In need of a fresh twist

Seven Seas must reinvigorate its lacklustre marketing if the vitamins, mineral and supplements brand is to overcome multiple threats to its position as UK market leader. Joe Fernandez reports

Vitamins and supplements company Seven Seas sells many of the best-known products in its market, such as children’s multivitamins range Haliborange and flagship line Seven Seas Pure Cod Liver Oil.

However, the brand, owned by German pharmaceutical giant Merck KGAa, has found it difficult to come up with ways to market itself in the 21st century amid growing competition, and is now holding talks with agencies over its £4m advertising brief (MW last week).

The company’s most recent push was an updated version of Sevens Seas Twist – a campaign that first aired in 2000, suggesting a shortage of fresh ideas for the brand.

According to Mintel, Seven Seas is the leading manufacturer of branded products in the UK vitamins, minerals and supplements (VMS) market, through its offerings of Seven Seas, MultiBionta, Haliborange and Hofels. But while competition is increasing, the UK market is forecast to grow slowly from today’s value of £410m to £435m by 2011.

Founded in 1935, Seven Seas earned recognition in its early years as the cod liver oil liquid and orange juice supplier during the Government’s food rationing period between 1939 and 1953.

Since those days it has grown from a small company selling cod liver oil, to a global business selling a range of vitamins and minerals in 80 countries.

However, the company admits it has needed to defend its position in the face of competition from newer multivitamin and mineral formulations.

Campaigns, including the Seven Seas Tin Man, pushed sales in the Eighties but brands such as Centrum, Sanatogen and Vitabiotics have entered the market. Supermarkets and pharmacies have also launched own-brand supplement products, making competition in a vulnerable market increasingly fierce.

Tim Herman, managing director of Ogilvy Healthworld, warns that vitamins and minerals need to be worth the cost. “Supplements are arguably not an essential item, so if there is pressure on the purse consumers can go without them. The decline in sales of gym membership and organic foods demonstrates this,” he says.

To recapture the audience, Seven Seas has shifted its main focus to the benefits of Omega 3 fish oil and over-the-counter “super” vitamins.

Herman, says recent press coverage of the benefits of Omega 3 has helped keep consumers interested.

“With supplements you get a guaranteed level of what is missing in a diet, such as Omega 3. The media has highlighted that supplements can provide this instantly, which is what consumers want,” he says.

Herman points out that children dominate sales for Seven Seas products and consumer trust of the brand places it in a good position to fend off competition. “The value of the brand is particularly prevalent in children’s vitamins. Parents want the best for their children and want to ensure they are healthy and happy, avoiding common colds and illnesses as much as possible. They choose Seven Seas because they respect the name,” he says.

As well as supermarkets, Seven Seas also faces competition from high street pharmacies like Superdrug and Boots and health food retailers like Holland & Barrett, all of which sell own-label supplements.

Holland & Barrett managing director Peter Aldiss says: “A healthy lifestyle appeals to a younger generation, which has resulted in high growth rates for food supplements and health foods.

“There is also a strong desire among the ageing population for better health, disease prevention, longevity and wellbeing. Competition in this sector is particularly fierce, hence the large amounts of money spent on marketing.”

The VMS sector also faces a new challenge as the European Commission prepares to tighten regulations on the market. By the end of 2009, brands will be forced to change any ingredients used in their VMS products that are subject to a Europe-wide ban, including tin, silicon, nickel and cobalt.

However, a spokeswoman from the Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which is overseeing the changes in the UK, says the new regulations should have a minimal effect on Seven Seas.

The spokeswoman says the agency provided resources to help businesses like Seven Seas supply the evidence necessary to allow their products to stay on the market for the time being. But before 2010, Seven Seas and other supplement providers will be responsible for adjusting ingredients, which will have inevitable cost implications.

The vast array of products on the shelves of supermarkets and chemists indicates that competition in the VMS sector is growing. Seven Seas will have to continue to build its brand campaign beyond the Seven Seas Twist to maintain its leading position. vFacts and figuresSeven Seas 1935 Cod liver oil is launched with the brand name Seven Seas 1939-50 Seven Seas cod liver oil liquid and orange juice distributed free to pregnant and nursing mothers and children through the Ministry of Food’s Welfare Food Scheme 1981 Seven Seas launches range of seven vitamin and mineral supplements. Cod Liver Oil advertised using Seven Seas Tin Man, who uses the oil to keep his joints moving 1982 Seven Seas launches first natural fish oil (Omega 3) product 1986 Hanson Group acquires Seven Seas 1990 Seven Seas buys Haliborange, the leading brand of children’s vitamin and mineral supplements 1996 Seven Seas acquired by German pharmaceutical giant Merck KGAa 2000 Seven Seas launches first Do the Twist ad campaign for cod liver oil 2005 Seven Seas celebrates 70th anniversary.

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