How We Source Wellness Products
You’ve likely strolled through our wellness aisle at least once if you’ve shopped at our Menomonie store. It’s hard to miss with its fragrant body care products on one side and a wide selection of supplements on the other. But how do they make it to our shelves? Tanya, Our Menomonie store’s Wellness Buyer, shares her take on sourcing in this Q&A.
How do you find new wellness products?
There are several different ways I come across new wellness products for our store. The primary way is by speaking with brand representatives. I have regular meetings with them, and during our time together, they offer recommendations for new products , others that may be a good fit for our shoppers based on our current selection, and ones that could serve as substitutes for products that will be out of stock long-term. Another way is by attending trainings that vendors set up; for example, UNFI, one of our main suppliers, hosts two-hour calls every so often during which speakers share insight into what natural wellness shoppers are wanting based on nationwide sales data. Historically, those types of reports are accurate in terms of what our shoppers end up buying too, so that helps me make those decisions. The third way is by receiving product requests from staff members and customers. We get a fair number of requests as well as shoppers seeking very specific products, and I try to say yes to as many of them as I can in some capacity. Additionally, we receive free samples in the mail from suppliers. When that happens, I will often give the samples to staff in exchange for feedback on whether or not they liked the product. Their opinions are factored into my research on whether or not the product may be a fit for us.
What happens during your research process when sourcing new wellness products?
Many times, customers will come up to me in the aisle and request a product I am unfamiliar with. In those instances, I note the product name and look it up online first looking at ingredient lists and uses for the product, so I can potentially recommend a substitute that we already carry. If we don’t offer a similar product, I will look to current vendors and a national sales database to learn about the product’s performance. Typically, I seek out reviews online to find out what customers are already saying about the product. If it is performing well, is in stock from our suppliers, and gets favorable reviews, I will often bring in the product to see how it does at our co-op.
What criteria does a new wellness brand have to meet for us to bring in their products (i.e. organic, fair trade, etc)?
In Wellness, sourcing by attribute is not as black and white as it is in other departments. More than anything, I try to place myself in the shoes of our more discerning customers so I can think of questions they might have. That also helps me identify ingredients that might deter them. For example, I have learned that many shoppers examine the sugar content in gummies, and others prefer products that don’t contain Stevia. They also look for fillers, yeast, and of course, common allergens. And they seek clean body care brands that don’t test their products on animals or use phthalates.
How does our co-op’s commitment to local factor into your decision-making process when sourcing?
Offering local wellness products is a priority, and sourcing them is fairly effortless because we get so many requests that I don’t really need to seek them out myself. Our customers will oftentimes find local products at farmers markets or other small retailers and ask that they be brought in. Nanny-N-Kidz lotion is a good example; their goat milk lotions were recommended to us by a woman in the community. And sometimes, new local suppliers come out of the woodwork when our co-op is in the press.
What are the challenges of sourcing wellness products?
The biggest challenge lately has been supply chain issues. Due to the pandemic, vendors have been experiencing ingredient shortages and packaging problems that are making it difficult for them to fulfill orders. For example, if just one vitamin is unavailable, a multivitamin supplier can’t make their product. We also receive many requests for products that are unavailable to us because they are only sold on TV or from a multi-level marketing company. In those instances I recommend comparable alternatives. Lastly, access to information for some brands can also be a challenge. Depending on the supplier,sometimes it takes longer to find out why a certain product is out of stock and when it will be available again.
How do you make the decision to discontinue wellness products?
Some products are automatically discontinued at certain times of the year; for example, it doesn’t make sense to carry lots of sunscreens in the winter or giftables outside of the holidays. Other times, the main reasons they are discontinued are because they’re not selling even after we’ve put in effort to promote them, supply is inconsistent, or ordering is too difficult. If a product sells well and is easy to order in, it has a better chance of being on our shelves long-term.
This article was originally published in the January/February 2022 issue of our bi-monthly newsletter, The Morsel. If you’d like to read more stories like this one and stay up to date on the latest co-op news and events, pick up a print copy in-store on your next grocery run or find more news on our website here.