As of 2019, vitamins were a big revenue generator in the U.S., as consumers typically shell out a little over $30 billion a year on vitamins and dietary supplements. In some regards, this is not exactly a new trend. Since their discovery in the late 19th century, vitamins, supplements and tonics have been available to U.S. consumers. In the early 1940s, they got a massive boost from the U.S. government when Uncle Sam began handing them out en masse to the soldiers fighting World War II and promoting them at home for non-military citizens.
Being properly vitamin-enriched was considered something of a patriotic duty.
But while the sales of vitamins continued to climb through the latter half of the 20th century, their biggest demographic was older consumers. Among adults over the age of 55, 78 percent take at least one vitamin supplement and a little under a third report taking four or more daily. But the ratio of younger adults taking vitamins has climbed consistently, particularly in the last five years. About 65 percent of Americans between the ages of 18-34 reported taking at least one daily vitamin supplement in 2015, and by 2017 that figure was closer to three-quarters.
Riding the wave of the increasing popularity of vitamin products for younger, more connected consumers is Ritual, a vitamin-on-subscription service launched by former venture capitalist Katerina Schneider. The company put out its first product, the Essential for Women daily vitamin, in 2016.
Schneider’s entrance into an already crowded market was prompted by a personal problem: She wanted to buy a prenatal vitamin without food coloring. She quickly learned that it was difficult to find such an offering, because the composition of any given vitamin was rather opaque.
“We expect transparency from a lot of other products we ingest or put on our bodies, but it’s kind of a maze in the vitamin world,” Schneider told Wired.
Ritual aimed to introduce a more transparent product to the market – a goal they accomplished both literally and figuratively. On the literal end, Ritual products are clear: The pills are clear capsules filled with yellow beads (the mini capsules of the vitamins in the product) packaged in clear glass bottles. The list of vitamins in a Ritual pill is shorter than the 20 or so that are included in a typical multivitamin – according to Schneider, they have been pared down by nutritionists and scientists to the actual essentials in which women tend to be slightly deficient, such as iron, magnesium, omega-3, folate, boron and vitamins K2, D3, B12 and E.
On the more figurative side, the pills are certified by Covance, a third-party testing facility, to confirm that the label accurately represents the contents of the bottle and that capsules do not contain traces of heavy metals, allergens or pathogens. Ritual also goes out of its way to make it easy to research its products, and to clarify their makeup. Curious about the inclusion of boron in the mix? According to six or so studies listed on Ritual’s site, boron makes vitamin D receptors more efficient, and supports bone, joint and hormone health. The company also labels where the ingredients in its vitamins come from – for example, FutureCeuticals in Illinois is its boron supplier.
But beyond aiming to make its product appealing and transparent, Ritual’s goal is to build its product into a consistent consumer habit. At $30 per month for a multivitamin subscription, Ritual is not cheap when compared to the $10 or so one can spend at the average health food store for a month's supply of a simple multivitamin. Yet the brand clearly has a pull for those who are new to the world of vitamins: Schneider noted that 59 percent of its customers had never tried vitamin supplements when they signed on.
Ritual attributes that to the ancillary support products it has released, including an Apple Watch app that lets consumers track daily intake of nutrients like vitamin D and omega-3, along with physical activity.
The app is meant to support what the brand calls its “habit loop,” which is a three-step process that cues a Ritual customer when it is time to take their pill, marks when they take it and provides positive feedback (usually a congratulatory text). The goal is to help the consumer use the product in the most effective way – and, not coincidently, in a way that keeps them loyally bound to the service.
“The things you do every day have the biggest impact on your long-term health,” Schneider told Observer – which is why Ritual hopes to hook into those health habits to keep their subscribers on board for the long term.