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VMS suppliers get specific with products, experiential in-store

Keeping up with consumers or even getting a bit ahead of their desires is the name of the game across all of retail.

In the ever-changing and extremely fickle vitamins, minerals and supplements category, it is even more vital to stay on pace or ahead of the curve with shoppers, many of whom are demanding the next greatest product from this category to allow them to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Consumer demands for the next best thing from the VMS category always has put a burden on manufacturers to keep the new product pipeline going, and for retailers to have a sizeable selection of products that meet as many needs as possible. Now, it is getting harder as the shoppers’ ideas of health and wellness are shifting to emphasize the importance of natural ingredients and ailment-specific remedies.

All indications are that the VMS category has been adapting and it also has been growing — with TABS Analytics’ 2018 Annual Vitamin Study estimating the category at 78% household penetration, the highest penetration the Shelton, Conn.-based firm has ever recorded for the category.

Suppliers in the VMS space said that by noting the shifts in demographics and demand — and keeping abreast of the latest trends — both manufacturers and retailers will be better able to meet the needs of consumers, both in-store and online.

Not surprisingly, there is a new fly in the ointment. The category’s success has encouraged more and more retailers, well outside the traditional mass and specialty markets, to get involved with VMS. The result, many said, is good and bad. The good is that VMS is getting more and more exposure; the bad is that there are even more competitors searching for consumers, and that is playing havoc for some retailers who have long relied on VMS for steady sales growth and profits.

Demographic Changes
The TABS survey data revealed a great deal about what the average VMS shopper looks like, and how they have changed. The data demonstrated that occasional purchasers are driving a lot of the growth in the category. Kimberly Vigliante, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Nature’s Truth brand maker Piping Rock Health Products, said that the key to winning — and retaining — these consumers are keeping up with what’s hot in the category.

“We know that the occasional purchaser are trend followers,” she said. “While they aren’t a heavy vitamin user, they are always looking to try the next ‘big’ thing. Since the occasional purchaser doesn’t have a set wellness routine, it’s unlikely that they will repurchase items. Because of this, it’s vital to always be on trend and offer the right products at the right time to keep these consumers.”

By taking note of these changes in category penetration, Vigliante said companies are better able to adapt their products to the constantly evolving needs of consumers — whether they are brand-loyal repeat buyers or just an open-minded shopper perusing the vitamin aisle.

The way that consumers are buying products is just as important as who these consumers are. While older women maintain the highest-category penetration, other segments are turning to VMS in greater numbers. According to the TABS survey, men increasingly have been purchasing vitamins, minerals and supplements, though women still are generally purchasing more in the category than men. The data also shows that the elusive millennials and even Generation X, Y and Z consumers are buying into VMS in greater numbers.

“Millennials seem to be taking a proactive interest in their health. They’re driving quite a bit of the sales in the health-and-wellness industry, as well,” said Patricia Jones, customer development manager at Miami Lakes, Fla.-based Mason Vitamins. “They do trail baby boomers in overall supplement use, but an average of about 73% of adults age 25-to-34 years old take supplements.” Jones said that as younger consumers continue to grow in this category, so too, must the offerings available to them.

Keeping a Finger On the Pulse
Consumers increasingly are looking to meet their health needs with natural, healthy ingredients as they turn to self-care options — and Jones said the market penetration reflects this.
“Due to high healthcare costs and an increased awareness on preventive care, I see consumers spending more money on supplements,” Jones said, adding that between this shift toward self-care and the impulsivity of occasional purchasers, it is crucial for VMS brands to keep abreast of the latest trends.

One way of ensuring that companies are able to anticipate these trends is by keeping a close eye on data, said Piping Rock’s Vigliante. “We have proprietary data that we constantly analyze to identify emerging trends,” she said. “By analyzing these data trends, we are able to bring new, innovative items to the shelf.”

She said that Nature’s Truth’s social media presence also helped the company to connect with consumers and stay current with their VMS needs.

Data is not the only thing motivating innovations among suppliers. “We use traditional tools like market analysis, scientific research and consumer insights to monitor and identify trends,” said Jessica Heitz, director of brand management at Olly. “But we also are inspired by other categories like technology, fashion and the culinary world.”

Many of these trends can be linked back to consumer demand for natural ingredients and ailment-specific supplements. For example, according to the TABS survey, such products as hair, skin and nail supplements, melatonin and gummy multivitamins are seeing a great deal of growth, and former staples like fish oil are seeing a decline.

Distinctive Channel Strategies
The TABS study highlighted how both brick-and-mortar store and online channels are registering growth within the VMS category. As part of this growth, companies still are curating the consumer experience, regardless of channel.

While mass market stores still have the upper hand, online sales are growing, particularly through such retailers as Amazon and Walmart. Without the benefit of a physical space for consumers to navigate, online channels are leveraging their strengths in order to reach consumers through a focus on variety.

“We know that different products do better in different channels, such as niche herbs doing better online than in brick-and-mortar,” Vigliante said. “Online retailers aren’t limited to shelf space the way other retailers are, this enables them to have a deeper product assortment. By being competitive and offering a deeper product selection online than they do in store, retailers can easily attract the online shopper and capture additional sales.”

When it comes to brick-and-mortar, suppliers said that an increasing emphasis has been on creating an in-store experience that shoppers cannot get online. For some, this means relying on ailment- and ingredient-specific merchandising strategies — particularly in the grocery channel.

“We are seeing quite a bit of growth in our grocery retailers, due to a lot of the retailers merchandising more with that consumer in mind,” Mason Vitamins’ Jones said. “A lot of grocery chains don’t have a dedicated person standing in the aisle, so they have to be careful of merchandising so that it’s done by category as opposed to just brand blocking.”

Creating an in-store experience that keeps in mind shifting notions about what VMS entails encourages consumers to interact with these products in a new way. By being mindful about the kind of products being put into the vitamin aisle, as well as how the customer is interacting with and navigating that aisle, Vigliante said companies are tapping into how consumers are approaching their health-and-wellness needs.

“We know that consumers are turning to a more holistic solution for their top wellness concerns,” Vigliante said, mentioning Piping Rock’s introduction of an aromatherapy line
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