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Natural Foods Merchandiser
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What matters to millennials: Supplements they can trust

As millennials show preferences for whole-food diets, how can retailers and brands make supplements fit in?

When it comes to eating habits, millennials have a clear preference for clean.

Research from New Hope Network shows that millennials are more likely than the generations before them to see food as medicine—a way to manage their health conditions and detoxify their bodies. As a result, they’re more likely to buy food that’s grown to maximize nutrition, for example, food that’s local, organic or grass fed. In fact, while 66 percent of millennials do so, just 39 percent of baby boomers do.

Keeping in line with this trend, the percentage of millennials committed to organic food doubles that of baby boomers. Millennials are also willing to pay more for higher-quality ingredients in their foods than other groups, with 71 percent saying so (as opposed to just 47 percent of boomers).

Attracting millennials

But with this focus on whole, clean foods, where do supplements fit in? Are millennials willing to get at least some of their nutrition from a bottle, rather than a local farm?

“Absolutely,” says Kate Johnson, vice president of brand marketing at Ancient Nutrition. “Food is definitely the first line of defense, but consumers, especially health-savvy millennial consumers, are increasingly aware of just how hard it is to get the breadth and quality of the food they need, every day, to be their healthiest.”

If you ask Marvin Arciniega, social media coordinator for BioTerra Herbs, supplements aren’t at odds with millennials’ preferences for whole foods. “We believe supplements and eating nutritious foods work in conjunction with one another,” he says. So while he does see millennials as “top contenders” for using food as medicine, there is still a clear place for supplements in their healthy-eating plans. In fact, the unique attributes and preferences of millennial shoppers align quite well with the values and offerings of many supplement brands on the market today.

First, it’s good news for supplement brands that millennials assess the state of their health much differently than the generations before them. While baby boomers define their health based on quantitative measures like weight, BMI, and blood tests, millennials have a more holistic outlook, placing more weight on experiential measures like how their body feels, whether they have enough energy or if their digestion is on track. This holistic outlook aligns with the supplement industry, which can’t make disease claims but can make holistic and lifestyle claims that speak directly to how millennials assess their health.

This is a tactic that’s been successful at BioTerra Herbs, which offers products carrying simple but clear names directly reflecting a variety of health goals (for example, Fertility or Detox). A similar approach has worked well for Moon Juice, which has found great success with this generation in recent years. Its bestsellers carry condition-specific but decidedly holistic names like Brain Dust for mental clarity and Dream Dust for better sleep. Exemplifying how supplements can fit seamlessly into the whole food diets of millennials, these dusts are intended to be mixed into smoothies or teas. OLLY has also found success in the holistic goal arena: products carry names like Restful Sleep, Undeniable Beauty and Goodbye Stress in colorful, fun packaging.

But there’s also something intangible that’s guiding millennials’ purchasing decisions, and it’s the fact that they’re emotionally engaged with their health. In fact, 56 percent say they take pride in how their health is managed. This sense of pride can be easily sparked by plant-based or locally made foods, which inspire shoppers with stories about local growers and responsible farming. But can supplement marketers tap into and engage this emotion for their own brands?

Earning their trust

The baseline is earning back trust from millennials, as less than half of them currently trust the supplement industry. One way to build trust and also inspire pride is to tell a positive brand story, preferably one based on socially responsible, eco-friendly, or otherwise clean practices and products. This will not only demonstrate trust-building transparency, but also highlight the attributes that guide millennial food choices and make the case for why supplements are a natural fit.

There are many effective ways to communicate these stories—newsletters, on-pack messaging, advertising, etc.—but because millennials are a tech-oriented generation, with half using fitness trackers and apps to manage their health, supplement brands and retailers should meet them where they are. And that’s on social media, says Johnson. But not all social media is created equal: Ancient Nutrition uses Instagram to inspire and connect; Pinterest, on the other hand, is more effective for providing great educational resources like recipes.

“Brands need to communicate their values across all touch points for them to feel authentic and not gimmicky,” Johnson says. And these stories will resonate, she says, because, “with so much product out there, all consumers need a way to cut through the noise and create a framework for evaluating what they want to buy and consume.”

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