Industry experts and natural product associations used Frontline’s January expose on the supplement industry to emphasize their continuing progress in ensuring that the products are safe, tested and regulated. Why is this important? Grocery retailers can find a lot of sales — and I mean a lot, $37 billion — in the rapidly growing category of dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbs, sports and nutrition, and other specialty products). Today mainstream retailers sell less than a third of the category, according to Eric Pierce, Director of Strategy and Insights for SN sister publication New Hope Media 360. The opportunity gap is glaring, but what do grocers need to do to win a greater share of the business?
Help customers find what they’re looking for
I recently walked the aisles of the dietary supplement section of several high-volume grocery stores with a colleague who has spent much of his career selling natural products into the retailing business. He pointed out some interesting things about how the products were arranged:
• In the vitamin section, the alphabetical approach works for customers who know exactly what they’re looking for, but it doesn’t help customers who’ve heard about the new benefits of a vitamin, but can’t exactly remember which one it is.
• In other parts of the supplement set, there was little to no subcategory signage to help the consumers quickly find everything that was available. Also, subcategories were frequently not merchandised together, so unrelated products like minerals and sports nutrition products were displayed side-by-side with no logical connection.
Learn from the best sellers
My colleague also found it notable that only a couple of the best-selling supplement brands were offered in the supermarket sections — and he explained that there were big differences between “mainstream brands” and “best-sellers” in this category. The mainstream brands, like other packaged goods, put the emphasis on price not on information. The manufacturers of the best sellers, on the other hand, are also literally the best sellers. They provide retailers with employee training and merchandising expertise in order to serve their customers' desire for information. There must be ways to tap into more of what the best-selling brands have to offer in this area.
Learn from the best customers
So, who are the best supplement customers and what can learn from them? New shopper research presented by Eric Pierce at Expo East 2015 shows that these customers have some very interesting and important attitudes that are pivotal for better serving them.
• First, they take a personal responsibility for their health and have an intuitive relationship with food. These customers look at supplements as a way to enhance their nutrition and put a lot of emphasis on first-hand experience.
• Second, they believe that certain types of supplements offer solutions that modern medicine can’t. These customers see that dietary supplements provide protective health that complements food. They also sometimes see supplements as an alternative to medicine.
Drive more sales both in-store and online
In a recent industry session, Pierce offered merchandising suggestions that involved the supplements section, integrating key products strategically across the store, and solution selling:
1. Highlight the role of supplements in augmenting a healthy diet by displaying them alongside of whole, fresh foods in produce and dairy.
2. Draw attention to well-recognized benefits in seasonal messaging. For instance, promote the benefits of Vitamin D as part of the seasonal merchandise for cold and flu remedies.
3. Set the section and provide signage that identifies supplements by health benefit or condition to make it easier to connect with shopper needs.
4. Integrate supplements with foods that offer similar functional benefits. For example, place probiotics alongside yogurts.
5. Use digital merchandising to make it easier and more enjoyable for customers to research, learn about, and possibly experiment with supplements based on the experience and expertise of others.
6. Connect the potential opportunities to save on supplements with helping customers achieve an affordable healthy and balanced diet. (This requires a shift in the idea that a supplement replaces what it missing your food/diet to it represents things that are additive to your whole lifestyle to achieve or maintain health and wellness per no. 2 above.)
It’s time to check your sales of dietary supplements. The trend toward better diets and consumer interest in and attitudes toward managing their own health is going mainstream. If you’re ready to go after a bigger piece of the pie, here are some ideas to get you started.