Explosive growth in the $4.2 trillion global health and wellness industry, coupled with the rise of social media and direct-to-consumer disruption, means that no drugstore product is too unsexy to get an Instagram-friendly makeover. Vitamins and health supplements, once a niche market for health nuts and aging consumers, is one of the latest consumer categories to see its share of innovative, millennial-oriented brands.
One such brand is Ritual, a direct-to-consumer subscription supplement line launched in 2016 with the goal of elevating the humble multivitamin. Ritual’s multivitamins are all non-GMO, vegan-certified and allergen-free, and contain no colorants and no synthetic fillers, with information easily accessible regarding the provenance of each ingredient. By prioritizing consumer education and transparency, the brand caters to a new, highly informed customer at the nexus of wellness and luxury.
“At Ritual, we believe that all of us deserve to know what we are putting in our bodies and why,” Katarina Schneider, founder and CEO, told CO—.
Critical to Ritual’s next phase of growth is encouraging customers to build new health habits; maintaining her brand’s values as it scales; and staying connected with her audience, she said.
“When we started the company, we created a one-of-a-kind, traceable supply chain,” Schneider said. “It wasn’t enough for us to just have a clinical study, we wanted to share details including how the study was set up so that our customers and future customers could really understand our vision and intention for everything that we do.”
Though the brand has ridden the wellness wave to mainstream exposure, Schneider is adamant that Ritual has little in common with the pseudoscientific health fads that often end up being debunked as little more than snake oil. She does, however, recognize the importance of social media and good design as a means of communicating directly with customers, and leverages both to share the brand’s values and grow its audience.
At Ritual, we believe that all of us deserve to know what we are putting in our bodies and why.
Katarina Schneider, founder and CEO, Ritual
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Keeping it simple
Unlike some of its competitors, such as Care/of or Persona, which require customers to take an extensive quiz to determine their “ideal” supplement regimen, Ritual’s offering thus far reflects a commitment to developing the optimal multivitamin — a simple, easy-to-use product that could deliver the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
Within the growing spectrum of direct-to-consumer brands, Ritual’s product assortment is ostensibly one of the simplest.
To contrast, Care/of offers auto-generated, personalized vitamin packets, and also sells herbs and supplements individually, allowing customers to put together their own custom blend. And on the crunchier side, competitor Gem’s chewable vitamins have a “real food” base made of dates, coconut and seeds, reflected in its form that bears more resemblance to a granola bar than a pill.
Ritual launched as a single product: the daily Essential supplement for women. The brand’s assortment has since expanded with a prenatal formula, inspired by Schneider’s own experience with pregnancy, and a supplement designed to support the needs of post-menopausal women ages 50 and up.
“Our goal since the beginning was to provide women with a multivitamin for every stage of life,” Schneider said, adding that the audience has quickly grown from mostly women under 50 to customers of all ages. “It’s been incredibly exciting to become a multi-generational brand.”
Elevating an everyday habit into a daily ritual
With its eye-catching yellow and blue packaging and transparent capsules, Ritual was a pioneer of Instagrammable design in the health and wellness space.
“I think we’re already seeing a blurring of lines between spaces like wellness, beauty and nutrition, and that will continue to happen,” said Scott Lachut, president of research and strategy for retail innovation firm PSFK. “Overall design and aesthetics need a facelift to make a brand feel premium and differentiated.”
Schneider says it elevates its vitamin from competitors with transparency and traceability. The pills themselves are literally see-through, serving as both a metaphor for Schneider’s values and a recognizable image on social media. Going beyond packaging, the brand emphasizes efficacy and education, providing its customers with the resources to understand what they’re taking everyday. “We’ve made education around nutrition accessible,” Schneider told CO—, explaining that they have provided the resources for those willing to do a deep dive into the ins and outs of vitamin development, but building a trusted reputation for those who prefer not to do quite so much intellectual heavy lifting around the products they consume.
For a company like Ritual, encouraging lifestyle changes and the formation of new habits is key for long-term loyalty and audience growth. The brand’s subscription sales model helps put customers’ purchases on autopilot, while a dedicated Apple Watch app is designed to support what the brand calls a “habit loop” to encourage repetition and build new routines.
“Originally, our customer base was primarily those who were the ‘health-obsessed,’” Schneider said of the company’s growth since 2016. “But as we’ve scaled, our multivitamin has also become a key healthy habit for those who are ‘healthy-ish.’ In many ways, we are majorly changing behavior while also growing the market.”
It’s not just the pills that are see-through
The supplement category is not one known for its transparency. Following 1994’s Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), dietary supplements are classified by the FDA as food, and therefore subject to much less pre-market approval and regulation than the pharmaceutical industry. The FDA’s loose stance on health supplements has likely had a hand in the growth of the industry, which is now estimated at over $400 billion.
Vitamin consumption has grown in recent years among younger people in particular. In 2017, almost three-quarters of Americans ages 18 to 34 claimed taking at least one daily vitamin. These numbers illustrate how an interest in taking vitamins and health supplements has evolved from a special interest to a mainstream, over-the-counter category to a hip millennial health trend.
Schneider is committed to not just improving the health of her customers but to improving the standards of her industry as well. “Third-party testing is becoming more of a norm amongst leading companies, which is great,” Schneider said, noting that there’s still a long way to go when it comes to making clinical trials and ingredient traceability the industry standard.
“The supplements space is complex and littered with a lot of unsubstantiated claims,” Lachut added. “Consumers need a company to step up with information they can trust and benefits that make sense within the context of their lifestyle. Ingredient sourcing and percentages need to be verified, clean and transparent.”
Scaling values without compromising them
Questions naturally arise regarding the scalability of a company whose values are as stringent as Ritual’s. “It’s definitely challenging to scale the level of traceability that we’ve set forward,” Schneider said. But she’s had growth in her sights from the get-go and has built that potential into Ritual’s business model and manufacturing. “The truth is,” she said, “we have already scaled tremendously by selling millions of bottles of a multivitamin.”
“From the beginning,” Schneider continued,” we’ve aligned ourselves with partners that share our mission and vision for what real quality looks like.”
For instance, she told CO—, Ritual’s omega-3 DHA comes from environmentally friendly micro algae in British Columbia; vegan D3 is harvested from lichen rather than the usual sheep wool; and glucosamine salt from Italy replaces typical folic acid found in similar supplements — an ingredient, Schneider contends, that a third of people in the U.S. cannot even digest usefully due to a genetic mutation.
Despite any challenges around scalability, the direct-to-consumer business model gives Ritual unfettered access to most of its customers. “At the end of the day, the relationship with our customer is key,” Schneider said. Though she doesn’t write off the possibility of wholesale distribution, for now, she said Ritual wants to “own the customer experience, end to end.”
In the future, even as competition in the supplement space heats up, Schneider plans to double down on the characteristics that set Ritual apart. “We will keep maintaining a competitive advantage by doing the right thing,” Schneider said, “and evolving the conversation around transparency within the industry is always going to set us apart.
“I would love for Ritual to become a household name,” she added. “This is not a niche product by any means.”
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Published February 12, 2020