Vitamins, minerals and nutritional supplements aren't just about pills anymore.
Vitamin- and supplement-enriched products run the gamut from skin care to beverages to nutrition bars, and consumers looking for healthy products have more information than ever before because of the Internet, more in-store pharmacies, and informational in-store kiosks through vendors like Healthnotes, Portland, Ore.
Consumers are putting shark cartilage nutritional supplements, glucosamine sulfate capsules and milk thistle remedies in their baskets next to the perennial vitamin Cs and multivitamins. Supermarkets have begun stocking these unusual niche remedies in their vitamin and whole health sets in both national-branded and private-label offerings, said retailers.
"We've seen really good movement in the category over the past few years," said Ken Bruce, director of nonfoods, Martin's Super Markets, South Bend, Ind., especially in supplements like gingko biloba and shark cartilage pills, he said.
"Everyone knows about basic vitamins, but specific vitamins are real popular," he said. "There's a lot of information available now that was not available years ago."
Fred Brown, pharmacist at Miller's Food and Drug, Lagrange, Ind., agreed. "There is an increase in alternative health care, and people are more conscious of the health aspects of vitamins," he said. The store carries a 12-foot set of vitamins, minerals and supplements.
Overall, mainstream food, drug and mass channels swallowed up $1.26 billion in vitamin and mineral sales during the 52-week period ending Aug. 10, a 4.4% jump over the same period last year, according to data from SPINSscan and ACNielsen, Schaumberg, Ill. Mainstream supermarkets garnered $451 million in the category, a 3.5% increase from the previous year. Natural supermarkets had $234.1 million in sales, a 10.4% growth from last year, while drug stores captured $685.1 million in revenue, a 6% gain.
Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass., offers a wide variety of national-brand and private-label vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements to give consumers a better opportunity to find what works best for them, said Linda Schmidt, health and beauty care category manager.
"Customers are very savvy about vitamins and supplements, and we have found that glucosamine and chondroitin products are very strong in sales," she said. These supplements are aimed at relieving joint pain from osteoarthritis.
Among the merchandising strategies gaining in popularity with retailers are vitamin and supplement sections located closer to the pharmacy that create a link between the two departments, and sets that are grouped according to the part of the body that they remedy, like a section for joint health.
Niche vitamins have become more popular at Sherm's Food 4 Less, Medford, Ore., said Linda Taylor, health and beauty care buyer at the four-store retailer. "We have a chiropractor in town who recommends them," she said.
"It's still a somewhat confusing category, especially at retail, and it's important to create an experience around that category," said Laurie Demeritt, president and chief operating officer, the Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash. "Having access to pharmacists or specialists in that area would help consumers who feel ostracized."
Two years ago, Martin's expanded its vitamin sections, merchandising them close to nutrition bars and energy drinks, Bruce said. When the retailer opened five in-store pharmacies in June, those stores rearranged the vitamin displays closer to the pharmacy. Martin's vitamin and mineral sets range from 20 to 28 feet, he said.
Paddy Spence, chief executive officer, SPINS, a San Francisco-based provider of market research for natural health products, said health remedies targeted toward women are a growing category in supermarkets. Increasing awareness of the benefits of self-care among women and the desire for natural alternatives to address symptoms of women's health issues like menopause are driving the demand, he said.
"One of the most rapidly growing segments of the vitamin and mineral category is women's vitamin/mineral formulas," Spence noted. This niche category jumped 23.9% in supermarkets in the past year, he said. "We're also seeing a broader array of supplement solutions targeted to women than ever before, and a growing body of research to substantiate their efficacy," he said.
The herbal supplement category has "stabilized" with the business now tied to women's health products like black cohosh and estroven for consumers reaching their menopausal years, said Schmidt of Big Y Foods.
While supermarkets have the greatest opportunity to seize vitamin sales because of traffic frequency, most food retailers have under-delivered in this category, said Michael Langenborg, chief strategist, Natural Planograms, Santa Rosa, Calif., a category management provider with a focus on natural products.
With the exception of retailers like Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va., and Giant Food, Landover, Md., "supermarkets look at pharmacy and HBC as something they have to have, but do not put much emphasis to it," he said. Specifically, retailers have underused loyalty card data as a way of creating a vitamin category that best suits the customer base, he said.
"Supermarkets have fumbled in the aspect of the loyalty card game," Langenborg noted.
He said supermarkets have to make a commitment to the category through merchandising and promotion. "The commitment concept is being missed," he said.
Opportunity lies in touting regimens in the vitamin category, as opposed to individual items, he said.
"Showcase all items that have vitamin C, and offer a menu of solutions," he said.
Big Y constantly offers temporary price-reduction promotions, said Schmidt, along with monthly coupon incentives. She said the retailer offers "buy one, get two free" promotions once a year on basic vitamin C and vitamin E supplies in the stores' 12-foot sections.