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A letter from NBJ Editor in Chief Rick Polito

As I put the last touches on the NBJ Direct-to-Consumer issue, a movie about a man who changed how we live in the modern world finished the weekend in 11th place at the box office, 10 spots and about $22 million behind a movie based on a series of children’s books, actual books, made out of paper, that you can hold in your hands.

That movie is “Goosebumps.”

The other is “Steve Jobs.”

Jobs, the Apple founder, put the world in our hands with the iPhone. His team, and the smartphone rush that followed, made it possible to see anything and buy anything from anywhere. A friend I know jokes that he can divide his life into “before iPhone and after iPhone.”

And yet more people want to see a movie based on a stack of books they grew up with than want to know anything more than they have to about the tech legend who changed everything.

There is a lesson in there.

Sales are growing online for just about every kind of commerce, and supplements are no different. NBJ is projecting online supplement sales to grow 11 percent in 2015. The entire supplement industry, including online sales to help prop it up, grew just over 5 percent last year.

So the industry can and will grow online. It can grow new ideas there too. Bulletproof Coffee went from a butter-heavy concoction with a cult following (and a caffeine-cult leader in founder Dave Asprey) to a brand with a supplements like Glutathione Force.

But can it grow a coherent value proposition?

The channel that grew the supplement industry, and the wealth of good will it has often seemed content to coast on, was the natural and specialty retail channel. This was, and still is, a place where people could learn about supplements from the people who knew about supplements.

And cared about supplements.

That channel cannot be taken for granted, and the industry needs to find a way to create the same kind of in-the-flesh experience for generations of people growing up so deeply digital. For however big a place we have granted social media in our lives, there are few of us, in any generation, who equate it to actual “social” contact. No matter how many likes or retweets we get, most of us will always prefer the face-to-face. A barrista who recognizes you and starts brewing your latte as you walk in is worth more than 10 million rewards points at an online retailer.

Tangible trumps the virtual every time.

Just ask the producers of “Steve Jobs.”

Better yet, ask R.L. Stine. The Goosebumps author just might sign a book for you, with a real pen.


   Rick Polito

   NBJ Editor in Chief

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