The pivot between serving a market and exploiting a market is only subtle if you are willfully looking the other way. The guardrails should be easy to see, even at a glance. Use good science. Use quality ingredients. Keep the message and the marketing as responsible as possible. Those were always the rules, but the urgency is elevated in the COVID-19 crisis.
Between those clearly marked guardrails lies the possibility to turn the immediate crisis into a “new normal” for consumers who recognize that prevention is part of health and nutrition is part of prevention. Investment banker William Hood sees that new normal as perhaps the biggest opportunity the industry has ever been presented. “I do believe that there will be a new norm, just like there was after 9/11, in terms of people’s behavior, individual behavior,” Hood says, “and I believe that this new norm will manifest itself through an increased vigilance about one’s health, wellbeing, immunity and in prevention.”
“And that all leads to higher supplements sales,” he adds.
Hood is not the only one who sees the short-term crisis adding volume to what the supplement industry has preached for years—wellness as the answer to disease and an alternative to the medical culture waiting for disease to appear before assigning a treatment.
Takeaway: The pandemic could bring new customers into the supplement market. And a new emphasis on health might keep them there.
Trust Transparency Center CEO Len Monheit calls COVID-19 the biggest wake-up call in history for consumers but says it should also be a wake-up call for the supplements industry. It’s the right time to get it right. A combination of efficacy and ingredient reliability will build loyalty, he says. “Those values that are emerging are going to be even more important than ever,” Monheit says. Legacy companies are particularly well positioned, he explains. “They can say, ‘We’re your brand right now, and we’ve been serving you for 50 years,” Monheit says. “We’re talking serious, serious loyalty.”
Others see the same mix of opportunity rooted in responsibility. Maypro Ventures President Dan Lifton say the company’s Quality of Life finished product brand is carefully limiting who can sell the products and what they can say, keeping an especially close eye on online resellers who could violate pricing policies and leave Quality of Life looking like price gougers. That requires some rules that are strict and simple, whether or not they limits sales. “We don’t work through distributors anymore,” Lifton says. “And we’re very selective in terms of our retail partners.”
At NOW Foods, CEO Jim Emme is watching the 52-year-old company’s mission highlighted in a time of crisis and hopes customers will see that in the products. “It’s really an opportunity where people are paying attention and we as an industry need to step up,” Emme says.
Paul Schulick has played a part in the supplements industry since his first days in natural retail in the late 1970s, most of a decade before he helped launch New Chapter, a high-quality legacy supplements brand. For Schulick, COVID-19 offers the supplements industry its best opportunity to present its best message to the biggest possible number of consumers.
A global industry has been offered a global opportunity, he says.
“The curse of our time is that we can spread nice things so quickly. It’s also the blessing of our time that we can get things so quickly. I can get a mushroom from the most remote area of China, that grows exactly as it’s supposed to grow. Or I can get a grape seed, that’s growing in New Zealand, that is the best grape seed in the universe. And I couldn’t do that before. The remedies are there,” he says. “If you know them.”