Online shopping

Supplements are still dependent on retail, even though online shopping has exploded

The pandemic has driven consumers to websites, launched the widespread adoption of curbside pickups and deliveries, and persuaded more people than ever to change their habits and avoid physical purchases.

But for some supplement brands, the retail challenges brought on by COVID-19 were no reason to abandon the world of aisles, cash registers and shelves. Instead, they doubled down on traditional retail.

While online remains important to almost all supplement brands, the tactile experiences surrounding in-person in-store shopping offer particularly powerful sales approaches, ways to interact with customers that are proven, familiar and rewarding. . As more and more sales for everything from cars to carrots go digital, these supplement brands are working with retailers to ensure the brick-and-mortar natural food experience continues to deliver benefits and benefits. delights to buyers.

And that sometimes means engaging with the digital world to drive in-store sales.

“Consumers will see our online advertisement or read a blog about our products, and they will shop at their local retailers, see the products and remember the messages. This makes physical shopping convenient for them,” says Naomi Whittel, Founder and CEO of Naomi Whittel Brands, which brings together several wellness brands, including OMI Skin Nutrition, Glow15 and The One. “There is an amplifying effect for retail partnerships and also for direct-to-consumer sales.”

Hybrid approach

Digital marketing and sales offer other physical benefits, says Whittel. His company invests heavily in analytics through online engagements, which reveals treasure troves of customer behavior data. Instead of keeping the data nearby, Whittel Brands shares it with major retailers to also help them understand the types of consumers who value supplement brands like Whittel.

“Because we’re so digital, we understand our customers’ behavior better,” she says. “The universe we live in on our computers and screens and the retail environment are not separate. We must see them as complementary.”

For Jordan Rubin, co-founder and CEO of Ancient Nutrition, collaborations with traditional retailers are built on a foundation of trust and strong partnership. When COVID first hit, he says, industry conversations quickly emerged about moving away from brick and mortar and fueling Amazon’s demand and direct-to-consumer channels. . He wouldn’t.

“Engagement is key. When the going gets tough, we need to engage and stay engaged with the retailers that got us where we are,” he says. “It would have been easy for us to divert our attention to channels that were growing in an environment where retail was a challenge.”

He added, “It’s important to understand where your bread is buttered. We don’t view health food stores as stepping stones. We view them as goals.”

And the partnership, he says, goes far beyond hoping to gain lots of shelf space and wide distribution. For example, natural food retailers often cross-promote vitamins and supplements to attract everyday shoppers. One strategy revolves around education.

Rubin is now developing virtual training for team members at all Sprouts locations. Ancient Nutrition recently co-hosted a live consumer event in partnership with the retailer that educated over 20,000 consumers and team members about stress management and immune support.

“Sprouts team members are reaching people I’ll never meet with the messages I’ve stood for for 25 years,” Rubine says. “Without them, I would never reach these people. Store customers come to the supplement aisle looking for advice rather than specific products, so education is key.”

Consequences of COVID

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the educational component. Among other things, it has all but stopped sampling and prevented brands from holding informational events with health food retailer teams.

For supplement brand Garden of Life, the pandemic has forced the company to scale up and diversify its educational programs. It incorporated QR codes into packaging, giving consumers access to one-minute videos about products they could see on their phone while shopping. He invested more in sampling, sending sealed products to retailers to offer to customers. He has hosted online webinars and training courses for retail staff.

“The way you impact the sale on the floor is huge,” says Ryan Kruse, vice president of sales at Garden of Life. “An educated staff can sell much faster and more efficiently.”

Garden of Life, he says, focuses on physical stores. Selling online, says Kruse, is a “complicated game.”

“Online puts you in a sea of ​​the same,” he says. “Our goal is to help where we can and to focus on retail.”

Another important factor in any brand-retailer partnership is close collaboration, says Esmer Cancino, vice president of sales at MegaFood. Brands, she says, need to pay intense attention to the products retailers want and the trends retailers uncover through in-store sales data. Retailers, in turn, benefit when brands share their consumer data.

Cancino says some of the most powerful partnerships involve collaborations between a wide range of leaders within brands and retailers.

“It’s so rewarding to unite departments across the value chain,” she says. People specializing in category management and supply chain, for example, should communicate and reflect.

Cancino highlighted a successful effort that grew out of interdepartmental communications. Sustainable packaging was of increasing importance for a retail partner, as well as for MegaFood, becoming mission critical for both parties. It was also supply chain specific, so members of both teams with deep supply chain knowledge began to work together to find sustainable packaging solutions.

Ultimately, the collaboration led to single-stream recycling for MegaFood packaging.

Models and Pivots

Another crucial factor for brand-retailer partnerships is agility.

The rise of e-commerce has lowered the barrier to entry for brands. Gaining retail shelf space was no longer essential. Instead, they could – and increasingly are – launching pure product lines aimed directly at consumers. While the path from product development to retail shelf space can take a year or more, the time frame from idea to online is much shorter.

This disparity in the market is unlikely to change anytime soon, but it has prompted brands and retailers to work more closely together on long-term planning to stay ahead of emerging trends and consumer behavior. consumers.

It’s hard to make that happen when brands decide they want to be everywhere: Costco, Target, health food stores, online, supermarkets. Some brands figure out what’s best for retailers, focus on their retail partners, and are hesitant to work with everyone. Among other things, maintaining an orderly group of partnerships allows for more focused product development.

“If we know that a retailer’s priority is to grow their mushroom category, we hope they come to us, and we hope they say, ‘Are you going to innovate and launch something here first? ‘” Rubin said. “Retailers want to differentiate themselves. They face fierce competition. They need differentiation for people to shop in their stores, and we want to offer them that. of a product when he has the feeling of having participated in its creation.”

To make projects like this triumph in the omnichannel market, teamwork around common goals is essential.

Whittel points to the music industry and its wealth of collaborations between different artists and different places as a model for supplement brands and retailers facing an omnichannel landscape that is changing the way consumers interact with stores. Now is the time, she says, for brands to really understand individual retail partners and work to personalize collaborations based on retailer needs and culture.

“By building on close relationships, it benefits our merchants. Consumers want to buy the best. They want to buy from brands that are deeply passionate about particular areas,” Whittel said. “Many brands are present in tens of thousands of stores. This is not our model.”

Purchase Changes

The retail landscape was changing rapidly before COVID, thanks to online sales. COVID has not only accelerated consumer engagement with online shopping, it has also led to the flourishing of curbside and delivery services, which before the pandemic were of minor importance.

Cancino believes that whatever course COVID takes in the months to come, the disruptions and pivots it has spawned are here to stay. To continue to thrive, the best retailers and brands will strive to understand and serve what is a rapidly changing retail world for supplements.

“Going forward, consumers will be more and more picky. They’ve gotten used to so many more shopping choices,” she says. “But we are creatures of habit. We want to get back to grocery stores, while enjoying the convenience that shopping alternatives provide. It will be hard to go back to anything else.”

Nutrition Business JournalThis story was featured in the Nutrition Business Journal Guest editor issue.