Consumer demand paves path for the wellness category

BY Jenna Lomeli

What role will the vitamin, mineral and supplements category play with consumers going forward, especially as wellness becomes a larger concern for many of these shoppers?

The answer, many VMS manufacturers hope, is that people will continue to look to the category as a source of nutrition and solution to the problems they face as they seek a healthier lifestyle.
There is no doubt that VMS is at the center of consumer demands for products that will make them feel better and live longer. The $7.45 billion segment has long played a role with many shoppers who feel that what they put into their bodies is paramount to how they feel on a day to day basis.

According to IRI, the total vitamins market grew sales 4.8% year over year for the 52 weeks ended Nov. 4. Mineral supplements saw a 3.9% dollar growth, multivitamins increased sales 5.1%, one- and two-letter vitamins grew 3% in sales and liquid vitamins saw 15.5% growth. Overall unit sales for the category increased 2.7% year over year. The numbers suggest a healthily growing category that vendors are looking to get a piece of.

Adding more fuel to the fire is the battle for shelf space at retail. While the major vitamin suppliers like Pfizer, with its popular Centrum brand, and Bayer, with its One-A-Day brand, continue to command much respect from retailers and consumers alike, other brands are making a dent in market share. Companies such as Nature’s Bounty, Piping Rock and Mason Vitamins, to name a few key ones, have gained recognition with shoppers looking for something different, and retailers are responding by giving them space on the shelves.

The supplement category is essentially a free-for-all between suppliers seeking to gain a niche with both retailers and consumers, many industry observers said. The hook, they said, is that consumers want supplements that solve a need, specifically building muscle mass, stronger bones or brain-focused activities, and there are a host of suppliers pushing their wares, with little governmental regulations, in this segment.

Because of consumer demand for a whole host of products to solve more and more problems, VMS suppliers are aware that new challenges are continuously arising — among them, ensuring consumers have the information they need to make the right choices for their needs, and subsequently ensuring they can access the right products in the channels that suit them best. While natural solutions, in particular, have gained traction among consumers old and young, industry officials have had to adapt their positioning, products and marketing strategies to ensure they are able to meet consumer needs on a variety of platforms.

“I would say that the VMS category is probably one of the most fluid in our stores,” said an HBC executive with a west Coast-Based chain. “Between an influx of new products that meet a special need and new companies popping up with strong marketing support, we have to constantly be on the lookout for new trends. It is very difficult, but we know the value of this category to many of our consumers.”
The industry — retailers and suppliers — has long realized that vitamins, minerals and supplements no longer are solely the purview of health fanatics or people who are looking to solve a deficiency in their diets. Growth throughout the VMS category has occurred, particularly among younger consumers.

“A lot of segments of the population, especially millennials, are taking a lot more supplements on a regular basis, about 60% of the population” said Patricia Jones, general manager of Miami Lakes, Fla.-based Mason Vitamins. However, as a 2018 survey from Shelton, Conn.-based TABS Analytics highlighted, the products with the strongest performances are not necessarily the same as the top sellers from even a few years ago. TABS found that where fish oil and calcium used to have primacy in the category, they have seen declines in recent years, while products like hair, skin and nail supplements and melatonin are gaining favor.

These changes come as vitamins play a larger role in broader wellness goals of consumers, according to Chris O’Connor, vice president of marketing at Ronkonkoma, N.Y.-based Nature’s Bounty. “One of the key changes I think that we’re seeing is, it’s not necessarily a health routine or just a physical-based routine anymore. It really is a wellness routine that goes beyond the physical, into emotional, social, spiritual aspects of their health as well,” O’Connor said. “The way consumers are looking at health in general is much more broad than I think ever before.”

From O’Connor’s perspective, Nature’s Bounty is on this journey with the consumer, not just to solve their immediate ailments, but to achieve that larger wellness goal.

Paul Zoltie, shopper marketing manager at San Francisco-based Olly, shared this view of being a partner in consumers’ wellness journeys. “We focus on bringing delight to the nutrition space — living a healthy life is important, but that doesn’t mean we all can’t have fun doing it,” Zoltie said. “Olly isn’t about what you’re missing — it’s about how far you can go and how we can help you be your best self.” As a consequence of this more holistic view of what wellness encompasses, suppliers are focusing on offering products that cater to the challenges of modern lifestyles.

Nature’s Bounty also is attacking this issue. “I think we can all relate to some of the challenges we have in today’s modern world and how, whether it’s electronics or just the busy pace of life, it can impact our sleep,” O’Connor said when discussing the rise of sleep aids and tailoring products to meet the demands of modern consumers.

Just as a good night’s sleep has become a part of the path to wellness, so has maintaining healthy skin, hair and nails. “Awareness and usage of beauty-from-within supplements continue to build,” Zoltie said. “Consumers are recognizing the importance of tackling beauty concerns in a more comprehensive way by pairing their topical regimen with targeted supplements,” he said, pointing to this as a reason why hair, skin and nail-focused supplements are now being found in the beauty aisle.

O’Connor also remarked on this shift in in-store placement as a means to reach new customers, pointing to early discussions with retailers as a motivation for moving these products to the beauty aisle. O’Connor said Nature’s Bounty worked with “a few retail partners to not just talk to consumers, but also uncover how it might come to life in their stores, in a different set of the store, in the beauty aisle, and that’s an example of taking health concerns, packaging it differently, putting it together for consumers differently,” so that they are able to find solutions to their problems that they might not have considered otherwise.

Ronkonkoma, N.Y.-based Piping Rock also is squarely focused on being a solutions provider across most of the overall category. The 8-year-old company prides itself on offering a wide range of affordable products in virtually every segment of the market, from traditional supplements to exotic herbs and holistic oils, company officials said.

Interestingly, while the goal of wellness and what it entails has evolved, the path to get there is an old one, well-traveled. Naturally sourced ingredients are important to many consumers, and purity and quality of ingredients are essential ways suppliers are learning to stand out.

“The consumer is currently — from our research — looking for products that are healthy,” said James Lacey, CEO of Westlake Village, Ca.-based Healthy Ventures. “Anything they put inside them today, they’re really reading the labels.” As a consequence of this, Lacey said Healthy Ventures’ products are “pure, made in the USA. All of these things are really important to the consumer today.”

Purity of product also is a crucial selling point for Kittanning, Pa.-based Sylvan Bio’s red yeast rice offerings. While the active ingredient has been clinically proven, it has come under media scrutiny as a supplement in recent years as a result of variations in strength and purity among products offered by brands and companies that dilute or otherwise adulterate their red yeast rice. “We market a product that we know will be effective when taken as directed, and that we have 100% confidence in the potency and the purity and the efficacy of the product” said Curt Behrens, the company’s spokesperson. “First and foremost, to play in the natural space and to have any credibility, you have to deliver on your product.”

Second to that is using online channels to ensure that consumers are able to get the information they need to make the most informed choice, especially with the guidelines from the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 imposing guidelines on what manufacturers can state on a product’s label, Behrens said.

O’Connor at Nature’s Bounty said he also sees the value in utilizing the online space to educate shoppers. “What we’ve been doing in the online space is investing quite heavily in things like digital and social awareness, building to help intersect with consumers, but then really making sure that we have the right information,” he said. “We make it easy for consumers to first find the education they need, but also to make the simplest purchase they can.”

As online sales continue to grow in the VMS segment, Lacey highlighted what he termed a “bleeding of the channels. Brick and mortar is now getting into the retailer business and the e-commerce business. Then you’ve got Amazon, who’s the gorilla on the e-commerce side, getting into the retail side,” he said.

What can manufacturers do to staunch the flow? According to Lacey, suppliers have to be comfortable with both channels, and they have to be able to maintain price integrity across these channels as well in order to succeed.

This emphasis on keeping pricing consistent across channels was echoed by Mason Vitamins’ Jones, who pointed out that as online shopping behaviors continue, suppliers simply need to “get with the program or get out of the way.”


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