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Natural and synthetic supplements are a $25+ billion dollar industry that continues to grow on an annual basis. More than 80 percent of adults purchase supplements every year. Supplements are produced by a wide-range of national and international manufacturers and distributed through a variety of channels.
Distribution of those products relies heavily on third party fulfillment providers that specialize in multi-channel delivery of supplements to retailers, consumers and wholesalers. The challenge for manufacturers is finding a fulfillment company that has the expertise to manage and execute the time-sensitive delivery of supplement products. Managing these programs requires strong technology systems, robust inventory management, specialized facilities and a flexible/scalable workforce.
Although most supplements do not require FDA or DEA certifications to control the product, facilities should be clean with pest controls, have well-maintained processes and procedures and offer safety features such as secure storage areas, video monitors, and remote keyless entry.
Fulfillment providers should offer sophisticated lot control and expiration tracking to ensure the supplement lifecycle is managed properly. Supplement manufacturers should look for a fulfillment company that uses lot control and tracking to record every lot number that comes in and out of the warehouse, all the way to when it is delivered to the purchaser. This way if vitamins and supplements are returned or there are any product recalls, then the lot number makes it easy to recall and ship back to the fulfillment company. Furthermore, supplement fulfillment companies should also have processes in place provide a certificate of destruction if necessary.
Some vitamins and supplements will need to be in a climate-controlled environment. Examples of vitamins and supplements that would need a climate-controlled environment include products such as probiotics, gummies as well as some gels and oils. Make sure the fulfillment center that you employ has the capability to handle climate-controlled goods if needed.
Specialized packaging services, returns, and inspections are needed for a top-notch supplement fulfillment center. Some examples of this would be leak-proof packaging for liquids as well as extra padding inside the box to protect the product even further, as well as hard plastic packaging for other kinds of vitamins and supplements so that packaging is more resistant to breakage.
Plastic containers for vitamins and supplements are usually lighter and make for cheaper shipping, as well as easier shipping. Some supplements fulfillment centers are expects at heavy weight shipments and other have many customers with light weight shipments. Therefore, choosing a fulfillment service for your supplements that specializes in smaller weight shipments is crucial for your business. Not only will the provider be able to get you better shipping rates because of the volume of shipments they manage for all of their customer base, but also their specialization within the supplements and vitamins niche will ensure that packages are not mishandled or damaged, minimizing returns. Employing a fulfillment company that can handle these orders with quality and care is essential for your business to run effectively.
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Speaking of returns for your supplements business, the ability to provide reverse logistics (which is the inspection of the product for damage and/or expiration and determining whether it can be returned back to inventory after it has been returned to the fulfillment center), is another crucial and important aspect of supplement fulfillment. The reason why reverse logistics is so important, especially for supplement fulfillment, is because if a supplement is returned, it must be inspected to see if it can be returned to inventory. It could be possible that the vitamins and supplements were expired, tampered with, damaged, or otherwise compromised. If the vitamins and supplements were not inspected and simply returned to the inventory, it could cause problems for your business but re-shipping product that should have been destroyed. So, when the fulfillment company inspects it and determines it needs to be destroyed, it should provide a certificate of destruction for the product, or else, if it is in good shape, return some of the product back to inventory and make sure that expiration dates are checked, lot numbers are verified, and the product is inspected for any tampering that may have occurred before the product was returned.
Fulfillment providers should also have a deep level of experience in continuity management, since many supplement programs offer continuity/subscription based models. Does the fulfillment company have the ability to manage multiple continuity orders under a single account? Can they provide variable shipping frequency/quantity at the customer level? Do they offer a fully-trained customer service team that has experience with loyalty and continuity programs? Can they execute your brand standards? Can they deliver a cost model and solution that achieves your financial business goals? These are just a few of the questions to ask your fulfillment provider.
Keep in mind that rules for retail and consumer may be different, so fulfillment companies should retain detailed standard operating procedures (SOPs) for each channel.
Some fulfillment centers only focus on warehousing, fulfillment, and shipping, whereas others also produce products. In this case, you would be looking at fulfillment centers that also produce vitamins and supplements on demand as ordered. This can be very helpful if you are not manufacturing your own vitamins and supplements and you need somewhere to source the vitamins and supplements from. Many of these highly specialized fulfillment centers with these manufacturing capabilities can not only produce but also private label the vitamins and supplements being sold.
With this in mind, an important consideration to have when looking for a supplement fulfillment company is whether you are looking for on-demand supplement fulfillment or if you are looking for a standard supplement fulfillment arrangement. On-demand supplement fulfillment is when the fulfillment and manufacturing capabilities are under one name, so the fulfillment company would manufacture the vitamins and supplements and then would ship them out as well. Your business would act as a drop shipping business that sells vitamins and supplements to customers and the fulfillment company takes care of the rest.
If your business is already sourcing the supplements from somewhere else, then an on-demand fulfillment center is not necessary for your business and you can opt for a standard supplement fulfillment center.
Supplement manufacturers should seek out a fulfillment company that has a dynamic warehouse management system that ties directly to its shipping analysis process. Having the ability to co-mingle packages and develop powerful relationship with LTL carriers will offer tremendous costs savings for fulfillment companies, which can be passed along to their valued customers.
To get the best value for your fulfillment dollars, consider an integrated, full-service fulfillment solution that provides order processing, call center support, reverse logistics, warehousing, electronic inventory management, pick and pack fulfillment, automated reporting and dynamic small parcel shipping. Finding a provider who offers all these services could mean a reduction of 30 percent or more in your overall fulfillment costs. And that’s an easy pill to swallow.
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