Can a PBS show impact sales of probiotic supplements?

Can a PBS show impact sales of probiotic supplements?

In the past nine months, probiotic sales in the natural channel have doubled, according to SPINS. At the root of the growth is educated consumers—and it's not Dr. Oz they're watching. It's PBS.

Brenda Watson, founder of digestive supplement company ReNew Life and host of "The Road to Perfect Health" on PBS, is like the Dr. Oz of probiotics. According to SPINS, the company's probiotic sales experienced spikes during the PBS pledge months for Watson's show, suggesting that education is key to selling probiotics.

"Education brings sales," said Watson, ND, CNC. "If you educate, it naturally helps your sales. But it doesn't just help ReNew Life's sales—it helps the industry's sales." It's always been about education for Watson, who started lecturing in health foods stores in 1992. Watson took to PBS in 2006 and since has taped four shows focusing on her latest digestive health education initiatives. In her 20 years of experience as a natural healthcare practitioner, she's seen a lot of leaky guts.

Brenda WatsonIn "The Road to Perfect Health," her latest PBS show, Watson explains in layman's terms the benefits of probiotics. She's not allowed to recommend specific products, but she does make a case for probiotic supplements as opposed to foods such as yogurt. "America's very sick," she said. "Eating yogurt for them is like dropping salt in the ocean. It's going to do nothing for their health."

In the months prior to Watson's show airing during local PBS pledge drives, probiotics sales were growing at about 8.7 percent in the natural channel, said Bonnie Cooper, vice president of marketing for ReNew Life. When the show aired in the November-December 2010 timeframe, sales spiked to 21 percent and then leveled out to the teens, again spiking to 27 percent when the show aired in March.

"In the last nine months [we're seeing] a doubling of probiotic growth," said Cooper. "Nothing else has been in the media about probiotics, and we've seen the same thing happen with our sales doubling." Cooper said company revenue was growing at about 26 percent prior to the show, jumped to 76 percent in November/December, returned to 50 percent and then experienced 75 percent growth in March. In addition to probiotic supplements, ReNew Life sells herbal cleansing kits, digestive enzymes, oils such as omega-3s and fiber.

Education drives probiotics sales

In 2010, U.S. consumer sales of probiotics reached $630 million on 19 percent growth, according to Nutrition Business Journal. The Baby Boomer population is a key audience to capture as the population looks toward preventive medicine in a troubled economy with rising healthcare costs. More than 73 million of them are taking long-term acid blocking medication, indicating digestive health problems, said Watson.

It's perhaps then no surprise that health shows on PBS geared toward older, well-educated viewers are driving higher probiotics sales of products such as ReNew Life's senior probiotic formula. Such education efforts could continue to create stellar growth for a category that's been lauded as one of the most important categories in the food and supplement side of the industry.

When educating consumers, knowing who your audience is and speaking directly to them is key. Watson recommends using simple language, using bullet points in literature and focusing on condition-specific issues. "People want to personalize everything. 'What is this going to do for me?'" she said, referring to whether someone wants to lose weight or lower his cholesterol. "Go after it with what people are experiencing and educate them from there."

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