Packaging, education key to natural-to-mass crossover

5/25/2009

As attested by suppliers looking to expand from specialty natural food channels into mass outlets, natural food markets may serve as a proving ground for success in mass.

And that would include homeopathic manufacturers, which have enjoyed success in the natural market and the mass market, where homeopathic products are oriented more as a safe and effective solution to a particular condition. According to Nielsen Co. and SPINS data provided by Boiron, sales of homeopathic remedies grew by an aggregate 6.4% for the 52 weeks ended Dec. 27, 2008—with incremental sales of $14.2 million, representing 6% growth in mass markets (excluding Walmart), and incremental sales of $2.5 million, representing 7% growth in natural supermarkets (excluding Whole Foods).

“We devote a lot of resources to making sure our natural foods business is strong,” said Dale Nepsa, president of Hyland’s. “It’s pretty rare for us to introduce anything into the mass market without having success in natural foods,” he said.

Homepathic medicines enjoy several advantages in the natural channel, not the least of which is the lower barrier to entry at the shelf as compared with mass merchants. Natural channel shoppers typically are better educated around the concept of homeopathy and seek homeopathic solutions in place of such allopathic medicines as Tylenol or Robitussin. Similarly, many natural food markets differentiate themselves with a highly educated sales staff that actively interacts with customers.

To make a successful crossover to mass, suppliers of the alternative medicines noted that, without that better-educated consumer and customer service representative, packaging that tells the story is key in mass. “In mass market, you have to make [the packaging] more in tune with the sections where it’s going into,” Nepsa said. “It has to be bright, bold packaging that captures the consumer’s eye as [he or she is] walking down the aisle.”

According to Boiron research, consumers also are more interested in efficacy, followed by such safety messages as “no side effects” and “no drug interactions.”

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