The wellness industry is booming. It brought in more than $167 billion in the U.S. last year, and $3.7 trillion in revenue worldwide. U.S. revenue is expected to top $170 billion this year. Meanwhile, wellness is everywhere. From mind-body cruises and beauty supplements to endless Instagram influencers, wellness is no longer just for gym-goers or fitness enthusiasts. It’s now a status symbol for consumers around the world.
So why aren’t vitamin stores thriving?
The rise of digital wellness
The Omni Index, which measures satisfaction of consumers across physical and online realms, recently found that 44% of health and beauty shoppers use mobile apps—significantly higher than other retail verticals. Google recently launched its “digital well-being,” a new set of features to capitalize on our dual quests for wellness and all things tech. And the top fitness and wellness personalities are no longer called “celebrities,” but instead claim the title of “influencer”—captivating us on Instagram with an almost-hourly onslaught of health, wellness and fitness tips.
Then there’s the wellness movement to begin with. Supplements used to be relegated to gym rats and bodybuilders looking for specific ingredients to drive specific results. Now, they’re used by everyone from beauty trendsetters to housewives, quickly becoming a pantry staple. The convergence of fitness and wellness culture, and the proliferation of all things digital could be two reasons why the vitamin stores that thrived in the 1990s are now playing catchup to online retailers and emerging digital-first brands.
Vitamin stores of the past, today
- GNC: Long the giant in brick and mortar supplement sales, GNC just announced that it will be closing 200 stores. The company still has more than 8,000 shops worldwide, with 3,300 in the U.S. and Canada. Still, its net income for Q1 2018 was $6.2 million, compared with $24.7 million in Q1 2017. Although its U.S. and Canada sales are down, its international sales were up during the same period.
What’s the reason for the decline in the U.S. market? As one writer put it, “Compare GNC’s sterile store atmosphere to the sleek, minimalist design of vitamin companies like Care/of, Ritual, Olly, or Goop and it’s easy to understand why shoppers excited about wellness are finding “fixes” for beauty, weight loss, or nutrition elsewhere..”
- The Vitamin Shoppe: It’s rolled out a supplement subscription service with OrderGroove. It’s invested big in e-commerce and even its own Wellness Council. It’s in localization mode, launching 800 Instagram accounts—one for each of its stores. And it reportedly hired turnaround specialists to take a hard look into its declining sales. The nation’s second-largest brick and mortar supplement company has fallen on hard times, but it’s betting big on digital to help it win over the hearts, minds and eyes of an Instagram influencer generation hooked on wellness.
- Vitamin World: The retailer announced in the fall that it would shutter 124 of its stores, selling off the rest. This comes two months after it filed for bankruptcy. A Chinese company purchased the vitamin retailer and plans to operate its remaining 150+ stores—the latest instance of Chinese investors acquiring a U.S.-based vitamin business.
A new breed of vitamin brands
Traditional vitamin stores aren’t capitalizing on the wellness trend. But a number of brands are cashing in, and redefining the supplement industry in the process. Some offer personalization, while others attempt to streamline the perpetual sea of supplements into single solutions. But one thing they have in common is a digital-first approach to connecting shoppers with supplements.
- Care/of: The brand offers personalized vitamin packs, and offers a direct dig to vitamin stores of the past right on the homepage of its website: “No overwhelming aisles of fine print. No commissioned sales clerks.”
- Ritual: This startup is reinventing the multivitamin by offering “the only vitamin you need:” a mix of nine ingredients Made in the USA, vegan and free of gluten and synthetic fillers.
- Goop: Gwyneth Paltrow’s health and wellness megabrand has long been associated with crackpot claims and misinformation. Yet it keeps on bringing in the Millennial crowd like a moth to the flame. It’s also dabbling in the personalization craze, offering vitamin packs for specific issues such as, “My body isn’t responding to diet and exercise like it used to.”
The health and wellness industry—and the dietary supplement market—are both expected to continue skyrocketing in the coming years. Only time will tell if traditional vitamin stores go the way of the dinosaur. But we know one thing: the rise of e-commerce gives us endless options at our fingertips, complete with reviews from real users who can help us separate hype from reality. And that’s good for all of us, any way you slice it.