By Christian Duque
It’s crazy to me how big Wally World has become when it comes to buying supplements and finding variety in bodybuilding products. You can walk into any Walmart and you’ll find 2-3 well stocked aisles of protein products, training supplements, and vitamins. When it comes to protein products you can find slow digesting proteins, fast acting proteins, and proteins that include dairy, egg, and plant-based.You can actually find vegan protein that yields 30g of protein per serving for under $20. You can’t find that at GNC, Vitamin World, or Vitamin Shoppe. You also can’t find that kind of value at independent supplement stores or even web-based distributors who don’t have overhead costs. No one can offer that kind of value for high quality products. Moreover, it was always the case in yesteryear that people paid more for the opportunity to walk into a brick and mortar establishment, hold the products, read labels and ensure that whatever was purchased was before the expiration date. Consumers could make sure the products were sealed and that they were in good condition. They didn’t have to pay for or worry about shipping. Many times products could get lost in the mail or delivered successfully only to be taken by porch pirates. What’s crazy is that you can walk into a store and get the in-person experience while saving dramatically less money. How can supplement stores or online distributors compete with that? Also, there’s Walmarts everywhere. While you can only find the supp stores in busy areas, there’s Walmarts deep in the sticks.
Instead of merely raving about the selection available let’s focus more on it. For protein there’s no less than ten different brands offering products in a number of different sizes. You can pick up RTD’s, 1 and 2lb tubs, and even shots. There’s whey, soy, egg and collagen. They’ve also done what many grocery stores started doing some years ago by putting chips and bars which normally would go in separate diet sections all in the same section as muscle builders. Instead of having to trek to the other side of the store for the chip aisle, Walmart puts protein-based chips, puffs, cookies and other sweets side by side with protein powder, creatine, and pre-workout powders. Another plus is that Walmart only offers products that sell.
How many times have you gone into a GNC only to see one brand well stocked and another perpetually sold out. Although both companies may put out comparable products, there’s something to be said about brands and/or specific products that don’t sell. Consumers generally avoid them. Even if chains drop prices and/or increase interest through BOGO’s, that’s usually not enough. A company that doesn’t sell is often associated with lesser quality ingredients. What’s ironic is that some brands that have fallen from favor actually spend more and have science in their corner but the dark cloud of unpopularity has severely compromised their ability to sell big. Many GNC’s and chains like it have everything laid out. Sometimes deals are struck for a variety of reasons and sometimes they end up with products that don’t move. Walmart somehow doesn’t have this issue. Every inch of their aisle space consists of hot products. Each item meets a specific demand.
The next time you go to the supplement aisle at Walmart take a look at what’s offered. They may only have one product from a company – or – they might have ten. Quest, for example, has dozens of slots for their bars and chips. Six Star and Body Fortress used to dominate the protein spots. Any number of companies might be represented in the preworkout category. When it comes to the vitamins aisle, it’s largely 2-3 OTC pharmaceutical companies. This might be the next frontier for traditional bodybuilding supplement companies that also sell vitamins and minerals. The problem there is they would be hard-pressed to sell at similar price points as Nature’s Bounty or Sundowne. Consumers already expect great quality for great value and will not pay double or triple for a name brand or because a bottle has a glittery look. This is why fitness brands usually don’t have any of these parts of their lines at Walmart. They wouldn’t sell and thus they don’t have a place there. That said, you can see these products at GNC where the house brand can be ⅓ the cost of the name brand. The GNC brand usually gets downplayed and all but hidden in the GNC positioning hierarchy. Even still, consumers find their way to the cheaper products and the overpriced name brand multi’s just sit on the shelves collecting dust. They only sell when they are near their expiration date and are practically given away. The companies have to write off the losses and GNC have to give up valuable shelf space. In a very frightening kind of way, GNC’s and other established supplement retailers have essentially become storage facilities for brands and products that don’t sell.
Consumers aren’t interested in paying more for less selection. Plus they want convenience. Thanks to Walmart people can buy their creatine, pre’s, and protein during the same trip to buy milk, eggs, and bread. They can also buy motor oil and a new Keurig. And what’s even crazier is they can order all of this and never have to get out of their car. It can be delivered to them curbside or it can be delivered to their front door. They can even track the driver as they approach the home for nominal price. You can’t do that with GNC. That’s not their model and it’s not something they could ever plausibly do, either.
I don’t think there’s any doubt that Walmart can be the new GNC, rather, I think it’s already proven to be better than GNC and the like. It’s a whole new world. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s an issue of evolving with the times. I honestly don’t think GNC can remarket themselves to the point where they can coexist with Walmart. If they have a future in the supplements market I’d be curious what that will be. The only thing Walmart does not have is trained pharmacy staff that will answer questions about bodybuilding supplements. That being said, most of the Q&A that GNC and retail supply store staff provide is heavily biased. Many products pay commission – either from the companies or the chain – and workers tend to push products that will generate earnings for them. We have seen some pretty lousy products get the love just because associates want the money. Further to that, many unbiased associates who perhaps dont train and/or don’t take supplements don’t offer very good advice, either.
How much product knowledge is required to sell supplements? Can you be a certified supplement seller? Who knows? And how much knowledge would something like that require? Honestly, at first hearing it sounds more comical than anything else. But it might be a good little marketing gimmick.
With regards to Walmart, I’d say they’ll beat out any competitor in any market they come into contact with. I think the point has more than been made, but what say you?