If the news about supplements and prescription medications is confusing you, imagine how it?s flummoxed your customers. Just look at the headlines. Ephedra was a great weight-loss supplement in the 20th century. In the 21st century, it will kill you. Vioxx? Good. No, wait—it?s bad. Add to that the industry research and independent studies that show the supplements market is flat, and figuring out just how to lure customers to your store?s supplements aisle and entice them to buy can be headache-inducing. (Aspirin—good? Bad?)
Marketing experts say some techniques can help you sell supplements in today?s confusing, static market. Here are their suggestions:
Marketing 101: Concentrate on the hot sellers. Sure, it?s not like the 1990s, when virtually every type of supplement had sizzling sales. But there are still some growing categories. The authors of a study published in the Feb. 14 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine noted, ?Although the deliberate use of herbal products may have reached a plateau in the last few years, exposure to individual herbal ingredients may continue to rise as more of them are added to mainstream multivitamin products. Approximately one-quarter of adults in the United States use multivitamins, and this prevalence may increase following the recent recommendation that all adults take a multivitamin daily.? The study found that use of several supplements, including lutein and lycopene, increased dramatically during the study period, 1998 to 2002, because of their addition to multivitamins.
The debut of Dr. Andrew Weil?s supplements line earlier this year is expected by many retailers to literally give a doctor?s stamp of approval to supplements. Some Whole Foods stores are making the Weil products easy to find by marketing the line both as a block and within individual health condition categories.
Bad news is good news. The recall of Vioxx and Bextra and questions about other wildly popular COX-II pain inhibitors can bring a whole new class of customers to your supplements aisle—those who feel betrayed by prescription medications and are looking for alternatives. Henry Kriegel, president of Bozeman, Mont.-based marketing firm KMG International, suggests you capitalize on this by setting up an education section in view of your supplements aisle, but not close enough to violate Food and Drug Administration regulations about health claims.
?You could carry books like Natural Alternatives to Vioxx, Celebrex and Other Anti-Inflammatory Prescription Drugs by Carol Simontacchi? (Square One Publishers, 2005), he said. ?Provide a carousel with science-based information from physicians or racks with third-party literature.?
William Arthur, president of Miami Beach, Fla.-based Nouveau Niche Marketing and Nutraceutical Solutions Consulting, said that information is available in trade magazines and on Web sites like www.npicenter.com and FDA News (www.fda.gov/opacom/hpwhats.html). ?Opt in for online newsletters like Nutra Ingredients, and share them with your staff and customers,? he added.
Don?t forget local news. ?Retailers really need to take advantage of local, grassroots media like newsletters, health talk shows and local talk shows,? Kriegel said. They?re good publicity, and they?re often free. And not only should you or your staff appear on those shows, but you should also return the favor by bringing local experts into your store.
Vitamin Cottage in Santa Fe, N.M., frequently gets calls from local nutrition practitioners who want to give lectures at the store, said Chandler Kahawi, supplements manager. The store offers two to three of these presentations a month. The Santa Fe Vitamin Cottage has the benefit of being in a city swarming with alternative medicine practitioners, Kahawi admitted, so it may be unusual that experts approach the store. If you?re not so lucky, make a few phone calls to local alternative health gurus. It?s a win-win marketing opportunity for both of you.
Kahawi said local advertising really works for Vitamin Cottage. ?We put our hotline ad in every Sunday in the [Santa Fe] newspaper.?
Take advantage of the impulse buy. Sure, you may have some Emer?gen-C packets by your cash register, but are you capitalizing on the whole grab ?n? go supplements segment? Arthur recommends moving hot categories like active-lifestyle supplements, including single-serving vitamin packs and weight-management products, near the front of your store. Vitamin Cottage in Santa Fe keeps fliers about various supplements near the registers, along with catalogs and articles about supplements on sale, Kahawi said.
Cross-merchandise. Just like peanut butter and jelly, certain supplements categories go together. Arthur recommends ?bundle selling,? or grouping products with synergistic functions, such as protein powder and creatine, or glucosamine and chondroitin. ?Create a unique window [or] endcap display or shelf promotion within the supplements section, visually tying these products together,? he said.
Arthur said another dynamic duo is diet and sports-nutrition products. ?Due to Americans? obsession over food and subsequent weight loss, it?s no wonder that the two categories ? often collide,? he said. ?So retailers should take advantage of this synergy and cross-promote items that have dual diet and sports-nutrition applications—such as formulas that include ingredients like Advantra Z that have dual application by reducing weight, as well as increasing lean muscle mass.?
Rely on your reps. ?A lot of retailers don?t like to visit with manufacturers? reps, but they should,? Arthur said. ?Manufacturers? reps are on the front lines, so they know what?s going on in the industry.?
Reps can also educate your salespeople and customers. Kahawi said the Santa Fe Vitamin Cottage offers in-store demonstrations by reps anywhere from three to eight times a month. The demos are popular and serve as a customer draw, he said. Arthur points out that reps can also give detailed information on their products? ingredients, which is key in explaining the fundamental differences between brands to your customers.
Click here to order a copy of Market Overview 2004.
Vicky Uhland is a Denver-based freelance writer and editor.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 6/p. 58, 60