Special Edition: The Female Consumer

VOX POP: What should product developers, marketers keep in mind when addressing the female consumer? Women in the industry weigh in

By Adi Menayang & Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images / Hero Images
Getty Images / Hero Images

Related tags: Product development, R&D, Nutrition, Marketing

From publicists to brand founders, R&D scientists to regulatory affairs managers, we spoke with some women in the nutrition industry about the current landscape of marketing and developing products for women—in what aspects is the industry excelling, and where is there room for improvement?

We asked several women in the industry the same prompt: Share your thoughts on marketing finished supplement products, as well as developing products, for women in the nutritional supplement sector.

Here’s what they told us:

(The following comments have been edited for length and clarity):

Suzanne Shelton
Suzanne Shelton
Suzanne Shelton, founder and managing partner, The Shelton Group

I see some brands still merge all women together in their product formulation and how women are presented in their marketing but the truth is we’re not all the same, nor do we have the same lifestyles, goals and priorities. Gender will be part of formulation because there are gender-specific needs, but look at what people are trying to accomplish health-wise and target that. 

I’d also like to see different ideas of gender roles and lifestyles in general portrayed. Not only is that an accurate representation of the real world, but younger consumers, who buy a lot of supplements, are more inclusive and far less judgmental, so that will read as authentic to them.

The industry has gotten a lot better about sports nutrition marketing, and stopped with the ridiculous sex kitten images formerly used at trade shows and in marketing materials, which of course was just targeting men anyway. As more women become interested in this category, I think the right message is to focus on how products that help them in the gym will help them in their everyday lives.

Amy Upchurch
Amy Upchurch
Amy Upchurch, founder and CEO, Pink Stork

There is an immense sense of brand loyalty that has become essential to modern marketing that the supplement sector has recently become attuned to. Sleek packaging, specific attention to ingredient use, company values, and more, have all become an imperative aspect of marketing for supplement companies.

Brand loyalty and a consumer following that is rooted in trust is a must-have. The modern woman is constantly on-the-go; if she is going to take a supplement, she is going to choose the one brand she knows she can trust and stick with it. Quick, easy, and comprehensive is what a woman wants, and that is what a brand’s marketing team must convey.

There is always room for improvement; a company can always develop better products, faster transit, nicer customer service; however, trust is one of the most essential parts of supplement marketing.

Shavon Jackson-Michel
Shavon Jackson-Michel
Dr Shavon Jackson-Michel, ND, Director of Scientific and Medical Affairs, Dolcas Biotech

As a woman who comes to the nutraceutical industry by way of a clinical background, as a naturopathic physician and with experience in academia, I am a strong believer in both education and empowerment. As a woman of color, I find these endpoints of even greater significance, understanding how a lack of either can significantly compromise outcomes in a variety of settings and sectors.

Women today are redefining the character and context to which they want to be defined and industries, including ours, must speak to that or they will miss out on the ability to commercialize effectively to this underestimated consumer.

The landscape is quite huge in terms of targeting the female consumer in her more traditional role, as caregiver for her home. A primary example of this is the 'clean food/ingredient' movement. The numbers show that this movement is being propelled by women, and millennial mom's in particular. I believe the industry is doing good speaking to the empowerment of women, in this traditional role, i.e. as the gate-keeper to her family.

Where I believe there is room for improvement is addressing the woman herself. Many formulations on the finished product side are still quite linear in their composition—targeting one aspect or another. But the dynamic nature of a woman's body at different periods of her life, calls for more comprehensive formulations, formulations that offer on-the-go delivery options, for her busy life, and those that speak to her stress load.  For instance, some statistics suggest a 100 or more hour/week workload for the average working mother. This by far tops even that of the busiest of male CEOs–so why isn't the female consumer the biggest target of adaptogens, nootropic or even stamina-targeted ingredient? 

 Some statistics suggest a 100 or more hour/week workload for the average working mother. This by far tops even that of the busiest of male CEOs–so why isn't the female consumer the biggest target of adaptogens, nootropic or even stamina-targeted ingredient?​​

Dr Shavon Jackson-Michel, ND, Director of Scientific and Medical Affairs, Dolcas Biotech

I also think the science we generate around the nutrients we bring to market have to have women in mind from the beginning and not as an afterthought.

Kellie Lee
Kellie Lee
Kellie Lee, creator and owner, Rowdy Bars

I feel I have had a huge learning curve in this industry which has been a struggle, but I was up for the challenge because I am so passionate about how my products can benefit people’s lives. I am not sure if the struggle has anything to do with me being a woman, rather I am still somewhat new to the industry as a whole.

Women do seem to have fierce competition in building a business in the nutritional supplement/functional food sector, for example, I find myself reading more about men in this space than women. However, we are trailblazing, there are a lot of women making noise in this industry and some are people I aspire to be like.

One of the trailblazers I am thinking of is the owner of Cauli’flour Foods. Her and I have similar stories; though, I don’t have lupus I do struggle with hypothyroidism and it’s the stories like ours that are forging ahead in this space, I believe.

I think the industry is excelling in making it a priority to understand where our food is coming from and the focus on how we should be eating ‘just real food’ rather than all the extra garbage we find in a lot of foods today. But, this area needs improvement, as well.

There are a lot of products out there that are considered “healthy” that well, simply are not. This is a part of my mission with my business, I want to inspire people to want to learn more about the foods they eat, to understand that disease starts in the gut. Perhaps, as a woman I am roadblocked more than I realize, but I try not to focus on the bumps in the road. I believe perseverance, passion and having faith will always prevail.  

Tamara Bernadot
Tamara Bernadot
Tamara Bernadot, co-founder and chief nutrition officer, Persona Nutrition

I believe all consumers – women and men – are looking for high-quality nutritional supplements that have the levels of nutrients promised on packaging from companies that are transparent about their sourcing. No two people are the same – even if they’re both women – so we take the approach of developing nutritional supplements that are tailored to an individual’s unique needs and wants.

The industry is experiencing a significant uprising in personalization that spans DNA lab tests to in-depth online nutritional assessments. The key is getting to the heart of the who, what, when, where and why – what makes the person unique, especially when it comes to their nutrition and wellness goals.

Companies that have robust nutritional assessments will be able to innovate products faster and in a more customized way. For instance, we’ve seen significant interest in the number of people – 91%  are women – who are looking for vegan supplements, so we responded by unveiling seven new supplements that now feature a vegan softgel. With these new products, we now offer 37 vegan supplements.

I feel there’s still room for improvement in compliance – how can we, as an industry, inspire women (and men) to care for their wellness every single day? How do we help support their nutrition journey so they consistently take their dietary supplements?

Vivian Rhoads
Vivian Rhoads
Vivian Rhoads, DVP Innovation, Pharmavite

In marketing nutritional supplement products for women, there is a need to connect with women on an emotional level. Having an emotional understanding plus demographic and life stage context is extremely important to be able to connect and design solutions in a way that resonate with what she needs. Every woman wants to be confident that she is doing her best to both look and feel good.

Understanding the emotional context allows us to go beyond the physical needs at the different life stages so we are able to empathize with the whole person and develop solutions that truly matter.

At the heart of it all, we need to understand her attitudes/beliefs and behaviors along the demographic/life stage continuum to be to design the best solutions that meets her functional and emotional needs.

Susan H Mitmesser
Susan H Mitmesser
Dr Susan Hazels Mitmesser, PhD, VP of Science and Technology, Pharmavite

Within the context of the target demographic, there needs to be a good understanding of the nutritional needs for that demographics. In addition to the fact that every diet has gaps and it is nearly impossible to obtain every needed nutrient from the diet, a woman’s nutritional needs change with age and life stage.

In the current landscape, the industry has done a good job stratifying products for larger population groups, such as prenatal and women over 50.

However, there are opportunities to better utilize data such as the NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) data which can shed light on nutrient gaps and aid in the design of products that are more comprehensive in addressing nutrient gaps in the target population.

With the increasing popularity of specialized diets such as vegan, paleo and keto diets, there is a need to design, develop, and market products that will help mitigate inherent nutrient gaps within these diets.

Diana Morgan
Diana Morgan
Diana Morgan, Head of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs, Care/of

When developing products for women it’s important to consider the nutritional needs during different life stages such pre/postnatal and menopause. Folate is a vital nutrient during pregnancy, but some people cannot metabolize regular folic acid to its usable form L-methylfolate. Supplement makers are realizing this and now making prenatal multivitamins with the active form, methyltetrahydrofolic acid.

Choline is another nutrient that is just as important as Folate for pregnancy but sadly 90–95% of pregnant women consume less choline than the adequate intake. Given that statistic, choline is slowly making its way into the prenatal suite of offerings. On the opposite end, use of birth control pills can deplete the body of key nutrients such as B-vitamins (including folate), vitamins C and E, magnesium, selenium and zinc.

With almost 16% of American women taking the pill, this may be an area for supplement makers to create offerings for.

Natalie Terashima
Natalie Terashima
Natalie Terashima, Managing Partner, Rachel Kay Public Relations

There’s truly never been a more exciting time in the nutritional supplement market than right now. The rise and purchasing power of highly-educated late-twenty and thirty-something female consumers is bolstering a competitive and diverse supplement landscape that’s continuously evolving meet her needs.

With so much competition, one of the primary issues supplement manufacturers should consider to differentiate themselves is how to inherently build trust and a real emotional connection to her life. Supplements are not just about vitamins and illness prevention anymore – they’re about helping women thrive and take control of their wellness journeys.

Women today view their nutraceuticals much more as holistic tools for wellness and addressing key needs states – so rather than looking for a generic “antioxidant,” they’re seeking nutritional support for issues like stress adaptation, cognition, anti-inflammation, digestive health, and of course one of the most booming sub-categories, beauty from the inside out.

Much like the trend we’ve seen in the food and beverage space, when it comes to supplements, winning brands have developed a clear purpose, put a stake in the ground and are thoughtful and strategic about the channels through which they choose to promote. 

Your founder’s origin story, brand mission, transparency of your ingredients/supply chain, social impact, or how you physically show up in her life can all be just as important, if not more so, as the primary benefit of your product. 

Natalie Terashima, Managing Partner, Rachel Kay Public Relations

Your founder’s origin story, brand mission, transparency of your ingredients/supply chain, social impact, or how you physically show up in her life can all be just as important, if not more so, as the primary benefit of your product. The speed of innovation and R&D is an area where many brands both established and new are shinning. New formats like whole food powders, tabs, tinctures and even fully customized offerings are coming to market with speed. However education and ensuring clear communication and differentiation about what you offer and why it matters – to HER – is still a huge area of opportunity.

Liat Simha
Liat Simha
Liat Simha, founder, NutriPR

There certainly are shifts in the market regarding supplements designed for women. Formulators are individualizing their products to target various life stages from pregnancy to menopause and focusing on more specific health categories. Greater stress is being placed on supplement needs backed by research, as well. Although most of the supplements for women include calcium, omega-3, iron, folate, etc. there is much more opportunity to develop sophisticated products that, for example, support today’s multitasking lifestyle, or help teenage girls take control of their life in terms of balancing diets that lack essential nutrients.

Supplements that help women better modulate changing moods are also appearing, and I anticipate seeing more personalized nutrition that target women’s different ages, lifestyles, and shifting needs.

Beauty-from-within sector is gaining momentum. A range of antioxidant and collagen supplements and beauty drinks are already on the shelves and I’m excited to try these products. However, in terms of flavors and texture there is a gap to close.

On the top of that, I think that product developers must take in consideration all organoleptic characteristics that appeal to women, such as texture, shape, and aroma — and yes, color as well! Not all women are alike and product design matters – enough with the pink and purple!

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