Do you take your vitamins everyday? Better yet, do you want to take your vitamins every day, but always forget, don’t know which ones to take or can’t be bothered?
Health has been the main priority in peoples’ lives since the COVID-19 pandemic took over the world in March 2020. And while vitamins cannot protect one from coronavirus, VTMN Packs founder, Laurie Cook, says that proper vitamin supplements are a great way to “boost your general health.”
General health and wellness have always been important to Cook. With over 15 years in the pharmacy industry, the licensed pharmacist saw the benefits of patient-centered care, and also noticed the gaps that were missing in the Canadian market. So, Cook left her career as a pharmacist and ventured into entrepreneurship, with the hopes of filling in those gaps with VTMN Packs.
Created as a monthly subscription service that makes high-quality vitamins, personalized, convenient, and accessible, VTMN Packs is the first of its kind in Canada.
“As a founder, it was very difficult to look to similar companies and say, “Hey, what are they doing? What aren’t they doing? What can I do to improve that?” It’s a challenger concept in Canada,” said Cook.
With her background in the pharmacy industry, the help of her partner who runs a creative design firm, and an advisory board of Naturopathic Doctors and Holistic Nutritionists, Cook was able to bring VTMN Packs to life.
To get started, customers take an online health assessment to determine one’s lifestyle and wellness goals. Based on the answers, VTMN Packs recommends vitamins and supplements, in a three-tier approach: The Essentials, Advanced Health, and Complete Support. By doing so, users are able to choose the option that best suits their budgets and comfort levels. They’re also prompted to add any other vitamins or supplements within VTMN Packs’ offering that entices them.
Then, the personalized vitamins are sent out in daily packets along with a dispenser that makes taking your vitamins something you can look forward to every day.
“I don’t want to say it gamifies it, but you have your nice dispenser, it sits on your counter and is a constant reminder. It makes it super easy,” said Cook. “We’ve heard people say they put it on their desk because it’s a nice accessory and it helps them remember to take it [their vitamins].”
For this week’s Startup Spotlight, Bay Street Bull spoke with Laurie Cook, Founder of VTMN Packs, about why vitamins should be a part of everyone’s daily routine and how VTMN Packs makes it easy to do so.
Health is at the forefront of everyone’s mind these days. While vitamins can’t protect you from coronavirus per se—they’re not a vaccine—what kind of benefits can people expect when getting proper vitamin supplements?
I think that there’s a lot of different things that people can expect. In fact, specifically with coronavirus, there’s a lot of emerging evidence about vitamin D being really integral in maintaining your overall immunity and having better outcomes. Beyond that, we’re talking about boosting your general health, improving your immune health and your overall wellness.
I think vitamins can really help fill the gaps for a lot of people. Especially as people are a lot more sedentary right now. Everybody’s at home. We’re getting out a lot last. We’re moving around a lot less. We’re probably eating probably more frequently, and if you’re closer to snacks, it’s maybe not the healthiest food. So there’s a lot of opportunity for vitamins to kind of fill some gaps right now.
With your 15 years in the pharmacy industry, what steps did you take to make sure that, as an e-commerce based company, VTMN Packs still provides the same care and standards you would expect from a pharmacy?
That was really important to me when I was starting VTMN Packs. As a pharmacist, it’s really important to us that we’re focusing on the patient and the treatment is specifically geared towards the patient. We call it “patient-centered.” So when I created VTMN Packs, it was important to me to take that same principle with my customers.
I have no interest in being a go-to destination for anybody and everybody who just wants vitamins. I’m really trying to curate a very personalized experience. When we were creating the health assessment, one of the things we took into mind is making sure that we’re treating well individuals. One of the first questions is to make sure that you’re not currently being treated for any other condition because we don’t want to interfere with your primary care provider. We’re happy to kind of work together with your primary provider, but we’re not trying to treat or cure or diagnose with our system.
What we’re trying to do is provide advice and recommendation based on general wellness. And we do that by going through very specific questions about your lifestyle, your diet, and your wellness goals. We spent a lot of time really looking at those questions and thinking about how we could tailor them to the individual and make sure that we are giving safe recommendations that are going to meet each individual’s needs.
Obviously, there are so many vitamin supplements out there. How did you decide what vitamins to include within VTMN Packs?
As part of our founding journey, that particular aspect took up one of the largest amounts of time. We only currently carry about 30 vitamins and supplements, which is nothing compared to the vast array of vitamins that are available on the market—and that’s very intentional.
What are the health basics that the majority of the population can benefit from? That’s how we decided on which supplements we would focus on. Then we looked at what brands are out there right now that we know and trust, based on a number of different factors: Do they do third party testing? Do they have clean ingredients? Are they non-GMO? Are they Health Canada certified? We had a whole checklist of priorities when we were selecting brand partners, and then we said, “Which ones of our core supplements are available through these brand partners that have the fewest non-medicinal ingredients—so, that are the cleanest—and the most cost-effective for our customers?” There was a lot of thought that went into selecting the vitamins that we have right now.
As someone who had an extensive history in the industry, were there any trends that you noticed that led you to start VTMN Packs?
At the end of the day, I started VTMN Packs out of my own frustration. I was an avid supplementer but got tired of the process of going to the store, not understanding which supplements to buy, buying them, then refilling my containers. It became a really big hassle.
Then when I started to look at what to offer based on my history, I noticed that a lot of the drugstore brands that I was used to recommending as a pharmacist, weren’t necessarily up to my standards today. There’s a huge difference in quality between the different supplements that are available on the market. VTMN Packs’ focus is really on high quality, premium vitamins because they have active ingredients, and the more active form of the ingredient, they’re more highly absorbable and they can do more for your system.
In terms of trends? Not really. Trends that I noticed in pharmacy are very different from where I’m trying to go today [with VTMN Packs]. In pharmacy, our focus was a lot more on treating a condition versus right now I’m looking more into prevention. The supplements and vitamins that we carry are designed to help keep you well, versus really what I was seeing in pharmacy, which was band-aiding existing conditions that were there.
Was it hard to leave a profession that you had been in for so long?
I worked in pharmacy for over 15 years and I did a lot of different things in pharmacy. I did retail, corporate, specialty. So, I’ve been really involved with the profession. Personally, I had some changes in my life in about 2014, that really changed my personal mindset. And what I started to do in my career was see how I could start integrating preventative health into pharmacy; I was actually able to do that quite well and I was happy with how I was doing that. Then it came to a point where I decided I could only do so much in that environment.
The decision to leave pharmacy was very difficult because it was something I had done for so long, but at the same time, it felt very right. VTMN Packs is something that speaks to me; I’m 100 percent passionate about it and I believe in what it is that I’m doing. I think that really helped ease that transition out of a career that I had built, into something that was completely uncharted for me.
Were you scared to leave your pharmacy career to start a business, which was something completely new to you?
I think I wasn’t because it felt so right. However, it was a little bit scary because nobody was doing it in Canada. As a founder, it was very difficult to look to similar companies and say, “Hey, what are they doing? What aren’t they doing? What can I do to improve that?” It’s a challenger concept in Canada. So there was a lot of learning: How do I start this in Canada? Why has nobody done this before? What do I need to do to kind of get into this space? What do I need to do to do it right?
It was intimidating more so than scary, but those challenges are what really drove me to push through because I realized there’s a huge gap in the market and it takes a certain skill set to actually be able to launch something like this in Canada. I was really fortunate that I had the pharmacy background which is actually required to do something like this.
Was there any kind of major learning curve or a standout learning moment when bringing VTMN Packs to life?
There was a lot. I think most founders deal with a lot of learning up front. For us, we had a lot of setbacks at the beginning and one of the key things that I’ve learned from this is don’t let your setbacks set you back. We had spent about six months and a lot of money with the development team to kind of help build our website. And at the end of the six months, we realized that none of that work was usable. So, that was a big challenge.
All of our packs are packaged by a pharmaceutical-grade packing machine, and we had invested quite a bit of money into one, only to realize that it didn’t meet our standards for what we needed it to do for VTMN Packs. So, there we were, about to launch, realizing that we didn’t have the actual equipment to make it possible. There have been challenges along the way, but the amount that I have learned in overcoming those challenges is incredibly valuable.
What has the consumer response been over the last year?
We launched the company in December 2019, and then the pandemic hit in March. It was a very interesting time to be launching a company—not just for us, but across the world. We were really fortunate to be providing something that I think a lot of people were looking for. VTMN Packs provides an opportunity for health and wellness from your home and it takes the trouble and the guesswork out of purchasing vitamins. So, we were really fortunate to be so well-positioned for what’s going on in the world right now.
In terms of customer feedback, we’ve had a lot of really positive feedback. We have a lot of wives who sign up their husbands for the program [laughs]. They’ll take the health assessment on their partner’s behalf or force them to take it because they have no interest, and then, we’ll hear from them about what a difference it’s made in their lives: they feel better, they have more energy.
Also, the convenience factor. A lot of people really appreciate the guesswork that we’re taking out. We’ve heard, “I’ve wanted to start vitamins forever, but every time I go to the health food store, I stand there in the aisle for 40 minutes and I look at the selection and I have no idea what to buy. So, I end up walking away, empty-handed.” I think we’re really filling a gap for those people who are looking for a solution but haven’t been able to kind of get on board with it.
With VTMN Packs, you have three tiers of packs that you can buy, after completing the health assessment. Why was it important for you to include a range rather than saying “Here are nine vitamins that you need?”
I think it was important for a few reasons. One is that we’re offering vitamins that are in a little bit more of a premium price range. So we wanted to make sure that we had options for different budgets, as well as everybody’s different wellness goals. There are some people who have been supplementing forever, who are looking for a very comprehensive regimen, which depending on their health assessment, can have anywhere between eight to 10 different supplements. There are also other people who are just starting off and it can be quite intimidating for somebody to do a health assessment and then be presented with 10 different things—that’s just like going to the health food store and seeing all the options and not knowing. So, we provide the three different tiers so people can select a plan based on where they’re at today and then easily increase or decrease as they see fit.
As we’ve already talked about, you went through a rigorous process of making sure every supplement was up to your standard and it had the highest grade of ingredients in it. Are you constantly looking to add more supplements to your site? Do you see the selection changing?
Yes and no. We really want to stay focused on a curated selection. This may change over time as the demand shows up, but I don’t think we’ll ever carry hundreds of different things. However, since we’ve launched, we’ve added three or four different things based on customer feedback; things that people were asking for, that we’ve been able to source and meet our criteria.
What’s your personal favorite vitamin or supplement?
I have two—actually, three really.
I had a baby 11 days before I launched the company. So that was a challenge in itself, and I also have a four-year-old daughter. Energy is one of my biggest challenges right now, so I’m loving ashwagandha. I find that it works for me and gives me enough energy to get through the day, and it makes me feel great. On the opposite end, magnesium. I take magnesium at night because it helps me relax and calms me down. It really makes me feel nice and balanced. Lastly, vitamin D because I love vitamin D and I’m in Canada and every Canadian should be making sure that they’re taking sufficient quantities of vitamin D.
Along that same spectrum, do you notice one vitamin that most people seem to be lacking or need in their regimen?
A multivitamin can benefit a lot of people. What it is designed to do is fill in the gaps in our diet, and nobody can eat perfectly 100 percent of the time. A lot of us will try, and I think a lot of people do a great job, but, the nutrient density of our food is changing and I think more people should consider adding a multivitamin just to help bring all of their vitamins, nutrients, and mineral levels kind of up to par. I think that more people can benefit from that or a prenatal multivitamin if you’re a woman of childbearing potential.
Looking forward to the future of VTMN Packs, where would you like to see the company in five, 10 years?
I think we’ve got a long way to go before we’re looking at our five or 10 year goals. I think in the short term, we really want to be kind of the household name and destination for people who are looking for foundational vitamins and supplements.
In the first year, we spent a lot of our time focusing on making sure that our offering was where we wanted it to be. Now as we get into years two, three, four, we want to grow, we want to get our name out there and we want to let people know that this is an option. Since it’s such a new concept in Canada, not a lot of people are even familiar with being able to get a vitamin pack. So we really want to get people familiar with that product that we have.