you look at it year-to-date, we see the Company has grown 32% on a total Company basis. When you look at Tru Niagen, it’s grown 34%, our e-commerce business has grown 28% and as I mentioned earlier, Watsons has grown 2%. So good growth when you look at it in an aggregate basis over the first nine months. But there has been volatility, Brian.

Brian NagelOppenheimer — Analyst

That’s very helpful.

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

And Brian, this is Rob. I would add to that, that the core, the nucleus of the operation at this point is your direct to consumer Tru Niagen business and I think if you compare first quarter to second quarter, second quarter to third quarter, you can see that the actual rate of growth is increasing.

Brian NagelOppenheimer — Analyst

That’s perfect. And then for my follow-up, it looks like already you talked about this in the prepared comments, but the Phase II study in Turkey. It was exciting — quite exciting, we spent a lot of time talking about that. Just so, I guess the question is, what should, as investors, what should we be thinking about the timing of where this goes with the Phase III and when we’ll get some further communication on what this could potentially mean for ChromaDex or Tru Niagen?

Frank L. JakschCo-Founder and Executive Chairman of the Board

Well, the Phase II trial actually went relatively quickly and the Phase III trial is already moving relatively quickly. So I don’t think from a study timing standpoint, I mean it’s a short period where they’re dosing patients. So it’s really the question is around enrollment, how fast can they enroll 300 patients. So it’s not like it lingers for months in terms of a dosing — from a dosing perspective. So that’s moving relatively quickly.

And I think look, with everything you can see that’s going on in the world right now related to coronavirus, it’s accelerating the wrong way right now. I think coronavirus is going to be around for a while and we’re going to have — having additional data is going to give us another bite at the apple here. I mean, having a Phase III trial beyond that one, confirming hopefully keep our fingers crossed, confirming that the result that we got in the first study is going to go a long way.

Brian NagelOppenheimer — Analyst

Yes, I’ll just ask one more, on the heels of that. So, Kevin, again, I know there is a lot of unknowns here with this trial. If this goes well, how would we think about the financial — the benefits of ChromaDex, how would that flow into the model, so to say?

Kevin FarrChief Financial Officer

Well, I think hopefully it’s going to increase sales, in the rate of sales growth. And then obviously from a, I think we’ve proven the model and as we get more scale, we should be profitable quicker, that’s kind of the bottom line.

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

What we could specifically do with this information when it gets published, just market it directly to the healthcare practitioner market, the medical community in general, hospitals, pharmacies, physicians. It ought to be part of standard of care for people who are symptomatic COVID positive and this will enable us to communicate, that are, that should latter up to increased sales overall.

Brian NagelOppenheimer — Analyst

Got it. Thank you very much. Over to the next person. Next question.

Kevin FarrChief Financial Officer

Thanks, Brian.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Jeff Van Sinderen of B. Riley FBR. Please go ahead. Your line is open.

Jeff Van SinderenB. Riley FBR — Analyst

Great, thanks for taking my question. First, let me say congratulations on the progress on all fronts.

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

Thanks.

Jeff Van SinderenB. Riley FBR — Analyst

Can you speak more about how you’re thinking about evolving, marketing for community versus anti-aging as COVID spikes again, I know there’s been some shifting around on that.

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

Right. It’s a very good question. Managing, messaging and marketing as a healthcare company during COVID is sort of like shifting from zone defense command demand, because the market moves around as the news moves around. And as you know, we have positioned ourselves as an anti-aging and fitness product principally, and then we added immunity once we started releasing these COVID studies and that was effective for us in the second quarter and continue to be effective for us in the third quarter, but what we also observed during the third quarter was a bit of COVID fatigue and we saw that certain of the messages, especially those that are related to cell defense as it were, we’re not converting as well. So we have pivoted again and we’ve begun to add back some of the anti-aging and fitness messaging that was so successful prior to COVID hitting and we see, we see that converting as well. So it’s challenging, but we are equipped to manage it. And in the meantime, the more studies we release showing the power and the efficacy of Tru Niagen, the wider the market — the market potential as it is.

Jeff Van SinderenB. Riley FBR — Analyst

Okay, great. And then can we shift to international for a moment. Just wondering about your near-term expectations for the UK and Australia. Tru Niagen beauty, I know you mentioned that with Watson. I guess, anything else you can talk about at this point that’s on the horizon as we’re thinking about international going forward.

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

As you know, we are in 200 super drug stores in the UK, we sell cross border into EU, we sell cross border into China, we sell cross border into Japan. We are selling online in New Zealand and in Australia and starting to appear in certain retail outlets in Australia. We sell in certain retail outlets in Canada and we sell online and in Canada as well.

We see opportunity for growth in virtually all of these areas, particularly as the research continues to roll out. But the COVID thing has had an impact on retail particularly outside the US and the foot traffic in the UK has been very impacted. The timing of our release with Superdrug coincided with COVID, they closed a bunch of stores and it’s still somewhat small, so the online business is looking strong and growing, but the actual retail business seems to be waiting for people to come back.

We think that there is an opportunity for growth there. But at this point as long as COVID is still going to be around, they’re implementing even stricter lockdowns in parts of the EU including the UK, our emphasis will be much more on online marketing, and online sales. Fortunately we’re equipped to do that.

Jeff Van SinderenB. Riley FBR — Analyst

Okay, great. Thanks for taking my questions and best of luck for the rest of the quarter.

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

Thanks, Jeff.

Operator

And our next question comes from — comes from the line of Ram Selvaraju of H.C. Wainwright. Please go ahead. Your line is open.

Ram SelvarajuH.C. Wainwright — Analyst

Thanks so much for taking my questions. Firstly, I wanted to ask about how you expect gross margins to trend going forward. And if you think there’s likely to be significant sizable improvement potential in the coming quarters and if so, when could we approach potential steady state? Is that likely to be in the low-60s, mid-60s maybe even higher than that? Just give us some background on that, please.

Kevin FarrChief Financial Officer

Yeah, well, I think we’re just — we continue to work on our supply chain and we’re getting better. Mix has been something that’s been helping us, I think also our product design changes that we did last year, effective in the fourth quarter and going from three bottles for a 90 count dosage for three months to one bottle in smaller packaging and lower shipping costs are an opportunity.

We have, I think, secured and implemented things that are going to or initiatives that are going to deliver $2 million run rate next year. So you should see sequential improvements in our gross margins. I’d say we think we can get to the low-60s, I can see the line of sight to that and it’s something that you always continue to work on and obviously I think scale will help us too as we continue to grow and get to a higher level, that also will be another benefit.

Ram SelvarajuH.C. Wainwright — Analyst

And I mean in the context of that, can you comment on, as Nestle continues to scale with Celltrient, what kind of impact that is likely to have on the gross margin evolution?

Kevin FarrChief Financial Officer

Well, it should help. But I think when we look at it from a 2020, ’21 perspective, we don’t see it as being a big number for us. So that’s more like 2022 and that will help us scale. And also with regard to that selling of Niagen, we do get a royalty from that notes is somewhere between low-single digits as they launch to high-single digits as the business gets bigger and bigger.

Ram SelvarajuH.C. Wainwright — Analyst

Okay, and then just very quickly on the COVID-19 program. In the context of the Phase III, Frank, could you comment on what standard of care currently persist in Turkey and what we control is supposed to be in this Phase III program and also when you talked. I think both you and Rob talked about the potential utility of the drug in the context of symptomatic COVID-19, but what specifically do you mean, when you talk about symptomatic COVID-19. How sick the patients to be in order to potentially qualify and would you consider that potentially being a therapeutic deployed only in the outpatient setting or specifically within the context of thought.

Frank L. JakschCo-Founder and Executive Chairman of the Board

So the first part of your question, Ram, or let me take the last part first, I guess, is the best way. So, see we’re only looking at mild — so patients that have tested positive, but are only exhibiting mild symptoms. So people that are not going to enter the hospital or require hospitalization. So that’s the main bulk of the people that we’re looking to put into the trial, that was exactly what we did in the first Phase II study as well. So…

Ram SelvarajuH.C. Wainwright — Analyst

Yeah, that’s definitely helpful. But when you say mild symptoms, you’re not looking specifically at respiratory symptoms, is that right?

Frank L. JakschCo-Founder and Executive Chairman of the Board

Well, I wouldn’t say that they may be looking at some respiratory, but obviously they’re not going to be looking at people that would, from a pulse oximetry standpoint would be like in a bad way, right. So they’re looking for people that are on the fringe of that — but not — that not have to be hospitalized.

Ram SelvarajuH.C. Wainwright — Analyst

Okay, no, that’s very helpful. And then with respect to the standard of care and the control.

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

For standard of care, standard of care in Turkey, and we’ve had this conversation with others as well, but standard of care in Turkey is hydroxychloroquine, so we would love to be able to design the study without the standard of care. However, that’s not an option, we have to follow with the standard of care in Turkey as, they use hydroxychloroquine, so both arms, both in the — in this Phase III study, it will be a double blind placebo control, the first study was an open label, if you remember, but both arms do have to have standard of care.

So we have to have hydroxychloroquine in both arms. That’s just the nature of the beast of dealing with Turkey. But in the first study that was also, it was the same, but we did see obviously a clear difference between both arms, which had hydroxychloroquine, the arm with the nutrient cocktail plus Niagen showed a significant improvement of recovery. And that was the clear difference between the two. So we don’t believe that hydroxychloroquine plays a role. That’s what we believe at least at this point. I would love to be able to do an arm without that, to further show that, but that’s kind of where it sits. Does that answer your question?

Ram SelvarajuH.C. Wainwright — Analyst

Yes. I think, further to that, when we talk about mild symptoms, and the fact that hydroxychloroquine is a standard of care in Turkey, can you comment on all — other medications that are specifically being excluded in this trial? For example, are you permitting use of steroids like dexamethasone?

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

I don’t know — I don’t know if we have any specific exclusions that I can recall in the trial design. So it’s possible, I mean, the Phase III study is moving into eight. It’s eight site studies. So it’s possible that other things could be administered as part of the study, it — depending upon the site location.

Ram SelvarajuH.C. Wainwright — Analyst

What about remdesivir?

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

I don’t think there is a whole lot of remdesivir in Turkey, to be honest with you. I don’t think that’s going to be a major factor, because of the fact that there is not a whole lot of supply there.

Ram SelvarajuH.C. Wainwright — Analyst

Okay, very helpful. Thank you.

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

Thanks, Ram.

Operator

And our next question comes from the line of Mitchell Pinheiro of Sturdivant & Company. Please go ahead. Your line is open.

Mitchell PinheiroSturdivant & Company — Analyst

Hi. Good afternoon.

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

Hi, Mitch.

Mitchell PinheiroSturdivant & Company — Analyst

Just — first in the e-commerce business, can you talk about sort of a break down in this quarter whether sequentially or year-over-year. How new customers comprise of the — what the new customer growth was on the total recurring revenue, how that performed in the last quarter?

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

Well, the bulk of our revenue is from returning customers. The retention rate, which we haven’t yet provided is very, very strong and so we are confident in the base when people start to take Tru Niagen particularly after they take it for a month or two, very few stop taking it. The growth of new customers though has slowed. And we have noticed that the number of new customers that we’ve added for versus a year ago has declined. And so that’s an opportunity for us to grow further.

Mitchell PinheiroSturdivant & Company — Analyst

And when look at sort of I guess your customer acquisition costs, as they focus more on new customer or do you, is there any element in the recurring revenue customer that you’re spending on now?

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

I’m sorry, Mitch, could you try that one more time, I’m not sure I understood the question.

Mitchell PinheiroSturdivant & Company — Analyst

So well, you said [Phonetic], just to ask it differently, I mean, just can you talk about customer acquisition costs and how they compared in Europe, I guess internal data to a year ago or to the sequentially. And whether — I know you talked about, you spent some money on branded awareness more than sort of call action marketing, can you talk about that in the context of your customer acquisition?

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

Well, we did invest more in non-performance marketing in the third quarter. Satellite media tours, there was much more PR attempts. There were more interviews, more what you might call overall brands marketing, which is not conversion related directly related. So therefore, our customer acquisition costs were higher in the third quarter.

Additionally, we did some experimenting in some new messaging. As I said it’s a fluid situation with COVID and we’re noticing from month to month some dramatic changes in audience response. At the beginning of the year, we appointed a new Head of Marketing and that new Head of Marketing then put a team together to work with her. We also implemented some very strong fundamental long term marketing initiatives. For example, we have a much more robust cohort data analytical system in place. So we have a deeper understanding of who the customers are and how they behave, how they interact with us. We also have a much deeper understanding of website customers versus Amazon customers and who they are and what their interests are.

Additionally, we recoded the entire website, relaunched the entire website which also now enables us to track behavior from visitors to the website. So we have a much stronger and deeper understanding of our relationship with our consumers. But right in the middle of that process. We got hit with this — the pandemic, and it’s sort of forced us to put some of these fundamental initiatives aside and actually, but, be more reactive, right now, we are restoring some of those fundamental policies and programs in place. So my expectation is that the e-commerce business is going to become much more efficient and much and grow in a much more dramatic way in the coming quarters.

Mitchell PinheiroSturdivant & Company — Analyst

Okay. And then — that’s helpful. And then as you look at your various other sub-segments, healthcare practitioners, sports, business and any comments with regard to help they did in the quarter?

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

I’m not sure if we disclose how they did versus previous quarters versus last year.

Mitchell PinheiroSturdivant & Company — Analyst

Well yes…

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

I know that — I’m sorry, go ahead.

Mitchell PinheiroSturdivant & Company — Analyst

What do you think in terms of color. I mean, are you seeing increases in healthcare practitioner, had sports teams continued to grow? Any color would be helpful?

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

Yes. There are many more athletes and sports teams that are regularly purchasing Tru Niagen from ChromaDex. We also have a much larger base of healthcare practitioners that regularly purchase from us. One complication is some of them shut down their offices during the COVID period. So they’re not carrying the inventory in the same way. So that was a headwind on COVID, but there is a much, much higher level of interest and interaction from the healthcare community and the sports community in general for Tru Niagen. We are investing in a stronger infrastructure internally in both of those specific areas and we are adding experienced high grade personnel to specifically focus on both of those things. So my — we are — we do see high growth potential in both sports and healthcare practitioner, and we’re going to increase our focus in both of those areas in the coming quarters.

Mitchell PinheiroSturdivant & Company — Analyst

Okay. Thank you for your time.

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

Thanks, Mitch.

Frank L. JakschCo-Founder and Executive Chairman of the Board

Thanks, Mitch.

Operator

And our last question comes from the line of J.P. Mark of Farmhouse Equity. Please go ahead. Your line is open.

J.P. MarkFarmhouse Equity — Analyst

Hi, good afternoon. Thanks for taking my call.

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

Sure.

J.P. MarkFarmhouse Equity — Analyst

So a couple of very quick questions here about marketing and redesign of the website. First of all, I think it’s a good redesign. I think it’s definitely, there is an improvement. And I’m wondering whether you are doing different versions for different countries or is it just one for every country?

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

We intend to do different versions for different countries, but we haven’t yet.

J.P. MarkFarmhouse Equity — Analyst

Okay. And when you think you might will, any idea? Next year, sometime.

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

Yes. Next year, definitely next year, not this quarter.

J.P. MarkFarmhouse Equity — Analyst

Yeah. And second question, Rob, it says on the website that you, it has a list of the podcast that you’ve done. Is that a complete list or are there other ones that are — that you’ve done that are not listed here in the news — on the news tab there?

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

I lately have been doing quite a few. So I’m not sure, if it’s a complete list. I don’t know, but perhaps if you email Brianna, she can update you.

J.P. MarkFarmhouse Equity — Analyst

Yeah, it only has four I think. Yeah.

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

Okay.

J.P. MarkFarmhouse Equity — Analyst

And I’d say that — OK, well, I will tell you that the more podcast you do in my opinion, the better. I think it speaks what you speak well for the company. I think it’s fantastic marketing for the company. So, and if there’s any way to continue that I would highly encourage it. Yeah, anyway, it’s just my comment that, again, thank you for taking my questions and I wish you continued success.

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

Any time. Thank you for the questions.

J.P. MarkFarmhouse Equity — Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

At this time, we do not have any further time for questions, I’ll turn the call back over to Brianna Gerber for closing remarks.

Brianna GerberVice President of FP&A and Investor Relations

Thank you, Jody. There will be a replay of this call, beginning at 4:30 PM Pacific Time today. The replay number is 1-800-585-8367 and the conference ID is 4699759. Thank you, everyone for joining us today and for your continued support of ChromaDex.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

Duration: 58 minutes

Call participants:

Brianna GerberVice President of FP&A and Investor Relations

Robert FriedChief Executive Officer

Frank L. JakschCo-Founder and Executive Chairman of the Board

Kevin FarrChief Financial Officer

Jeffrey CohenLadenburg — Analyst

Brian NagelOppenheimer — Analyst

Jeff Van SinderenB. Riley FBR — Analyst

Ram SelvarajuH.C. Wainwright — Analyst

Mitchell PinheiroSturdivant & Company — Analyst

J.P. MarkFarmhouse Equity — Analyst

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