How the Natural Trend Is Fortifying Vitamin/Supplement Sales

Retailers move to capitalize on consumer demand for supplements derived from natural sources

In May, drugstore chain CVS found that 7% of its vitamins and supplements were inaccurately labeled or formulated. Because of issues like this, many consumers are turning to natural versions of these products.

While overall sales of vitamins and supplements were up 1.7% in natural, specialty, gourmet and conventional retail stores the year ending in April, sales of purely natural vitamin and supplements were up 3.3%, according to natural products industry tracker SPINS, based in Chicago, which found supplements up 5.2% alongside a 7.2% increase in their natural counterparts.

Research from the Natural Marketing Institute, Harleysville, Pa., further reveals that 77% of consumers say it’s important that their supplements are derived from natural sources, a number that has grown every year for the past seven years, says Diane Ray, VP of strategic innovation.

The growth is being generated both in stores and online, says Kurt Jetta, founder of Shelton, Conn.-based Tabs Analytics, who points out that more than 80% of vitamin and supplement transactions are done in stores because there are more options and deals, and no delivery costs.

At Springfield, Mass.-based Big Y, which has about 80 stores in Massachusetts and Connecticut, sales of natural vitamins and supplements are up, which Scott Brackney, wellness category sales manager, attributes to a reorganization of the category earlier this year to make it “easier for customers to find what they’re looking for,” he says.

This shuffle (and an additional 4 feet) included blocking products to make sections stand out, and alphabetizing vitamins. Brackney put the big brands in their own sections and created groups such as “bone and joint health,” “immune health” and “women’s health,” which he differentiated with horizontal shelf strips in different colors. The strips, he says, “have done a really good job just carving out these sections. The easier we can make it for customers, the better.”

Big Y houses its vitamin and supplement categories near the pharmacy of applicable stores; otherwise, they’re placed in the wellness section.

Location, Location, Location 

Overall sales of supplements and vitamins are also up for Lucky’s Market, which has 39 stores in 10 states. Sindy Wise, senior director of apothecary for the Boulder, Colo.-based retailer, says she designs the section “with very specific intention.” To start with, it’s placed within apothecary, and near the wellness bars (where consumers make DIY products) that are in more than half of stores. The wellness bar placement works well because it’s a category that caters to customers’ most personal conversations about their health; the department typically has one to two employees available to offer advice.

Wise places adjacent categories that make sense, such as near “heart health” “women’s health,” for example. “I try to think of what someone might be shopping for, to the left and the right, because we don’t want to make someone have to work too hard,” she says.

In vitamins, she organizes alphabetically, though there is some crossover: A woman’s multivitamin, for example, could be in the multis and also women’s health. “We think where someone is going for this first, and where are they going second,” she says. To make navigation even easier for customers, there are category signs above each section.

SpartanNash stores, which include five retail banners in nine states—Family Fare, D&W Fresh Market, Martin’s Super Markets, VG’s and Family Fresh Market—groups vitamins and supplements based on brand to make it easy for customers. “In other instances, we group by segment, specific conditions or multi-vitamins,” says Joe McQuesten, SVP of merchandising for the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company.

SpartanNash stores also use “additional signage and shelf label callouts to help customers locate their specific vitamin needs more easily,” says McQuesten, who points out that manufacturers are also doing their part to help shoppers with logos and color coding on their products. When possible, the vitamin/supplement sections are also near pharmacies “to encourage our guests to seek advice,” he says.

Catching Some Zzzs 

In today’s world, sleep is elusive, which means good things for the sleep supplement market. According to Tabs Analytics, sales of sleep supplements are up more than 30% this year over 2018, and brands such as Natrol, Nature Made and Nature’s Bounty, along with private label, are leading the pack.

natrol cognium

Photograph courtesy of Natrol

Big Y is among the retailers that can attest to the high sales growth of sleep aids, especially melatonin and free-from brands such as Rainbow Light and the private label Full Circle. “People are moving to more natural aids and not relying on products like Ambien,” Brackney says.

The most popular product is melatonin, but ZzzQuil, from Procter & Gamble, also does well, “and has a halo effect of lifting the whole category,” Brackney says. ZzzQuil is in the cough and cold section, which is so strong now that he’s added three or four melatonin products to that section for extra sales, though ZzzQuil doesn’t cross over to the supplements section.

Jetta has been surprised to see melatonin catapult back to fame to become the third-largest supplement in sales, after probiotics and fish oil. Tabs’ annual study showed that 17% of consumers now buy melatonin, up from 12% last year. What’s surprising is it skews towards younger customers: It’s purchased by 18% of millennials, 18% of Gen Xers and 14% of baby boomers.

Brackney does no special merchandising in this section, but he does make it stand out twice a year when the clocks change; he’ll do a shipper with a dozen units on it “and sales spike,” he says.

Sleep products are strong at Lucky’s Market, but Wise feels customers are starting to think more holistically and trying to find the underlying causes of why they’re not sleeping. This has led to some sales shifting to products for anxiety or stress, or consumers making lifestyle changes.

Having said that, magnesium, she says “is still strong for sleep,” as well as herbal blends and tart cherry products. She groups all these products together by their function, within a category, “to help customers make that decision at the shelf.”

Sleep is one of the top three categories for Chatsworth, Calif.-based Natrol, with melatonin the brand’s lead item. “Our most popular products are the melatonin fast dissolve, gummies, advanced sleep and time release,” says Harel Shapria, senior brand manager for Natrol.

James Lacey is the CEO of Westlake Village, Calif.-based Healthy Ventures LLC, which produces liquid and capsule formulations of Berry Sleepy/Berry Awake, which depends on tart cherries, a natural sleep inducer. Sales are growing in grocery stores because of the convenience, he says, and advocates for his company’s product to be merchandised in the sleep section.

He has been surprised at his audience for Berry Sleepy, expecting it to sell to baby boomers, “but it’s younger people wired on video games and their phones,” he says.

San Diego-based Emerald Health Bioceuticals’ Endo Sleep is its second-biggest seller. “Our goal to be in more mainstream groceries,” says spokeswoman Deborah Ginsberg-Ramsey. She’d like to see Endo Sleep placed with other natural products. Ideally, she’d like all seven Endo products merchandised together, though available in other sections, too.

Beyond Sleep 

Lucky’s Market is also seeing strong growth in ketogenic products, as well as collagen, hemp extracts, turmeric, probiotics, vitamin D and vitamin K, Wise says.

At Big Y, herbs, especially turmeric, are selling well, and the chain’s always careful to jump quickly onto trends. “With social media and the internet, things trend pretty quickly; we’re nimble enough to follow these trends,” Brackney says. “Consumers see something and they want it, so the sooner we can sell it, the better.”

lucky's market apothecary

Photograph courtesy of Lucky's Market

Probiotics remain popular at Big Y, and Brackney features them in two areas—in the supplement area and the stomach section—to hit up customers with a stomach complaint and those seeking probiotics as part of their daily regimen. “We try to capture different points where customers shop, and half may shop in each,” he says.

Turmeric and magnesium are both seeing double-digits gains, according to Tabs Analytics, which finds both having a minimal overall impact on the category. However, if their strong growth continues, Jetta says, “We may have another melatonin.”



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