Biothera, supplier of well-known immune ingredient Wellmune WGP, has a marketing win to go with its science strengths with the recently announced placement of the beta glucan in a mass market product called SmartMune slated for wide distribution.
SmartMune, marketed by Minnesota-based MunaCare LLC, launched this week on several major online retailer’s sites: Amazon.com, Kmart.com and Walmart.com. It’s part of a strategy that will have the product on thousands of brick-and-mortar shelves in the coming year, Glenn Sherburne, CEO of MunaCare, told NutraIngredients-USA.
“We are launching on the Internet prior to retail launch. We did that because, one, we wanted to move some product but also, two, to educate the customers. So the intent was to drive some sales but also to get some retail analytics,” he said.
Method of action
One of facets of Wellmune WGP that differentiates it is its claim to support immune health via a unique method of action. The proprietary beta glucan that makes up Wellmune binds to a receptor site on neutrophils, the most numerous set of cells that make up the human immune system. This receptor site, known as C-3, has two branches, one accepting Wellmune’s ingredient, while the other awaits a stimulus from the bloodstream raising the red flag of an invader, i.e. an infection. With these sites preloaded with Biothera’s ingredient, the neutrophils are primed for action and can respond more quickly and in greater numbers, without being over stimulated, the company says.
“We have good basic understanding of the method of action”, said David Walsh, VP of communications for Biothera. “Wellmune WGP primes the neutrophils for activity, and neutrophils make up 60% of the immune system; it’s the largest population of immune cells. Wellmune primes those cells for activity using a natural pathway of the immune system.”
So while a product like SmartMune can make a claim to have year-round benefits, sales of immune care products tend to wax and wane with the seasons, Walsh said. It’s an attitude that tends to be reinforced by cultural messaging, and is one of things that MunaCare will seek to turn around via its marketing and consumer education.
“We always believe that immunity is something to focus on year round,” Walsh said. “But in the media you see a lot of back-to-school stories and cold-and-flu season stories.”
Internet to retail strategy
So it’s a good time of year to launch an immune product, Sherburne said, and fits into their overall strategy.
“We are taking a methodical approach,” he said. “We’ve brought together some of the best PR and marketing people in the natural products industry.
“We think that to get full retail penetration will take at least a few years. We are supporting with it TV, Internet social media,” he said.
The plan, Sherburne said, is to move into drugstores first and then into a wider retail footprint, all with an ultimate exit strategy in mind.
“We’ll start with Walgreens and CVS,” Sherburne said. “The goal is to build the SmartMune brand and the suite of products and ultimately spin it off to a bigger company. We’ll be looking for someone else to take it to the next level.”
None of that planning might matter much of the product is substandard, and Sherburne is confident with Wellmune WGP he has a winner.
“We are looking to differentiate ourselves from people who are putting some vitamin C and zinc or some echinacea in a product and calling it the next big thing. We are differentiating ourselves from them in a big way,” he said.
Sherburne referenced Biothera’s strong science backing, with what he said was over $300 million invested in research, and more ongoing.
“We are constantly doing research; we do two to three clinical trials every year,” Walsh said. “We are a biotech company. We have ten chemists and about 20 biologists and immunologists on our staff.”
MunaCare has big plans, and Walsh said Biothera has high hopes for the brand and how it’s strategy might drive future sales for their ingredient.
“They’ve got some ambitious plans. They are moving forward on a lot of different fronts form a marketing standpoint,” he said.
But it’s far from the only basket for their eggs, he added.
“Manufacturers are getting more interested in immunity and in Wellmune. We are now in more that 100 products in more than 50 countries globally,” Walsh said.