A simple plant from French Polynesia has helped expand the sales of Morinda Inc.

The noni plant was introduced more than three years ago to two food scientists, Stephen Story and John Wadsworth. Seeing its possible health benefits, those two men joined with Kerry Asay, Kim Asay and Kelly Olsen to form Morinda.The company's operations had to be set up and personnel hired in French Polynesia and controlled from Tahiti. The noni fruit is purchased from hundreds of local harvesters living on at least 30 islands. Although the venture was the first of its kind, Morinda was able to make it work.

The company also needed to secure a processing plant in Tahiti, find a way to ship the product to the United States, get a bottling company and send the finished product to Utah.

Despite all of these logistical challenges, the company has thrived by selling its "Tahitian Noni Juice."

Having a product that has never been on the market before has helped, and the five owners said they are glad Morinda has been able to assist more than 1,500 French Polynesians and the company's more than 100,000 distributors.

Morinda added a skin supplement, a vitamin supplement and an antioxidant to its product line in 1997, and it plans to introduce several more products in 1998.

Kerry Asay, Morinda president, is a past chairman and chief executive of Nature's Sunshine Products. Wadsworth, vice president for manufacturing and international sales, has degrees in food science and nutrition from Brigham Young University. Story, vice president for research and development, is a food scientist who has developed more than 1,000 products.

Kim Asay, vice president of operations, has an economics degree from BYU and brings his experience in network marketing to the company. Olsen, vice president of sales and marketing, has worked with more than 20 companies as a vendor and consultant and most recently worked with Enrich International.