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Max Kabat, goodDog

6 ways to reclaim market leadership as a supplement industry veteran

The disruptive nature of the wellness movement has left some older, established supplement companies floundering. Here's what you can do to evolve and thrive in the changing marketplace.

To: Supplements Industry Old Guard

Fr: Max Kabat, Co-founder/Growth Strategist, goodDog

Subject: Naturally evolving is OK. 

Memo: This has to be the year. The year that the old guard of the supplements industry will finally show us something newfangled and different at expo. You’ve been comfy for years, trading on the stranglehold you have at retail shelves. But the ground that’s been shifting underneath your feet for quite some time is starting to crack that foundation. It’s called The Wellness Movement. It’s here. And, though it makes me sad to use this overused word, I think we all know that it’s unignorably “disruptive."

New consumers are coming to the category every day but they aren’t coming to you. They’re headed for the new guys, the ones with the cool branding, the ones who talk to you about YOU, the ones who break it down, who deliver to your house, who look like they’ve invented this whole category even though they haven’t. They’re just repackaging it.

Tonics. Powders. Customization. Personalization. Adaptogens. Nootropics. Nutraceuticals. At-home Tests. Technology. Telemedicine. Integrative Medicine. They make it all look so cool and fresh, powerful and transformative. It’s not new—you know that, you’ve been saying this stuff for years. But they’re the ones getting all the attention.

You were here first. In some cases, you even make the stuff that the newbies are repackaging and winning with. So, why aren’t you doing anything about it? There should be more panic. Why no panic? And if not panic, why not ire? You should be feeling enough right now to incite evolution.

It’s almost antithetical, counterintuitive even, that you OGs, built to help us humans evolve to a healthier place, are stuck and struggling to evolve. Struggling to be inspired to grow and change. To supplement, if you will, what you’ve been doing with some new tricks.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Though it might not be as easy as picking a bottle off the shelf, here are some things for you to consider that we’ve learned along the way about reclaiming your leadership position:

1. Go omni

It’s true: you already have the retailers locked up. For now. But the newbies and the home brands are coming for you. They took the easier, faster route and started as direct-to-consumer (DTC), but don’t think they’re not taking a page from Olly and HUM, who went omnichannel. Don’t think they aren’t looking at what’s worked in other categories for inspiration. And don’t think the retailers aren’t thinking about private labeling, reclaiming some of the shelf space for themselves like they’ve done in food and beverage. Thrive Market’s vitamins and supplements offering is all house brand while Grove Collaborative is going the curation route to build trust with its customers. So, cover your bets and take matters into your own hands. Stop trying to be ubiquitous in every store. Try to build a DTC presence. Sell digitally. Maybe you might find your growth consumer out there in the ether.  

2. Drive wealth through wellness 

You could spend weeks reading articles and opinions about the trillion-dollar emerging wellness and wealthness economy. Consumers are moving in droves toward companies that purport to deliver some of it, efficacious or otherwise. And the companies that are winning are becoming a part of consumers’ lives, selling brain health, better sleep, peace of mind. Meanwhile, you guys are still selling things: vitamin D, curcumin, echinacea. You might have put a bug on the bottle for immunity! But you have to go further and deliver true meaning to the consumer. To maintain your shelf position—or better yet, your position in people’s lives—you must evolve beyond a clinical pill in a bottle into a driver of wellness which starts with your pack. Make the value propositions clear and concise. Bring some joy. Marie Kondo that thing, pronto.  

3. It’s about the people, not the product

The disruptors have gone human-centric, and it’s working. Gone are the days when taking a bunch of horse pills gets you your daily dose of X,Y and Z. It’s now about optimization, customization, personalization. Consumers have embraced products that allow them to interact in a more fluid way. Four Sigmatic. Ritual. In Care/Of. Their products are built to be solutions that are a part of a holistic diet. It’s a way of life. Mixes. Powders. Wellness shots. They’re thinking about the consumer and how they want to ingest what they’re offering.

4. Grab a seat in the owners’ box

The supplements industry is part of a larger trend where consumers are looking to reclaim their own bodies. Medical care is too expensive and too siloed. It’s hard to get answers from the gatekeepers. Opportunities to choose your own path suddenly abound. Trust doctors but just want a more personalized way to interact with them? Enter telemedicine like Maven or primary care membership programs like One Medical. Having perceived food allergy challenges? At-home testing and counseling from groups like EverlyWell and uBiome have come to save the day. Wish you had a more personalized, nimble insurance plan for people like you? Check out what Oscar and Justworks are offering. Technology is where the folks who want customization are starting. Where are you in this mix? Get closer to what’s influential.  

5. Snip the long, long tail

More SKUs doesn’t equate to more success. For every spice needed for a recipe, Frontier and Simply Organic are there for you. But this “spice cabinet” mentality has led the supplements industry to build its business on the idea that if you have an ailment, there’s a supplement for that. The new kids in town are doing more with less and offering the recipes for use. How can you? The supplements aisle is a confusing mess for most consumers. Be a part of the solution.

6. If you can't beat them, fund them

The large, F&B legacy businesses and conglomerates have embraced innovation and category disruption so much so that they’ve launched investment arms and incubators. They’ve recognized they are missing that beat on consumer desires and need states that the upstarts have, as well as a strong sense of brand. Chobani. 301 INC. There are numerous examples of folks that are trying to support new companies with growth capital and R&D help while learning, even benefitting, from their innovative thinking. Others like Tyson have put in place an internal team to bring to market new ideas in only months. There’s no wrong way here. How can you turn all that shelf space you have into an asset that newbies would die for? What value do you have to unlock? 

It all comes down to this: You can disrupt yourself while leveraging your many, many existing assets. You’ve got the head start. You’ve got the supply chain. You have the manufacturing, the shelf space and the consumer trust. Now you’ve just gotta make some moves. Because if you can’t evolve by trying something new, how can you keep expecting your customers to?

Max Kabat is from goodDog, a brand consultancy that helps mostly mid-stage, founder-built, mission-driven companies grow by articulating a singular storyline then bringing it to market.

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