Are online supplement subscriptions the industry’s future? Mintel says model is poised for growth

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images / Bernarda SV
Getty Images / Bernarda SV

Related tags e-commerce Nutrition Online retail sales Online shopping Online grocery Subscription business model subscription Mintel Vitamin shoppe

When it comes to online shopping, dietary supplements join the likes of personal care products like razors and oral care, where consumers are more likely to hit ‘subscribe,’ according to an analyst from market research firm Mintel.

This contrasts online sales for food, a sector in which many consumers are still more likely to buy at a bricks and mortar store than online. For food and beverage, more than three-quarters (78%) are wary of the freshness and 63% have food safety concerns, according to Mintel’s report​.

Though the report didn’t have quantitative data on consumer preference and behavior for online supplement buying, Jana Vyleta, health and personal care analyst at Mintel, told us that she sees a fit between dietary supplements and the online subscription model offered by companies like Ritual​ or care/of​.

“Many consumers think that the vitamins, minerals, and supplements—or VMS—category is confusing to shop, and these services remove a lot of the shopping guesswork by curating the vast category down to a single product or group of products,” ​she said.

“Many consumers also appreciate the personalization aspect that several VMS subscription services offer, where an online questionnaire will be conducted to determine the user's specific supplementation needs, often based on lifestyle behaviors or life stage,”​ she added.

In fact, removing the guesswork was exactly the driver behind why Craig Elbert, co-founder of personalized nutrition company care/of, started his company.

“I went through the time of purchasing vitamins and supplements myself, and the experience was overwhelming,” ​he told us in an interview​ in 2016.

Startups to legacy brands embracing the model

In the past two years, the online subscription model has become a staple feature for new supplement brands.

“The frequent repurchase cycles for VMS products, often every 30-90 days, make subscription services a more convenient alternative to having to go to the store for refills,”​ Vyleta added.

In fact, for startups like personalized probiotic company Thryve​ and New Zealand weight management supplement maker calocurb​, their online purchasing platform defaults to subscriptions instead of one-off purchases.

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Nebraska-based Bulu Box​, which started out as a health food and supplements samples delivery company in 2012, added a service to help companies create their own subscriptionboxes​ last year. CEO Paul Jarrett told us last year that Fortune 500 companies were calling his office asking about the business model.

“I thought, ‘Why are these big, multi-billion dollar companies calling us, and why aren’t we calling them back?”​​ he said.

Today, Bulu Box has a turnkey subscription box service to help companies with the logistics of creating subscription boxes, sort of like a 'private label, contract manufacturer' for subscription programs.

Even legacy retailers like Vitamin Shoppe, primarily a bricks and mortar company, is jumping into the online subscription model with its Spark Auto Delivery service launched last summer​. Using Spark, consumers get a discount per product when ordered using the service.

In Vitamin Shoppe’s fiscal year 2017 Q4 earnings call​ in February this year, outgoing CEO Colin Watts said that Spark’s performance “exceeded expectations.”

“I'm happy to say that the program which was launched in August 2017 had almost 400,000 active subscriptions by yearend. Importantly, the retention rate and incremental sales contributions are running ahead of our expectations as well,” ​he said.

“Additionally, SPARK Auto Delivery continues to be a major source of incremental growth to our company, fueling our digital commerce push as it brings a novel subscription solution to all our customers.”

Vyleta from Mintel added: “The subscription service model for VMS also follows broader trends in consumer goods, where we're seeing everything from razors to oral care being sold through subscriptions.”

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