Supplementing shoppers’ lifestyles
The VMS category is mercurial. When a group of ingredients declines, another sector emerges or experiences a renaissance based on consumer interest. As a result, VMS manufacturers say that keeping up with the latest trends is the key to maintaining a steady-growth trajectory across the vitamin category.
“The category does have some challenges ahead, including large-scale declines in glucosamine/chondroitin, calcium, Co Q-10, cranberry, unisex senior multis, coconut oil and fish oil,” said Tony True, vice president of North American sales at Northridge, Calif.-based Pharmavite.
[quote-from-article] Collectively, the losses True mentioned amount to almost $40 million drop-in sales for the 26 weeks ended Nov. 4, based on IRI data. But the good news is that trends in growing segments point to the category’s growth potential being able to significantly outstrip the sales lost as other areas decline.
One of the biggest growth areas, True said, are gummies.
“Consumers are responding to the growing availability of gummies and demonstrating interest in specific product segments and need states,” he said. “The gummy delivery form continues to contribute to strong growth for the category, and its sales trend is projected to remain strong. Gummies represent 73% of the growth that the category has realized, which translates to $58.6 million in growth versus a year ago for the most current 26-week period.”
As more consumers opt for a different delivery method, they grow increasingly interested in the popular sleep, energy, beauty and digestive products segments.
“[These] are popular right now because of their usefulness,” said Kristine Urea, vice president of category management and shopper strategy at Bohemia, N.Y.-based Nature’s Bounty. “They are aligned to key lifestyle benefits that consumers feel are areas of concern.”
Knowing which segments and formats are feeding sales trends is only half the battle, however. Even with “Dr. Google” available at a consumer’s fingertips, educating consumers on what supplements to buy in order to realize their wellness goals can be a challenge.
“Retailers should be working to help educate consumers about why supplements are important, and what benefits they can provide,” Urea said. “The vitamin and supplement aisle can be intimidating, and people don’t always know what they’re looking for. Some consumers may walk in knowing that they want more energy, but wouldn’t necessarily know that taking a B-12 supplement could help support their energy levels. People are largely unsure of what to take that meets specific desired needs, but they are open to learning. That’s an opportunity for us and for our retail partners.”
The bottom line is that people are looking for easy and convenient ways to help them maintain health without adding extra steps to their already hectic lives, Urea said. “People need support to help them keep up with all they want to do — and they are coming into the vitamin category to find solutions that can help them achieve balance, thrive and incorporate healthy choices.”
Merchandising is one important way for retailers to help shoppers navigate the VMS category, according to Patricia Jones, general manager at Mason Vitamins, based in Miami Lakes, Fla.
“I see a lot of retailers merchandise by category as opposed to by brand,” Jones said. “That makes it easier for the consumer. If they don’t know anything about vitamins, they’re not going to want to go to five different vitamin lines to look for something for their immune system.”
The merchandising imperative is being complicated as a new consumer mindset takes over — the idea of beauty from within, making skin health- and complexion-boosting supplements more popular. This raises the question of where to merchandise these products, and whether they belong near supplements, in the beauty aisle or both.
“This is a brand-new trend we’re all trying to [navigate],” Mason Vitamins senior vice president of sales and marketing Gary Pigott said. “In drug especially, or even food, I don’t see the consumer shopping beauty supplements in the beauty care set,” he said, adding that retailers that successfully merchandise beauty in the beauty aisle also typically have beauty advisors to help drive those sales. “Walgreens, Ulta Beauty, those kinds of outfits have that [level of service]. Wegmans does a nice job of that, too.”
According to many suppliers operating in the VMS space, other trending subcategories across the natural health space include probiotics, which continues to be a strong segment within vitamins with $796.1 million in sales on growth of 4% across total U.S. multi-outlets, according to IRI.
“The gut microbiome continues to be a hot topic and an area of quickly expanding scientific study,” said Hannah Braye, technical advisor at U.K.-based Protexin, which sells the Bio-Kult probiotic brand.
To help retailers capture that probiotic sale, Protexin this summer will be introducing its “Survive Summer” campaign, Braye said. “If a customer is someone who suffers from hay fever, heat rash, excess sweating, dry skin, an upset stomach while traveling or an increase in bouts of cystitis, then the summer months can be difficult,” she said. “Retailers can give them a helping hand this summer by suggesting they try taking a probiotic supplement to help balance the gut flora to support their digestive and immune systems.”
Growing probiotics sales comes at the same time as a push among consumers toward natural ingredients that is akin to the “cleaner ingredient” trend tracked in the center store of supermarkets — that is, a focus on products defined as non-GMO, gluten-free, dairy-free, and free of artificial flavors and preservatives.
“‘Clean’ is a big topic lately,” said Nicholas Senande, assistant brand manager at Ronkonkoma, N.Y.-based Piping Rock Health Products. “Consumers are looking for more and more clean products.”
Senande noted that consumers’ interest in clean or natural products offers the opportunity to merchandise these products alongside other wellness-focused products that might not strictly belong to the VMAs category.
“[The] opportunity exists with retailers to cross merchandise these growing segments and bring new, emerging and trending products and ingredients into the VMS section, such as nutritional powders, aromatherapy, natural therapies, etc.,” he said. “This creates a more cohesive shopping experience for consumers and will build baskets as they immerse themselves deeper into the expanded category selections.”