Supermarkets are eager to maintain the good health of the vitamin category. Sales in the channel are up, demand is strong and retailer margins are good.
"Vitamins for us are very successful. We've got 50 different types. Everything is Trader Joe's [private label]," said Lori Latta, senior buyer at Trader Joe's, South Pasadena, Calif., a chain with 73 stores.
Some supermarkets, including a large East Coast chain with about 181 stores and sales of more than $1 billion, said pricing is not an issue. "It's not competitive at all," said a health and beauty care buyer at the chain, who asked to remain anonymous. "It's one of the last great categories. You can price it competitively and make a ton of money."
Retailers polled by SN are employing different techniques to keep the category moving. Some have boosted their stock of traditional multivitamins and children's vitamins, which consistently represent a large portion of sales, while others have made the category more visible by experimenting with new placement.
Consumers need to be more exposed to the category, said the buyer from the East Coast chain. To gain greater exposure for the category, his chain may place vitamins at the checkout to drive traffic to the vitamin aisle and increase impulse purchases.
Vitamins also may be cross-merchandised with other categories. "We're looking at moving children's in with cereal, and adult with incontinent care," the buyer added. "Vitamins are something a lot of people forget to buy."
The total supermarket volume for vitamins and tonics for the 12 months ended in March 1995 jumped to $507.7 million, a 10% increase over the year before, according to Towne-Oller & Associates, New York, a subsidiary of Information Resources Inc., Chicago.
For the 52 weeks ended Dec. 10, 1994, Nielsen North America, Schaumburg, Ill., reported significant percentage sales increases in most supermarket vitamin segments.
Multiple vitamins brought in $128.3 million, up 6.5% over the previous year; vitamins/tonics-liquids and powders, $7.3 million, a 2.9% increase; and children's vitamins, $44.6 million, a 0.3% increase. Although B-complex vitamins with C had $14.9 million in sales, a 3% decrease, remaining segments saw an 8.2% increase to $136.2 million.
And while the category is boosting HBC sales, supermarket retailers aren't taking the category for granted. Retailers polled said they continually work to educate consumers about the benefits of vitamins.
Spartan Stores, a Grand Rapids, Mich., cooperative wholesaler that supplies about 500 stores, may soon start featuring shelf talkers, which provide information on the shelf about the specific vitamins being sold, according to Shari Steinbach, a spokeswoman for the chain.
A California-based chain with 12 stores may soon place educational pamphlets on its vitamin shelves so that consumers can get detailed information about the items offered.
"The educational process needs to go on. A lot of people don't understand [different vitamins]," said an HBC buyer from the chain, who asked not to be identified. The company has moved some vitamins into its diet section, and recently opened a natural foods section that features vitamins. "When you go into a health food store, you have someone to answer your questions," the buyer said.
Along with education, supermarkets can get the most of the vitamin category by frequently expanding the types of lines offered.
Spartan Stores, for instance, is seeing success with the National Football League's vitamin line, as well as other "super" vitamins geared to fitness enthusiasts.
Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co., Charleston Heights, S.C., which has about 50 stores, has had success with children's vitamins, according to Paul Erko, HBC buyer.
Jons Market, Los Angeles, a 10-store independent, also looks to children's items to boost category sales, according to Wanda Lovelace, HBC buyer and merchandiser. "Children's [vitamins] have always been a good seller, and it has gotten better," she said.
Buyers credit some of the category's growth to a continued interest in health, along with increased consumer education about the benefits of vitamins.
While children's vitamins are a popular segment, other lines also are growing, including homeopathics, herbals and antioxidants. Retailers said longtime consumer favorites such as vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin E, and name-brand multivitamins such as Centrum have remained strong.
Some retailers said that along with education and new product lines, promotions should play an integral role in the category.
Valu Food, Baltimore, tries to include a product from each vitamin segment when it promotes the category, said Allen Karpe, director of pharmacy and HBC.