Naturals retailers must challenge brand marketers and stay aware of new competitive threats. But how, you ask? Here are the top trends on my radar this year and the best ways to stay ahead of the curve.
Social media gets organized
Two of the leading sources for health-product information that consumers consistently cite in surveys are friend and family recommendations. We’ve only just begun to see the power of social media, and time will tell whether it will help or hinder product sales.
One factor to note is that today's consumers are relatively unorganized around issues, topics and products. They may become a Facebook fan of a company or product, but the interactions aren't always consistent or calculated. But faster than you think, the social web will fuel consumer organizations into commanding players wielding new levels of power and influence, and redefining the historically linear relationships between brands and consumers.
Product traceability and transparency rules
Secrets don’t play well on the Internet—and as an extension, in your stores. The modern investigative journalist is just a consumer with a Twitter account and a dogged interest (and often an inside connection) in a company.
In the natural and organic food industries, transparency and traceability possess well-defined roles in brand marketing, but those roles are less clear in the supplements and personal care segments.
Along with the elimination of “proprietary blends,” progressive nutrition-industry brands will add ingredient traceability programs to their marketing campaigns and identify “place,” or source, so there are no more secrets.
Amazonification of the naturals industry
For a while, Walmart occupied the role of a widely feared evil empire on the retailing horizon. Today, Walmart remains powerful, but less and less evil every day. Meanwhile, Amazon.com, while never evil, is quietly growing ever more powerful in the natural products industry. Amazon offers a very interesting e-tailing opportunity for many companies because this well-oiled e-commerce machine makes online shopping a no-brainer for many customers.
Just ask TastyBaby, Emergen-C, Clif Bar, Annie’s Homegrown, Bob’s Red Mill and Newman’s Own Organic—all of which are selling successfully on Amazon. When Nutrition Business Journal covered Amazon in May 2009,the company's top sellers in the nutrition and fitness category included protein-powder shakes, fish-oil supplements, nutrition and supplement drinks, and energy bars.
To run a successful retail operation today, you need to know where and how the products in your store are being marketed elsewhere.
Pay attention to the brands utilizing a consumer-first approach in their new product development. If the companies with brands in your store aren’t directly asking consumers for help with new product development and marketing, they are missing a honeypot of insights.
In many of my conversations with industry thought leaders, mind-shifting and product-adjusting consumer insights are cited as business-strategy game changers. Don’t let the brands you carry in your store let your customers down by allowing manufacturers to assume that they know what your consumers want or think. Look for brands that reach out and ask customers for input.
Delivering on the product promise
Quite simply, supplements need to do more of what they say they will. The “product promise” drives straight at this simple assumption. But how close are we to actually delivering on this promise?
Some experts say if the supplements industry were selling shoes, consumers would open the shoe box and find that the soles are peeling off, the laces are mismatched and the shoes might be two different sizes. Do you think the following are true for the products on your shelves?
What’s on the label is in the pill.
What’s on the label is in the pill at the point of purchase.
What’s on the label is in the pill at the point of purchase, and is absorbed efficiently and effectively into the body.
What’s on the label is in the pill at the point of purchase, is absorbed efficiently and effectively into the body, and the product is safe.
If you don't believe in option D, the industry has work to do before it is delivering on the “product promise.”
Patrick Rea is the publisher and editorial director of Nutrition Business Journal.