Jack Gayton: How The Vitamin Shoppe Picks Brands | Episode #105


In July of 2023, The Vitamin Shoppe held their annual Wellness Summit, a corporate event where key presentations and discussions are given by employees and partnered brands, highlighting industry trends and business plans.

Jack Gayton: The Vitamin Shoppe Divisional Vice President of Merchandising

Jack Gayton, The Vitamin Shoppe’s Divisional Vice President of Merchandising, joins the PricePlow Podcast with Kaged’s Aaron Heidebreicht in Episode #105 to explain what TVS looks for in brands

While there, we had Jack Gayton, The Vitamin Shoppe’s Divisional Vice President of Merchandising on the podcast along with Aaron Heidebreicht, Chief Commercial Officer of Kaged (and repeat visitor to the podcast).

The conversation focuses on how major retailers like The Vitamin Shoppe see the world, and what brands need to do to earn their interest, trust, and long-term business. With Aaron, we also get to hear some strategy from the brand side as well.

The Vitamin Shoppe continues to make a big push in the Fit Lifestyle space (what many of us consider to be “sports nutrition” or “active nutrition”), and Jack states that they’ll continue to focus on energy drinks, functional foods, and functional beverages.

This is an excellent listen for anyone interested in the major retail space of the supplement industry.

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Before beginning, you can also watch this recap:

Detailed Show Notes with Jack Gayton of Vitamin Shoppe

  • 0:00 – Introductions

    Ben joins us from Secaucus, NJ, home of The Vitamin Shoppe. He’s on the trip with the Kaged team for The Vitamin Shoppe’s annual Wellness Summit, and we’re joined by Jack Gayton, Divisional Vice President of Merchandising.

    We’re also joined by Aaron Heidebreicht, Chief Commercial Officer of Kaged, who’s been on the PricePlow Podcast a few times recently.

    Jack’s job is often referred to as a “merchant”, a “buyer”, or a “category manager”. These types of jobs are best for individuals who are highly-connected to the market and can best pick what’s going to go on the shelves or online. It’s truly a make-it-or-break-it position for a retailer. Jack’s been in this line of work for over 20 years.

  • 2:15 – Trends from Jack’s perspective

    Ben notes how the PricePlow demographic sometimes gets lost in the world of sports nutrition, but Jack has to see a wider lens. For instance, he knew of PRIME Energy Drink far before it was on most peoples’ radar.

    For the last few years, Jack’s been focused on sports — powders, pre-workouts, creatine, etc. But there’s a whole other side of the business – focusing on the general public, looking at greens, probiotics, vitamins and minerals. “VMS” = Vitamins, Minerals, and Supplements.

    Jack’s still looking at the fallout from COVID for instance, where the VMS side was on fire in 2020. He notes that buyers should follow the same principles in any category – good relationship maintenance, for instance.

  • 4:30 – Has social media changed the buyer’s role?

    With social media and virality, some things have actually become reactive, whereas category managers used to have a bit more of the keys to the car. Jack notes that it can happen fast, too, such as an online craze regarding berberine (due to it having some similar mechanisms as newly popular prescription drugs).

    It’s a different game now, because businesses used to rely on having a good meeting with a retailer’s buyer. With direct-to-consumer (D2C) and Amazon, that’s not necessarily the case. This forces the retailers to adapt to that dynamic.

    Vitamin Shoppe now has to consider how to become the retail arm of a D2C brand who wants some extra accessibility on the shelf. Jack often has to help some of these brands work in a retail setting.

    A good merchant now has to scour the internet looking for a diamond in the rough, whereas the business used to just come to them.

  • 6:45 – Sellouts are BAD for Retailers

    The guys joke about selling products out — in some contexts, it’s a great thing. But at a retailer like The Vitamin Shoppe, this is not a good thing.

    A retailer is there because people want something now, and they come in expecting it to be there. If something sells out on day 1, then the customers who come in a few days later will leave disappointed. This presents a problem for both the brand and the retailer, who both need to repair the relationship.

    If you’re going to get into retail, you have to think about having that stable supply chain. It’s great when things get hot, but stability and forecasting are king.

    Good merchants know how to react to mistakes, as well.

  • 8:45 – Stable supply chain from the brand’s perspective

    Aaron chimes in from the brand’s perspective. Kaged started as a digital-first, strong D2C company. He admits, though, that Kaged wasn’t 100% “retail-ready” to meet demand and keep products on the shelves.

    When Aaron joined Kaged 9 months prior, he had a big conversation with Jack on how to get the brand fully ready. He nearly had to reverse engineer the entire supply chain to fix their problems.

  • 10:45 – What does a buyer value hearing from a brand?

    Jack first understands that the brands create demand. Jack’s favorite thing is to find the unicorn / diamond in the rough that gets feet through the door.

More detailed show notes are coming soon!

Where to Find Jack

Where to find Aaron and Kaged

Thanks to Jack and the entire staff at The Vitamin Shoppe for having us, and thank you to Kaged for sponsoring the trip and allowing us to take part.

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About the Author: Mike Roberto

Mike Roberto

Mike Roberto is a research scientist and water sports athlete who founded PricePlow. He is an n=1 diet experimenter with extensive experience in supplementation and dietary modification, whose personal expertise stems from several experiments done on himself while sharing lab tests.

Mike's goal is to bridge the gap between nutritional research scientists and non-academics who seek to better their health in a system that has catastrophically failed the public.

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