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Well-known Sarnia pastor also successful entrepreneur

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Most local residents know George Esser as the pastor of River City Vineyard church and The Sanctuary homeless shelter.

But he’s also the co-owner and CEO of new manufacturing facility on Plank Road that makes magnesium health supplements.

Esser, 62, his wife Janet and two daughters own ITL (In The Light) Health Limited. Esser founded the company 12 years ago in Europe after formulating an ionic magnesium citrate supplement and figuring out how to blend it in his kitchen.

“The powder fizzes when mixed with hot water and becomes much easier for the body to absorb,” he explained.

He also designed the automation at the new Sarnia plant, which has begun making ITL products on a small scale.

“He’s still tweaking the machinery,” said daughter Lynae Morningstar, the company’s director of operations. “We’ve already got all the approvals and licensing in place to start distribution in North America and we hope to be in full production by January.”

On top of his pastoral duties at River City, Esser has worked as a business efficiency consultant since 1996. He’s also been a jazz student, a pig farmer, a computer programmer and taken courses in everything from thermodynamics to engineering.

And he’s mostly self-taught.

“I don’t like school, so I figure things out myself,” Esser said.  “But I’ve learned how to study on my own and taken a lot of courses too.”

He became interested in the health benefits of magnesium in 2006 and became a distributor for Natural Calm magnesium citrate in Europe.

“Why magnesium? Because most people are deficient and don’t realize how much it can help with their sleep, their stress, and muscle recovery,” said Esser. “This is something I can do to help the world.”

After formulating his own magnesium blends he left Natural Calm and started ITL Health Limited. Several of ITL Health’s products have won industry awards, especially as sleep aids.

Sales took off, especially in the U.K. and Esser contracted a manufacturer in Denmark to meet growing demand.

“Natural Calm sued us, claiming we copied their formula,” said Esser. “We didn’t.”

A week before going to trial, Natural Calm made an offer to settle out of court, he said. That agreement included a three-year non-compete clause in North America.

“The three years are up and we’re ready to go in North America with our office and manufacturing facility in Sarnia,” he said.

As the company prepares to launch its North American operations, sales have increased 40% in Europe and plans are underway to launch in China, Morningstar said.

“We are working hard to keep up. We weren’t expecting things to blow up so much in Europe. But the Sarnia facility will be able to pump a lot of product out.”

At the current rate of growth, sales could reach $10 million a year in five years, Esser said.

With a global sales team and office in the U.K. already, the Sarnia facility will have another three to five employees.

Esser describes himself as a “catalyst” who likes to start projects and leave day-to-day operations to others.

With an expansion currently underway at The Sanctuary and the new ITL Health facility ramping up production, there’s little time for sleep, he said.

“I’m a little overextended these days. I’m probably a little crazy but, then again, I have a lot of good people to run things.”

ITL Health’s products are available locally at Bluewater Nutrition on London Road and online.

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