Virtual—Taking Control of the Immunity & Wellness Market, a virtual event powered by WholeFoods Magazine and Trust Transparency Center and the first in the Naturally Informed series, that took place June 11 and 12. The event offered retailers advice on everything from keeping customers to working with manufacturers to handling immune health supplements in the age of COVID. Here, some of the top tips.

“Stores offer something that is incredibly difficult to achieve online, and that is an actual relationship,” said Cheryl Myers, Chief of Scientific Affairs and Education at EuroPharma/Terry Naturally. “Natural products are crazy confusing, and customers are looking for a resource they can trust, and you can be that resource. I encourage stores to participate in regular education. Create a relationship—if you give someone a smile, some help, if you give a thirsty person a glass of water, you are creating a sense of gratitude. Offer online telephone purchases—work to create a script so that they understand that if someone comes to you for an omega-3, ask how they’re doing on their multivitamin or mineral formula, do they need more? We have echinacea A B or C, it’s on sale this week, would they be interested in that? Not manipulative, but helpful.

“You offer something that online retailers cannot—human touch, emotion, interaction,” Myers continued. “Focus on your position as an expert counselor and as a trusted friend. Ask open-ended questions. Offer guidance. They’re not going to tell you with just a ‘how can I help you.’ Anything you can do to engender conversation, to make people speak to you. Give things away. If you have a coffee station, a tea station. If you have an older customer who looks tired and you have a seating section, say why don’t you come over here and I’ll get you a cup of tea and we’ll chat. You are not only a salesperson, you are a teacher, a health counselor, a neighbor, a natural products guide, an active listener, a friend, and so much more. Change your focus—not selling 10 bottles of glucosamine, but we’re going to help 10 people today. You will change the world.”

And this is a good time for it. Amy Summers, President of Pitch Publicity, lamented: “I have spent my whole career trying to make the immune system sexy—andnowpeople want to hear that.” It’s a good opportunity for retailers: “People want to talk about how to deal with COVID in the summer, how to deal with it in the fall—this isn’t going away...It’s the time to educate people, and this is where retailers can really step in—people are buying things and they don’t even know why they’re buying it. Tell customers they have to take vitamin C all the time, not just in an emergency. They have to take magnesium all the time. They have to take zinc all the time. What are their nutrient levels, here’s why they need those nutrients, here’s why supplements are necessary.”

Myers agreed whole-heartedly. “This is a teachable moment. The problem with immune health is that you take those supplements for whatdoesn’thappen. If you take it and don’t get sick, yay, and then you forget. If you have stuffy sinuses and you take something and that goes away, you remember that. If you have joint pain and you take something and that goes away, you remember that. So be consistent and persistent with your messaging, your education.”

Summers spoke to the messaging part of that, with a presentation on public relations. “PR is like a marriage,” she said. “It takes time, commitment, and consistency.” Her advice for retailers—and brands, and everyone else—during COVID: “Communicate more. Do not be silent in a crisis. When you communicate less, trust fades. Pick up the phone. Use Facebook groups—go where your audience is; if they’re already on Facebook or LinkedIn—wherever they’re getting their information, that’s where you want to be. And what’s cool with agroupis that anytime you update, they get pinged. Doing a video is great; it shows who you really are—Loom is great for that, or you can use Youtube, of course. The only thing I would caution in this case is to make sure that you come off as sincere in the video. If you can’t come off authentically, if you’re reading from a script, don’t do video. Launch a flash briefing schedule—you’ll get a bug in their ear every single day. It’s fast and easy. Don’t do a podcast. Look into other voice technology.

“Communication helps build credibility and trust,” she stressed—and for the retailers as well as brands out there looking to build their consumer base, that’s what you should be relying on. “You want to be as direct as possible, tell the truth, if you do not have the answers say that you do not have the answers but that you will find out. You want to act in fairness—take a hard look at how you treat yourself as compared to others, are you being fair? Whatever you think your customers are thinking, just say it. If they think you’re going out of business, or that you’re going to work from home forever—just say that before they do. If you don’t have it all figured out, just say that. In closing: Don’t sweat it, just repeat it. Don’t get overwhelmed with all the tools used to communicate your message. Yes, we need to embrace new technologies to get the message out. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is your message on health, which people need to hear more than ever right now. It’s hard to change human behavior, but we’re in a crisis right now. It is not too late for you to take the lead in what I consider the biggest human behavior change movement of all time.”

And when it comes to education, both Myers and Ivan Wasserman, Managing Partner at Amin Talati Wasserman, were in agreement: You can still do that, even with FDA and FTC cracking down. “It is still legal to make any claim you could make before this,” Myers said. “You can still talk about supporting the immune system. Tell the truth. Follow structure/function language. You can still talk about the immune system. You can bundle products. You can have an immune section. Maybe you have a local nurse practitioner who comes in once a week with whom people can make appointments. As long as you’re telling the truth and not making egregious claims.”

Wasserman agreed with Myers, and gave this extra piece of advice: “Just don’t bundle, say, probiotics with Nyquil, with actual drugs to treat those problems.”

Myers also had plenty of advice for choosing products to stock in the first place: Check out the science. “Look and see if it was published in a peer-reviewed journal. Not just a journal that publishes anything willy-nilly. One resource I use is Pubmed. It’s a free searchable database of peer-reviewed study. Look at who paid for the study—sometimes legitimate companies really do pay for their own research, it’s not a bad thing. But if everything ever written about a product was paid for by one company and studied by the same researchers, I might scratch my head a little. The bigger the sample size the better. Are the researchers associated with a university, with a hospital—they usually have a short bio on Pubmed.”

Missed the event? You can access the sessions on demand here.

When it comes to keeping customers, Wayne Wu, General Partner at VMG, offered one simple piece of advice: “Assortment matters. I’ll go into a store that has a more expansive meat or seafood program, and I’ll buy my whole basket from that store.” No one wants to go to one store for half a basket and another store for the other half.

When it comes to retailers working with manufacturers, Sarah Meis, SVP of Marketing and Innovation at Lily’s Sweets, says: “Help us help you.” In this age of increasing click-and-collect and online ordering, Meis said that one of her favorite things is self-serve ad platforms. “We can control what we buy, it gives me real-time data, and I can control my budget. If I need to adjust or move things around in a campaign, my team can go in and we can do that ourselves. My experience is that they’re really easy to use, and you can learn them very quickly. They’re very accessible.” She does think that click-and-collect will be a big part of the future—“I think consumers still want the option to shop at the retailers they know and love, and there’s wide open opportunity with click-and-collect there.”
Related: New Product Development: Insights From the Immunity & Wellness Market  Breaking: Natural Products Expo East Cancelled FTC Sends 35 More Letters to Companies With Unsubstantiated COVID-19 Claims

Amazon vs. Retailers

There was also advice for brands on working with Amazon—and, too, on moving from Amazon to retail. First of all: Why be on Amazon? There are plenty of people who object to it. Meis’s explanation: “Be mindful of your brand’s presence on Amazon, because it’ll happen with or without you, and you don’t want it to happen without you. Resellers won’t show your brand in its best light, and you can’t control pricing or how it’s sold if you’re not the one selling it.”

Patrick Coyle, VP of Marketing nutpods, explained that they had actually started on Amazon, because that was where their brand-new brand could go—but that they quickly expanded into retail: “The way we set things up on Amazon made for a profitable business, but as we grew, we went into retail. We want to be where people are shopping, just like any other brand.” And as for why people shop in-store? Coyle’s view: “The key advantage that the independent retailer has is that people want to support them, people want to shop there, it just needs to be made easy.” And that’s where click-and-collect comes in. “The more tools that those local retailers and grocers can make to leverage their existing relationships, the more tools they can use that make it easier to shop, the better.”

Ideally, brands should be doing their best to make retail a better choice than Amazon, Coyle and Meis agreed. “We price thoughtfully,” Meis explained, “so a four-pack of chocolate bars at Amazon costs more per bar than at local retailers. The thing about Amazon is that it’s easy to find our products on there, because low-sugar is a good attribute for Amazon, but chocolate is at heart an impulse purchase. So maybe you are introduced to our product on Amazon, but you continue to buy it in that local retailer.”

“Retailers should be talking to brands to ask how they’re pricing,” Coyle agreed, “to ask how they’re making sure that Amazon isn’t pricing retailers out of the competition.”

Another reason Meis noted—“For six months out of the year, everything runs smoothly. But we sell chocolate, so for the other six months, we have to use a combination of different supply chains—we don’t want to ship chocolate cross-country in 100 degree temperatures. So we want consumers to find us at retail. Any way that we can convince customers to pick up Lily’s at the store and put it in their basket is great. Any way we can push that through the retailer is something we want to pursue.”

Missed the event? You can access the sessions on demand here.
Read Part 1: New Product Development: Insights From the Immunity & Wellness Market Event #NaturallyInformed Read Part 2: #NaturallyInformed: Advice for Retailers

The next virtual event in the Naturally Informed series, powered by WholeFoods Magazine and Trust Transparency Center, is “Driving Value Through Sustainability Across the Supply Chain. It will take place August 26-27. Register here.

*Note: Information in this interview is intended for educational and scientific purposes only. It is not intended as medical or nutritional advice for the treatment or prevention of disease. For medical advice, consult your personal health care practitioner.