Riding on personalized nutrition wave, Care/of co-founders want to streamline the supplement shopping experience

Through Care/of, consumers can get a pouch of supplements recommended to them based on a questionnaire response, and each pouch has the user's name printed on it.

Care/of is one of the many personalized nutrition start-ups that popped up this year. The concept is straightforward: The platform recommends three to four of 30 widely recognized supplements to users after filling a questionnaire, and provides an option for either a one-time order or monthly subscription.

It’s a much simpler interpretation of personalized nutrition compared to other start-ups in the segment that started this year—some feature high-tech analyses of DNA (such as in DNAFit) or the gut microbiome (DayTwo) to provide personalized diet and nutrition intake advice.

Others even promise highly customizable supplements based on a consumer’s fitness performance. STYR Labs uses data collected by its proprietary fitness wrist-tracker, connected to an app, to then design bespoke multivitamins and protein blends. 

“We think that’s where the future is going, but when we’ve talked with a lot of people that are everyday [supplement] users, we think the next step isn’t necessarily that far ahead, but how do we make a better experience with the information [we already] have,” Care/of co-founder Craig Elbert told NutraIngredients-USA. 

UX makeover in the supplement space

Elbert worked for Warner Music in the late 2000s, and then held an executive marketing position for menswear company Bonobos, where he focused on “creating a delightful consumer experience in a stagnant category—in that case it was khaki pants,” he said

Retail experiences for both music and fashion have been greatly shifted by digitization, a makeover that he and Care/of co-founder Akash Shah felt the dietary supplements industry was in dire need of.

“I went through the time of purchasing vitamins and supplements myself, and the experience was overwhelming,” he said, adding that he thinks many consumers in the dietary supplements industry may also find the multitude of options, plethora of research, and surfeit of unrecognizable seals and certificates to be a little bit discouraging.

They established the company in late 2015, and finally launched the website and started taking orders in November 2016.

Focusing on 30 supplements

Streamlining information for their users was core to Care/of’s branding strategy. Shoppers fill out an interactive questionnaire, with multiple choice questions such as “What state do you live in?” or “How many times a week do you eat fish?” as well as health goals (in categories such as skin, immunity, digestion, etc.).

At the end, the platform will recommend three or four supplements based on the consumer’s responses and include an explanation, which the consumers can order one time, or sign up for a monthly subscription of 30 pouches (each containing one of each of the supplements recommended). They can also change and adjust what supplements to order in the pouch. For example, a 25-year-old in landlocked Montana with dry skin will be recommended astaxanthin (for its skin benefits), vitamin D (for getting less sun based on geographic location), and fish oil (to get omega-3, because of lack of fish in diet), but can swap out the fish oil with magnesium if, say, he or she decides to eat more fish as a new year's resolution.

They only introduced 30 options, which gives the company the “ability to be deliberate with respect to both efficacy and ingredient supply chain. It allows us to ensure all of our products are properly tested and verified,” the website states.

Delivering research to consumers

Labeling is also a key component. The advantage of being completely online is that the information they can provide to shoppers isn’t dictated by the size of a package. Each supplement has a sleek profile page that aggregates studies on its benefits, where it was sourced, and a complete list of ingredients that go into each capsule (like organic tapioca maltodextrin or modified corn starch) accompanied with a brief explanation of why it’s used.

Moreover, each ingredient includes one of three labels regarding scientific backing: Very Strong Research, Mixed Research, Emerging Research. “We wanted to build something that is honest to the consumer, giving them the straight talk on where is there science, where is there not science,” Elbert said. The company also has the support of a scientific advisory board which includes experts from Tufts USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Ultimately, Care/of wants to earn back consumer trust to supplements and its role in improving public health in the US. “We’re big advocates of nutrition starting with a healthy diet, healthy lifestyle, and healthy exercise, we don’t pretend that vitamins and supplements are some sort of magic pill to cure anything,” Elbert said.

“But what we do see is, it’s an area where we’re not all perfect, we may not get all we need from our diet or have all of the nutrients that we need to be healthy, so we want to provide consumers the help to find that out.”

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