Sixteen years ago—after watching her sister’s children gobble up gummy bear candies, but give their mom a hard time about taking their vitamins—Jennifer Hodges founded Hero Nutritionals and launched Yummi Bears, the first vitamin-mineral supplement in a gummy delivery system. Yummi Bears remain the top-selling children’s vitamin, delivering quality nutrients to kids around the world.
Recently, Hero has launched several new products: a complete line of Slice of Life adult gummies; Healthy Indulgence multivitamin/mineral and calcium supplements in 60-percent dark chocolate medallions; a line of organic Yummi Bears; and Sugar-Free Yummi Bear and Slice of Life multis.
We talked to Hodges recently about what’s new at Hero and in the world of children’s (and adult) supplements.
Natural Foods Merchandiser: You’ve recently branched out into adult supplements. Tell us about your new Healthy Indulgence chocolate supplement line.
Jennifer Hodges: Everybody knows how good chocolate is for you, especially when it’s 60 percent or higher cacao, so this just seemed like a great way to deliver nutrients. It’s aimed at women. We have two SKUs now, a multi and calcium.
NFM: As we learned with the samples in our office, the Slice of Life gummies are a popular and fun way to get nutrients. You’ve got everything from a Multi with Lycopene and B12 Energy to CoQ10, Fish-free Omega-3s and Vitamin D3.
JH: We’re especially excited about the Sugar Free Multi +, which hit the shelves a month or two ago. It’s just taken off. Hero was the first to market with a sugar-free gummy, and our formula is protected by pending patents.
NFM: Why do you think sugar free is so popular—and how do you do it?
JH: There are so many things going on today with childhood obesity, ADHD, diabetes. Our sugar-free lines are sweetened with inulin, which is a fiber and a prebiotic. It’s so much better than the alternatives: sugar, corn syrup, even xylitol can apparently cause stomach upset or act as a diuretic. We also use lo han fruit, another great natural sweetener. We were the first to the market with this ingredient in a gummy as well.
NFM: How would you characterize the current state of the children’s supplement market? How have sales of Hero’s children's supplements been trending?
JH: Well, the market is growing. One of the reasons, probably the main reason is because of gummies. Hero is the #1 brand in the industry. We Gummies are growing 15 percent in the health sets and 40 percent in FDM [Food/Drug/Mass]. That’s SPINS data. Nutrition Business Journal has written that if parents take supplements, more than 70 percent of them are likely to give their kids supplements.
NFM: What trends are currently shaping the children’s supplement market?
JH: Sugar free. And organic. We launched our organic line a year ago. It’s non-GMO; we use organic tapioca syrup—not sugar or corn syrup. Omegas in gummies are a big trend, too.
NFM: What do you think have been the most important innovations within the kids' supplement market?
JH: Gummy vitamins; they changed everything. They basically have taken over the whole industry. Now we’re doing everything in gummy format: omegas, probiotics, vitamin C, vitamin D. I think sugar free is the next really big market segment. We’re really excited about our line and its potential.
NFM: What are the advantages and disadvantages of the gummy format?
JH: The advantages are clear: What kid wouldn’t want to take gummy vitamins? I wish they had them when I was a kid! It’s just such an easy way for parents to give their kids vitamins.
The disadvantage is that some kids might eat the whole bottle if you let them. So you need to give them a few and hide the bottle or something. But even if they did eat the whole bottle, we’ve never had anyone get sick.
NFM: Where would you like to see the kids' supplement market in five years? What new supplement products would you like to be available for children?
JH: That would be giving away all our secrets, and we have a lot of secrets! We have about 20 pending patents. I think gummies are going condition-specific. We are working on things that have never been done before in the industry—really innovative things.
[Editor’s note: Hero has two new products to support developing brains. Child Bright is gluten-, allergen-, and casein-free, and made with all natural flavors and colors. With morning and evening formulas, it’s the first in the gummy format to contain DMAE, an organic compound that may have a positive effect on mood and concentration. It’s also high in brain-supportive nutrients like vitamins B6, C, and E, as well as the minerals zinc and manganese. And Organic Yummi Bears Brain Booster with DHA may support healthy brain development.]
NFM: What work is Hero doing to get children's supplements to underprivileged children who most need nutrient supplementation?
JH: More than 6 percent of our total gross sales last year went to underprivileged kids. We do an awful lot with Vitamin Angels—and also with Feed the Children, Autism Speaks, Americans Feeding Americans, and many other nonprofits.
NFM: What advice would you give a parent choosing a gummy vitamin?
JH: I’m a real freak about reading labels. I would go with sugar free. Also gluten free and no artificial flavors, colors, or sweeteners. Every child should have omegas every day. And a good all-purpose multi is important.