Aura taps female nutrition market with new grocery partnerships

How the B.C.-based supplement maker seeks to carve out space in a competitive sector.

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The supplement business is benefiting from heightened concerns over dietary restrictions, a greater emphasis on health and fitness, and more Canadians pivoting to plant-based diets.

The space is a heavily fragmented one, however. Windsor-based Jamieson Canada owns a 25% chunk of the sector, a market where numerous new companies and their various product formats – including tablets, capsules, powder, liquids and energy bars – battle for shelf space.  Others include entrenched global players like Pfizer’s Centrum and GSK consumer healthcare, but also Nature’s Way, which touts transparency as a differentiator.

Launched in 2018, Aura Nutrition is one of those new entrants, and it’s looking to distinguish itself by honing in on the female market. The B.C.-based supplement maker offers collagens, collagen generators, energy boosters, and plant-based proteins.

Aura just announced two new retail partners, Whole Foods and Fortinos. The stores will stock what Aura describes as a wide range of its nutrition products in 35 stores in B.C. and Ontario (it’d previously only been available in specialty health retailers and spas).

The strategy behind the partnership, according to company CEO and co-founder Chris Ongkiko, is to help “deliver the Aura message to more women,” who over-index at the specialty grocery banners.

The brand, packaging, and colour schemes, Ongkiko says, were chosen with the psychology of its female target demographic in mind and designed to have an impact in any position of the store.

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“When it all started, we found the soul of the company was in elevating women,” Ongkiko says. “One of the first decisions was to avoid, at all costs, using ‘standard’ pink packaging to signify Aura Nutrition was a female focused brand. We wanted it to look clean, with a strong feminine feel through the images, lines and text used.”

He tells strategy that the packaging is simple and the target consumer can picture using it in their home and life, being “less medicinal and with more focus on connecting with the rituals those products will be part of.” Ongkiko says product versatility is also a selling point, and products can be used as a low-calorie midday snack or used in baked goods for the whole family.

With its informal focus testing and feedback from industry trade shows and consumers, he says the brand has been able to dial in the connection to its core customer. According to Ongkiko, 70% of its operating team is its target customer, and “100% of the branding and messaging pass through their approvals.”

Though the company sees opportunity in its mandate to “connect women and wellness,” Ongkiko concedes there are “threats that come from everywhere” in the nutrition space, where barriers to entry have been lowered. And larger competitors like Jamieson, he says, have either acquired existing brands made for women or created off-shoots of existing lines to address the demand.

In order to drive business, Ongkiko says Aura has exclusively used paid digital marketing along with custom influencer retailer visit content to drive awareness and traffic to stores. Partnering with sampling company Social Nature, Aura is sampling over 20,000 consumers with Aura-like products in 2020. “At the point they receive the samples they’ve showed interest in, and requested to try in their home, they will have had several touch points with the brand,” he says.  “It’s then we’re providing a coupon and call to action at their local retailer.”

Ongkiko says that the brand chose to focus on driving its customer base to retailer supplement aisles and to avoid promo at the consumer level for its launch of the retail partnership.

“If you walk the supplement section at most chains, you’ll see sale tags everywhere. It’s a legacy- and data-backed strategy to have sale prices and promotions,” Ongkiko says. However, he says, the company took stock of its value proposition and is focused on emphasizing its female-centred messaging to stand out in the promo-heavy aisle.