Interview: How Ritual’s Katerina Schneider Brings Transparency To The Women’s Multivitamin

Interview: How Ritual’s Katerina Schneider Brings Transparency To The Women’s Multivitamin
Health

The founder of the cult direct-to-consumer brand tells PSFK how she builds credibility and trust with consumers by offering a product previously unavailable among women's supplements, focusing on quality and transparency of ingredients reflected in the clear pills themselves

Penn Whaling
  • 6 december 2018

The vitamin and supplement industry is notoriously opaque. Free of many of the regulations subject to the food and pharmaceutical industries, manufacturers have little legal responsibility to prove and report the efficacy of their products. Ritual founder Katerina Schneider decided to create a better, more transparent product for women, helping to usher the direct-to-consumer movement into a previously unsexy category limited to drug store shelves.

Ritual launched with just one product, a Women’s Essential multivitamin. With its design-led packaging, subscription model and accessible price point, the buzzy brand has become one of the most visible among new products catered to (largely millennial) women. In October, Ritual announced the release of a new Essential Prenatal formula, solving for another important stage in many women’s lives. PSFK spoke to Schneider about her goal to ultimately create products for women at all ages and life stages, developed in direct conversation with her dedicated consumers via social media.

PSFK: Could you speak about the broader trends that you’re seeing impacting retail today, and any trends that you’re leveraging in your work?

Katerina Schneider: There are a couple of interesting trends that are impacting retail. One is companies are able to build really high‑quality products by going direct to consumer, and really bypassing middlemen.

One of the interesting things that we’ve been able to do as a company is source the high‑quality ingredients from all over the world, and offer them up to women at a really accessible price, which I think is having an impact on retail at large. For us, it’s really great because our mission is to give women the best there is, and create products that are accessible.

Another trend that’s impacting retail currently is our company’s abilities to interact directly with customers on the fly. We’re really excited, because at Ritual, we have this direct relationship with our customers. We literally respond to every single Instagram post, every ad.

By leveraging our team of in‑house scientists, our team of customer experience executives, together we can thoughtfully and concisely answer a lot of our customers’ questions and build trust.

Platforms like Instagram, Facebook have allowed us to build really loyal and almost cultish followings of women who are committed to doing better things for their bodies. That is definitely having an impact on retail as well.

Could you talk a little bit about how consumer perception of wellness has changed and why it’s become more important?

We all want to do what’s best for our bodies and want to take care of them. I know that when I was four months pregnant, I cared more than ever what I was putting in and on my body. I was a healthy person before that but took it to the extreme even more because it was my responsibility, not just for myself, but for the child that I was carrying.

At that time I really dove deep into wellness and got rid of products that I really couldn’t get behind in my house: deodorants, toothpaste, sunscreens, cleaning supplies. When I took a look at the vitamins that I had been taking every single day for my health, I was pretty shocked to find what’s inside.

That’s why I started Ritual. All women deserve to know what they’re putting into their bodies and why. That’s where this idea was born. When you think about what’s going on in wellness today, which is very a plethora of brands or a plethora of companies trying to get women’s attention.

It’s important to pause and understand what we actually need and what we’re missing from our diets and dive into the science and research, which is exactly what we did. We spent years just researching women’s diets to identify what nutrients were missing today not 50 years ago. That’s how the idea of Essential for Women was born.

We like to distance ourselves from [industry trends] and have created products that are really around health and foundational health, and less around unproven trendy ingredients. For us things like folate, for iron, for magnesium are really essential and important.

Could you talk a little bit about how you discovered which nutrients were essential and which ones were just unnecessary?

We define an essential nutrient as something that is absolutely critical to a woman’s life and to her health. We identified nine essential nutrients during her life that are really key and we looked at 12,000 studies, government data, everything that was available to us.

We identified the nutrients that were really essential: folate, K2, MK7, magnesium, vitamin D3, boron and iron. What was interesting in one of the things we found that it wasn’t even just the ingredients, but it was the ingredient forms that really mattered.

For instance, over a third of women have a gene variation where they can’t properly utilize synthetic folic acid, which is very common in most vitamins. We identified methylated folate that we source from Italy. It’s a fourth-generation folate that bypassed gene variations and got in readily.

It sounds like you’ve done a tremendous amount of research. You have all of the science backing your products. How are you communicating this to your consumers?

We’ve definitely done the research. I’m personally on a mission to redefine what it means to be a health company in this day and age. I really believe that it starts with evolving the conversation on transparency. With our products you can see where every ingredient comes from in the world and why it’s there.

Being an online direct brand, you can go on our site, go on the Ingredients tab and literary see where everything comes from and why it’s there. We even have interviews with every single manufacturer and supplier as well as some of the key studies that we reference when making our decisions. It’s not as if transparency was something we thought would be nice to market.

It was something that we really believed in because as we started digging through the forms of ingredients out there and the ones that we decided to put into our product, we got so excited that we couldn’t help ourselves. We wanted to share that information.

We wanted to share why we have D3 from wild harvested lichen, why we have omega‑3s coming from EPA and DHA, from algae, why we have a methylated folate from Italy and K2, MK7 from Norway. We are so obsessed with our ingredients that we’ve evolved the conversation on transparency into almost traceability and really created a first of its kind traceable product. We want that to be the norm. Not just for our industry, but for other industries as well.

We go above and beyond to make sure that women are informed because knowledge is obviously power. That’s something we’re really proud of.

Could you talk a little bit about how you’ve tried to reimagine the multivitamin and turn it into something positive?

When I started the company I was skeptical of vitamins as a whole, but I did my research. I hired some of the leading scientists in the industry. Our scientific team is lead by a Harvard‑trained physiologist as well as one of the leaders in the nutraceutical industries, who has over 30 years of industry experience and a PhD in biomedical sciences. We hired this really credible in‑house team to build a product that we could really get behind and identify that we really do need vitamins.

Let’s start from the ground up, starting with understanding if we need vitamins in the first place. It turns out we actually do. Most of us are lacking in the same nutrients, which was fundamentally shocking.

We don’t believe that women should be taking five, six, seven different pills to reach optimal health. We surveyed hundreds of women and identified that most women did not want to take more than two capsules a day.

We created this bead‑in‑oil encapsulation for Essential for Women, which has the dry ingredients separate from the oil ingredients. All the ingredients are layered on top of each other preventing interaction. Then there’s a delayed release capsule that has a no nausea design, bypassing the stomach and getting released in the small intestine for tolerability. It’s also beautiful. That actually happened to be a byproduct of doing the right thing.

We wanted to celebrate that and put it in clear bottles, so that when women who’ve been to their medicine cabinet they didn’t have a stock of different bottles hanging out there. They had one single vitamin that they were really excited to take. Then finally we wanted the aroma to be pleasant.

We wanted it to be something that you looked forward to. We sourced fresh peppermint oil for Essential for Women from Yakima, Washington and put it in an empty tab in the bottle. That’s something that really pleasantly delights our customers.

Then for the prenatal we used lemon oil. Women commonly crave citrus during pregnancy. We thought that would be an interesting thoughtful touch as well.

Your branding is so simple and almost gender-neutral even though this is a vitamin designed for women. Was that a deliberate choice or were you trying to attract a certain type of consumer? 

One of the things when we looked at design that was really important to us was simplicity in an industry where things are incredibly complex, and you have so many choices, and you have to sift through so much information. Design allows us to surface the most important things by showing people and not just telling them.

The big question is how do you show trust? We believe that great simple design can do that because it’s thoughtful. We put so much care, effort and thoughtfulness, almost obsession into design as the way that we do with research in our ingredients.

I believe that great branding has allowed us to build out trust with our customer. It is incredibly gender-neutral, but I’m not sure anymore what the opposite would be. As someone who appreciates great design, this is the design that speaks to me as a woman.

One of the interesting challenges we had as well was launching the prenatal and how do we speak to women visually that are thinking or trying to conceive? Women typically are served up advertising that is flowery and pink. Not that there is a problem with pink, but I prefer yellow. Women don’t often look empowered in a lot of the current advertising especially if it’s geared towards millennial women we expect something different. Other brands, other categories or brands are marketing to us in a different way.

With our prenatal campaign we really tried to show empowered women. We only showed a few women that were actually pregnant, because the campaign was around pre‑pregnancy.

Your product offering is tightly curated, with just the Essential for Women and now the new Essential Prenatal. Why did you decide to launch with just one essential multivitamin instead of offering a broader range?

When it comes to our product philosophy and when it comes to vitamins and supplements, we believe in what you need versus what you want. When it comes to vitamins as a whole, our vision is to have one single vitamin forever and ever that really just evolves as a woman’s life stages change. What she needs today can change if she’s thinking about getting pregnant. It can change after she’s given birth and can change after she’s gone through menopause.

The vision all along and since the beginning is one single ritual, which is one single vitamin that fits into her life as seamlessly as brushing her teeth. We want to elevate vitamin‑taking to that level.

Essential Prenatal is like Essential for Women’s sister in a way. Instead of nine essential nutrients, there are 12. One of the really exciting things about the Prenatal and the Prenatal campaign that we recently did was opening up the conversation around getting women ready for pregnancy versus before, most companies were advertising to women when they were already pregnant.

That’s a really huge shift because it turns out that a study referenced by the CDC as a national study, close to 45% of pregnancies are unplanned and yet the first 28 days of pregnancy are when the neural tube forms. It’s really critical that women have their nutritional status optimized when they’re thinking or trying to get pregnant. This campaign was a huge movement for us to not just educate women about Essential Prenatal but starting to get women to think about their nutrition beforehand.

You mentioned that you envisioned Ritual as this companion that consumers can have. Do you have any other future offerings planned?

We really see ourselves as not just a vitamin company but a habit company. That means that we want to change the way that a woman interacts with the products that she uses every day and the experiences around them. In the future, we’re rethinking a lot of things.

We’re really shifting behaviors and we’d hope to do that around other products as well. What’s important to us first is to finish what we started in the vitamin category, which is really putting a stake in the ground when it comes to women’s health, women’s health research, identifying her needs, what she really needs, and what her body needs at different life stages.

You mentioned before that you and your team reply to every single comment on social media, which is amazing. Could you talk a little bit more about how you’re trying to build community with your brand?

Answering comments and being conversational on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, has allowed us to form really a community online that is responsive and thoughtful.

One of the things that we’re really excited about is that we’re skeptics building a brand for other skeptics. We want our customers to be label‑readers, we want her to be a cross‑examiner and to question things. We want to do that together. One of the things that platforms like Instagram have allowed us to do is go a little deeper through content and storytelling both visual and conversational every single day.

Instagram stories have allowed us to do that as well as even content on our own site and developing our own content hub which we lead our customers from social platforms to content, to articles on our site to go deeper if they want.

You mentioned you’re talking with consumers when you’re developing your products. Could you talk a little bit about how you incorporate consumers’ feedback into your research and development process?

As far as the products go themselves and the vitamins and the nutrients, that is solely based on research and studies. Those are developed with our in‑house scientific team. As I mentioned before, our chief scientist is a Harvard‑trained physiologist. Our VP of R&D has PhD in biomedical sciences. Together, our scientific team has come through thousands of studies to identify women’s needs and what they need today based on the latest research.

As far as R&D goes, it’s very much an in‑house thing. We want to be an authority on that as much as we love customers’ feedback and direction. When it comes to the experience of taking the vitamins, when it comes to packaging, when it comes to collateral, when it comes to what they’d like to see more or less of as far as content, all of that, for us, is crowdsourced.

One of the most exciting examples for us has been our omega‑3 story. We were excited to be using omega‑3s from algae that had both EPA and DHA in Essential for Women. Algae is the food of fish. It has a pretty pungent smell overall, just like fish oil does. We did not want to budge on the quality or the type of omega‑3s we wanted to use.

We quickly surfaced that. Our community and our customers wanted an option to pleasantly take their vitamins. They’ve been frustrated in the past by omega‑3s not smelling great in that experience, but they knew they needed them. We created this Minty Tab by feedback from our customers. It became a huge product innovation for us. That was interesting.

Could you talk a little bit about how you’re using a DTC subscription strategy to make the experience more seamless for consumers?

We are leveraging direct‑to‑consumer in several ways to thoughtfully make a better experience for our customers. The first is price. When creating Essential for Women with our scientists and talking to our manufacturer, they were shocked that my goal was to try to get it to under $30 because they knew how expensive some of our ingredients were. Through the direct‑to‑consumer model and bypassing the middlemen, we’re able to offer a $200 product at a $30 price point.

If you were to go to Amazon and you were to cobble together our Essential for Women formulation, everything from our omega‑3s with EPA, DHA to our ferrous bisglycinate iron to our K2 MK7 coming from Norway—it’s a pure crystal—to our D3 from wild‑harvested lichen, it would cost you over $200. It would take you a lot of time.

We wanted to create a really accessible product at an accessible price point. Going direct is interesting because we’re able to have more predictive models in trying to understand our customer. If they’re going to stick around, we know that we can have a certain cost of goods that maybe other companies can’t that are in retail. Some of our customers, we feel like our life‑long customers. That’s good for us. It’s good for them. That’s one of the things that’s really exciting.

The second is going deeper in the customer journey. If you were to buy a multivitamin off the shelf, you might not really know what it’s for. You might think it’s to grow your hair or to make your skin nice, whatever that may be. That is not what we’re about as a company. Our whole thing is building a foundation. Some of the best benefits are the ones you can’t see. It’s things that impact your long‑term health like your organs, or your blood, or your brain.

Something we’re really excited about is going deeper on that foundational health journey. I think the third thing is that we all forget to take our vitamins sometimes. I know I do even though I’m the CEO of this company. Even if we have really good habits, and we’ve built them in for whatever reason, there’s days we forget.

We are committed to building the most seamless, incredible experience for women knowing that they have those days. We all do. Things like snooze, things like allowing women to pause their subscription, when they need to for whatever that may be, are things that we’ve built into the experience. We also allow women to cancel at any time. These days, I think you have to be competing with Amazon for a level of service and the seamlessness of service.

I’m really proud of what we’re building because it not only allows women the convenience of their vitamins coming to them when they need, it allows them the convenience of going deeper and the storytelling that we provide. It allows them to ingest that over time.

Ritual

Ritual is driving value by fostering transparency and quality while prioritizing its customers’ needs. For more examples of similar inspiring retailers, see PSFK’s  reports and newsletters.

The vitamin and supplement industry is notoriously opaque. Free of many of the regulations subject to the food and pharmaceutical industries, manufacturers have little legal responsibility to prove and report the efficacy of their products. Ritual founder Katerina Schneider decided to create a better, more transparent product for women, helping to usher the direct-to-consumer movement into a previously unsexy category limited to drug store shelves.

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