The Business Leaders Forum, which took place on January 26, featured Sharon Leite, CEO of The Vitamin Shoppe, Jim Emme, CEO of NOW Health Group, and Jeff Boutelle, CEO of Pharmavite.
2021 – another strong year that could have been even better
The discussion started with a quick ‘state of the market’ with Emme and Boutelle highlighting how 2021 was another great year for the industry after 2020 broke records for sales of dietary supplements.
“Growth was solid last year,” said Emme. “We had another record year of revenue and other strong performance.
“2021 was the year that supply chain really impacted our products. We could have had a much stronger year if we’d have been able to produce more products. COVID quarantines also affected us throughout the year.
“We’re still bullish. We didn’t see much diminishing of consumer demand or consumer interest in natural products in all our categories: Supplements, personal care, and we started to see some pick up in sports nutrition.
Boutelle echoed these comments, stating: “We could have sold more product, but we don’t have unconstrained capacity or raw material availability.
“From a category perspective… the category had a very strong 2020, 21% growth and that was followed on by category growth of about 8% in 2021. This is impressive considering it’s on a very strong and elevated 2020 base.
“One good sign, from Feb 2020 to Feb 2021, household penetration grew a remarkable four points and that was mostly new users. From Feb 2021 to now, household penetration has remained relatively stable with a slight increase, but importantly, within there, those new buyers have become retained buyers”
The immunity category
After incredible growth in 2020, there was a lot of interest in whether the immunity category would stay strong or would show signs of slowing and perhaps transitioning back to a seasonal category.
“What we saw in the immunity category was that it was staying pretty constant, and we saw the consumer looking at their health more holistically,” said The Vitamin Shoppe’s Leite. “We’ve seen tremendous growth in plant-based products, we saw people getting back into the sports nutrition side, and we’ve seen a lot of focus around beauty from within.
“Immunity is staying very consistent. The consumer has taken a much more deliberate view of their health.”
“Immunity is more than just vitamin C and vitamin D and zinc. It is this holistic view of health. There’s no question that people are stressed out, people are thinking about sleep, so there’s no doubt that people are looking at health in its totality.”
NOW’s Emme concurred: “We’re seeing requests from retailers and partners around the world looking for combination products of immunity and possible stress-relief items.”
“We’ve also seen growth and interest in the use of sleep support products for children. Children are anxious, children haven’t been able to sleep are having trouble in school, and that was something we didn’t anticipate.”
The social media angle
“What people are looking for are specific products that they’ve heard about,” said Emme. “Chat groups and social media has really helped to spread the word about some of these products
“The speed at which our industry has to react to that [the media and social influencers] is really important,” added Leite. “We’ll see large spikes in search terms on our site and how the customer is engaging, so just being able to react quickly to when something comes out on social or a new study that comes out in the media is really important for our industry to pay attention to because the consumer is expecting to read something and be able to purchase it right away.”
The supply chain is still a struggle
The conversation drilled into ongoing issues with the supply chain – from the cost of shipping containers to hard-to-get ingredients.
“Containers that used to cost $2,500 are costing $10-12,000 now, and that’s if you can get one,” said NOW’s Emme. “We’ve found opportunities on in-bound ingredients and components. Out bound has been a real struggle. Our international business has continued to sky-rocket.”
Emme added that some larger entities are buying up their own containers, and so becoming logistics companies of sorts. “We’re not at that point yet,” he said. “We’re close to a major transport hub in the Chicago area and that works to our advantage, but it’s still unpredictable as to when you can get a container load shipment going out. It leads to longer lead times, it leads to cash-flow challenges for some of our partners, and we don’t see any imminent easing on it.”
Leite noted that supply of whey protein and creatine are very challenging currently. “That [creatine] has been really tough to get and really expensive.”
Boutelle added that Pharmavite sees the supply chain challenges remaining through 2022. “Some real heroes in our organization are the procurement folks,” he said. “It’s whack-a-mole: One day it’s plastic and resin, the next it’s fish oil from Peru, which is a really great example. It’s there, it’s being produced, it’s just the logistics system is broken down and we can’t get it up here, so we’re air freighting and that doesn’t come cheaply.”
The CEOs also discussed innovation and the key role of start-ups in this space, how inflation is impacting every facet of the supply chain and the consumers, the challenges of the labor markets, industry efforts to become more diverse and representative of its customers, quality certifications, and much more.
Click HERE to watch the full forum for free (registration required).