What to Consider Before You Start Selling
There is a huge and growing worldwide market for vitamin and food supplements. This drive in growth is fuelled by a growing middle class worldwide. It’s particularly seen in Asia and South America along with the traditional, established markets in North America and Europe.
They have a more disposable income, a growing awareness of the benefits of these products, and greater access to information regarding product efficacy via the internet. Places like YouTube, government websites and social media have helped to spread this information.
Selling vitamin and food supplements can be a very lucrative income stream. The key is to walk on the right side of legal in terms of product descriptions, claims, and product standards.
Challenges with selling supplements online
Label and advertising requirements
Before selling, you should be familiar with how to:
- Meet stringent labelling and advertising requirements
- Satisfy complex legal rules
- Ensure your products are seen as safe, reliable and effective
To sell internationally you will likely need a multitude of product formulations specific to certain countries, such as:
- Different labels - the rules on labelling can vary hugely from what needs to be highlighted
- What needs to be in a certain language
- Government warnings, if applicable
- Allergy information
- What font size to use
Be prepared to thoroughly research the legalities of your target market before spending money on:
- Whole products
They might not meet legal requirements or even make it past customs clearance, so it’s better to know beforehand.
Selling Different Types of Nutritional Supplements Online
The difference between vitamins and supplements
The difference between vitamins and supplements?
Vitamins specifically refer to Vitamins such as Vitamin C or Riboflavin (a form of B Vitamin) whereas supplements refers to a product that supplements food or dietary requirements.
Supplements often contain vitamins and minerals alongside other ingredients to provide a boost or supplementation to a diet for specific purposes.
For example, Whey protein is a food supplement commonly used in weightlifting, body-building and sports activities as a way of promoting a sufficient intake of protein.
You can get protein from plant or meat sources in food, but often an additional source of protein is required to ensure sufficient uptake to meet the goals of the user.
Types of supplements sold online
Food supplements come in a variety of forms, from bodybuilding/sports nutrition products to dietary aids.
These products are often available online, not just from specialist retailers, but increasingly from mainstream retailers and heavyweight supermarket chains.
Other supplement products can be found with specific health properties or designed to assist with certain health issues or goals. These products tend to be made predominantly from one or a few ingredients with very specific effects such as St. Johns Wort, Echinacea, or Creatine.
There are products for:
- weight lifters,
- marathon runners,
- religious requirements,
- health fanatics,
- natural and organic customers,
- holistic healers
- and everything in between!
As such even niche markets are often heavily competitive, but due to the growing amount of awareness and availability of both information and money, there is still time to ride this train!
Legal Compliance for Selling Supplements Online
Regulations by country
What is legal and proper in California, USA is often looked at very differently by Government agencies or customs clearance officials in Melbourne, Australia, or Poland in the EU when it comes to vitamins, supplements, or dietary goods in general.
|For example, caffeine levels may be deemed safe for general consumption in your product in Ohio, but customs and excise officers in New Zealand may have a very different view and see your product as dangerous and falling foul of the law there.|
You’ll need to check the rules and regulations for the country you want to sell into, as much as you need to check the regs and rules for the country you're selling from.
Some countries are protectionist with regards certain food products, whether under pressure from internal market forces or suppliers - such as the dairy sector or from politics arising from trade negotiations between countries (see recent talks between Britain and the EU regarding Brexit or the problems arising from the dispute on certain goods meaning huge tariffs on Scotch Whisky in the US).
- Find the food and drug authority for the country you make your product in and start with the advice and guidance there.
- Be aware that your product may require different labeling or even total reformulation to be legal in another country.
More on what you can claim is included below, but be aware that even these claims can vary from country to country. Very bureaucratic countries like the USA and EU countries tend to be far more strict on these claims. They also tend to be amongst the largest markets in the world - so the extra care to comply can be costly but ultimately worth it in terms of the size of market open to you.
Do You Need a License to Sell Supplements Online?
Generally not if you sell pre-made goods made elsewhere by a licensed manufacturer.
If the products you sell cross into Pharmaceutical territory then there are a world of other legal complications and licensing required. Your government of state-level bodies will have the advice depending on where you live and importantly where you intend to sell.
What Are the Rules of Selling Supplements Online?
You’ll need to be very careful in terms of what you can say when you sell your products (see ‘What is allowed to be claimed on a supplement you sell online?’ below).
Also, you need to be very careful regarding the age of the purchaser for your product, as many nutritional supplements contain ingredients not suitable for people depending on factors such as:
- medical conditions,
- prescribed medication
- and so much more.
What is Allowed to be Claimed on a Supplement You Sell Online?
Selling supplements online comes with many challenges in terms of what you can claim the product can do. If you are selling 3rd party products then there shouldn’t be an issue as you would expect them to provide you with information regarding claims and efficacy, not to mention the correct legal terms you can use in different countries.
In the USA many products or components of products must meet Novel Food Status or Generally Recognised As Safe (GRAS) standards to be able to claim that a product has ‘X’ effect. This involves expensive rigorous testing and is not cheap to achieve.
In the EU there are stringent regulations when claiming what a product can do. Often they are so strict that you can’t veer from the wording allowed by the regulations without landing yourself in hot water.
As the EU put it:
The rules of the Regulation apply to nutrition claims (such as "low fat", "high fibre") and to health claims (such as "Vitamin D is needed for the normal growth and development of bone in children").
There are very serious sanctions for breaching claims or making false/misleading statements about product effects of efficacy. You can’t simply say that a product will ‘make you live forever’, ‘make you more attractive’ or ‘cure the common cold’ unless there is pre-approved wording stating exactly what you can say and how you can say it.
Speak to the supplier of the goods or components of the finished products you are selling to ensure you are claiming only what is allowed by law in the relevant territory, state or country.
Selling Supplements on Your Own Website
Many sellers prefer to sell supplements on their own website for a number of reasons. There are also a number of retailers that will opt to sell on both their own site and other platforms such as Amazon. Here are some reasons that you should consider having your own site:
when selling on third party sites such as Amazon, eBay etc. you have little control over how the site is laid out, how your products are presented etc. Having your own site means you are in control of this.
Having a website provides more of an opportunity to include your own branding. This can help build trust and help people to remember you when they are looking to purchase again in future.
Using a third party site typically means you have little control over your SEO (beyond optimising titles, descriptions, etc.) Whilst these sites do typically have a high domain authority, you are not in control of it. Whereas on your own site, you have the option to optimise much more.
Such work might include creating Google My Business to improve your local reach, creating blog posts to help your ranking and provide additional information to others and creating specific pages for events throughout the year such as Black Friday.
Some third party selling sites (e.g. Amazon and eBay) charge a percentage and/or a fee to list products on their site. By selling through your own site, you are able to keep all of the profit for yourself.
Whilst there are typically costs of having and hosting a website, if you are selling high quantities of product, this can be financially more beneficial.
Plugins to social media and other platforms
If you are limited by time (many business owners are) you may find that having plugins that automatically update social media shops and shopping feeds can be a huge advantage.
Tips for selling dietary goods on your own website
If selling via your own website, you will want to make sure you are making the most of it to improve sales and keep customers coming back. Here are some hints and tips to bear in mind:
1. Make sure your site is user-friendly
A website that is difficult or slow to use can be frustrating for customers. They will want a process that gives them all the necessary information to make a decision and an easy checkout process.
Making it simple will help train your site’s traffic, increase sales and improve your customer’s lifetime value.
These days, making sure your website is mobile-friendly is essential. Not only does this make it easier for your customers who are highly likely to be using a mobile device, it is also preferred by Google.
If you want your site to rank on search engine results pages, this is absolutely key. If you would like to check how mobile friendly your site is, you can check using Google’s Mobile Friendly Test.
One of the benefits to selling on third party sites is that people more often trust them over other eCommerce sites.
To help alleviate their worries and keep your customers’ details safe, you will need an SSL certificate.
Selling Supplements via Google
If you are selling online, there are a few options to promote your sales via Google. Typically, selling via Google is a paid-for model where you pay per click from a user coming to your site (PPC or pay-per-click). The options you have are as follows:
Google Search Ads for Supplements
As you can see from the above, these ads do not use any images, instead they use text. To appear in these listings, you will need to choose what keywords you would like to show up for and bid for them.
The bidding process then takes place for the top positions in the paid search results and you are bidding against your competitors.
Pro Tip: To really hit the mark with Search Ads try creating ads that are very specific & tailored to the search query and the exact product you're selling. You can use your product feed to automatically generate keywords and ads unique per product.
Google Shopping for supplements
This is one of the preferred methods of advertising any products online due to the typically higher conversion rate.
Google Shopping ads sit at the top of Google and provide customers with the information they typically need to make a decision to purchase.
This information includes image, price, title and description. Some retailers also utilise product ratings to stand out from the crowd and gain trust from potential customers.
Related: Here you can check out the full Google Shopping product data specifications.
Like Google Search Ads, Google Shopping will show an ad based on its relevance to a search term and bid. However, in this case you do not select the keywords. Instead, Google matches the listing with the search term itself which makes it very important to get the title and description absolutely right.
Here are some great tips on how to optimise your Google Shopping title.
Surfaces across Google
Recently added into Google’s advertising options is Google Surfaces. If you are running Google Shopping, the chances are you will have all the information necessary to run Google Surfaces.
This is a free placement of your products around Google’s platforms.
Find out more on how to make the most of Google’s free product placements.
Quick tips and tricks for selling dietary products on Google
If you’re looking to reach more people using Google’s platforms, there are some key tips and tricks to bear in mind to help you win the sales:
1. Be aware of unapproved pharmaceuticals:
There are a number of supplements and nutrition items that are not allowed to be promoted via Google. You will need to ensure that you are compliant with this list so that you can continue advertising. You can see the full list here.
2. Promote your most profitable products
To get the best return on investment, you need to carefully consider how much you are willing to pay to make a sale. The chances are, you will have some products which are more profitable than others. Promoting these products more than others can help maximise the money you are making.
3. Be aware of stock levels
There is nothing more frustrating for a user than clicking on an ad only to find the product they are looking for is out of stock. It’s also frustrating for the retailer who has paid for the click but not seen a purchase.
Selling Supplements on Amazon
You may choose to sell you products on Amazon in addition to other platforms or instead of.
There are pros and cons to doing this.
Pros to selling supplements on Amazon
- Platform trust: With over 197 million people visiting Amazon each month, it can be a great way to get in front of a multitude of users who know and trust Amazon as a platform.
- FBA: Fulfillment By Amazon is a very useful feature where Amazon takes care of a huge part of your logistics from warehousing to picking, packing and delivering. This can be very helpful when selling smaller items such as supplements and vitamins.
Cons of selling supplements on Amazon
There are some downsides to selling supplements on Amazon which include:
- High competition levels: There are a lot of supplement retailers on Amazon. From big players in the industry to smaller companies, there are a lot of brands to beat to be in front of your target market.
- Generic just doesn’t cut it: With some industries, drop shipping or selling generic products can work. In the supplements and nutrition industry it’s just not enough. You not only have to sell the benefits of the products but the benefits of using your company in particular. If your products are the same as someone else's you’ll likely end up in a pricing war which can hinder profits.
Pro tips and tricks
1. Get niche
With the exceptionally high competition levels in the supplements industry, it can be difficult to stand out from the competition and you do not want to simply decrease prices just to get the sale - this can be a race to the bottom and undercutting on Amazon is a very common practice. Instead consider dominating a niche market to drive customers.
2. Be aware of prohibited listings:
Like many other platforms, Amazon has some strict guidelines on what supplements you can and cannot list and how the listing is presented. It is worth familiarising yourself with their restrictions.
Selling Supplements on eBay
With 182 Million users, eBay is another great option to reach more people with your supplement retailing business. There are selling fees involved with eBay as well as high competition levels.
However, as mentioned earlier, if you are able to carve out your niche and sell high quality supplements that keeps people coming back to your brand, it can be worthwhile.
Be aware that there are also limitations as to what you can sell and how you market your products. You can find out more about eBay’s restrictions here.
Selling Supplements on Social Media
Leveraging social media is a great way to get more exposure for your supplements. There are both options to sell directly on some of these platforms as well as a wide variety of ways to promote them. Here are some social media platforms you may want to consider.
The number of U.S marketers on Instagram jumped from 69.2% in 2018 to 73.2% in 2019. It really goes to show how Instagram is a huge part of businesses selling strategies.
Options for selling and promoting supplements on Instagram include:
- selling through the Instagram shop,
- promoting your products organically through your page and
- running paid targeted ads which are set up via Facebook.
Like Instagram, Facebook offers pages, a shop and paid advertising options. There is also a marketplace where you can list items for free with minimal set up - however, be aware of what you can and cannot sell on the FB marketplace, there are many supplements, powders and vitamins that will not be allowed.
Be aware though, Facebook has very stringent rules on supplement advertising. You must also be extremely careful with the wording and imagery you use.
Any ads must not imply you know personal details about the user, images cannot show before and after miracle results and certain items will simply be restricted.
Selling Supplements Best Practices
Consider subscription boxes
Is your product meant to be used again and again? Is there value in having people subscribe to your products on an ongoing basis? Offering a subscription and often a discount for ongoing loyalty is a great way to build your customer base.
Loyalty/reward points and maintaining an up-to-date mailing list with remarketing offers and seasonal discounts for example are great ways to build and gain a growing customer base.
These can be sold via your own website or via third parties such as Amazon which give the option to set up a ‘subscribe and save’.
Optimize your feed
As mentioned earlier, the supplements market is incredibly competitive. Your feed must make sure that you stand out from the crowd. Think about optimising your titles, descriptions and picking the best image where possible.
Using a tool like DataFeedWatch can help make this process a lot easier. For example, if you know that your titles aren’t as optimized as they should be, you can take information from other areas of your feed and rearrange them in a better order.
The following screenshot shows a rule created to match Google Shopping’s recommended title order for consumables:
Keep a close eye on stock levels
The supplements market is one where people often buy in bulk. This can be great for your profits but can also wreak havoc on your inventory. Make sure that wherever you are promoting and selling your supplements and dietary goods you are making it clear how many you have in stock.
Otherwise you might end up having to do refunds and disappointing a customer.
Provide plenty of information and support
In the supplements and health market, there are a lot of questions. People look to get advice, support and understand more about each product.
Consider making information readily available for them to read, make your contact details easy to find, consider adding live chat to your site and prepare to give helpful advice.
Find a niche
Finding a niche in this industry can be key to your success. Getting ahead of the competition doesn’t have to be cutting costs, undercutting others or coming up with gimmicks.
Niches to consider include:
- halal-friendly supplements,
- organic ranges,
- eco-friendly productions and more.
When you find your niche, dominate it. Promote that you are the only manufacturer of this product (if you are!), create content and advertise what is so great about your products and so on.
Frequently Asked Questions About Selling Supplements Online
Is it legal to sell supplements?
Yes. However it is worth checking the legal requirements for the product (or the component ingredients in your product) to ensure it does not break the law in one of your target markets.
How to make money selling supplements online?
Sell products that serve a purpose and are clearly (but carefully) aimed at certain interest groups.
For example a product that uses pork gelatine capsules won't be suitable for Muslims or
Vegetarians. Beef gelatine capsules could fall foul of Hindu customers expectations and so on.
A product that is sold to promote fetal development in pregnant women but contains ingredients that interfere with healthy pregnancy will not be tolerated by either your customer base or the legal authorities.
- Do lots of market research in terms of pricing and quality expected by your customer base.
- Don’t get involved in a ‘race to the bottom’ regarding price or quality of ingredients as there will always be someone making it more cheaply elsewhere.
- Make sure your selling platform speaks to the market you want to sell to and is specific and authoritative with information.
A website selling ‘muscle gaining monster gains’ type products is not likely to appeal to people looking for meal replacement products or herbal remedies.
What are best selling supplements?
The market is divided into many subsections catering for very specific customer needs but the best selling supplements are generally aimed at certain age groups:
Baby formula is one of the biggest markets in the world for food supplements as are diet aids and sports nutrition products.
Find the area that interests you and start there. Even some of the worlds biggest pharmaceutical or nutraceutical producers stick to the market they know (Maxi Muscle for sports nutrition and Aptamil baby food don’t sell into each other's markets even though they are huge companies with the financial clout to do so).
Sell what you know to who you know in terms of your customer base.
Some of the best selling supplements include:
- Omega-3 products such as from Krill oil and even vegetable/algae sources are growing rapidly in popularity worldwide - $2.3 billion (2019)
- Bodybuilding products such as creatine - $51 billion worldwide in 2018, expecting to top $80 billion by 2023
- Baby food supplements such as baby formula - $70+ billion in 2019. The Mac Daddy of food supplements and growing every year.
- Meal replacement products and diet supplements - $18 billion worldwide in 2020
- Herbal supplements and remedies - $6.5 billion in 2020
What is needed to sell supplements?
A selling channel (website, facebook page etc), stock (whether direct selling or drop-shipping goods from a 3rd party warehouse) and an advertising plan are vital when selling food supplement products online. Before starting out you should ask yourself:
- How are you going to drive people to buy from your page instead of a competitor?
- What are they buying when they get there?
- Why should they buy from you at all?
- Is your pricing competitive?
- Is your product suitably niche?
- Or do you have an authoritative voice recognised by the people you want to sell to?
There are many guides on how to sell online, do your research and make sure you have plenty of enticing content and a nice clean professional looking website/page that makes customers not just buy - but come back again and again.