1 January 2024 Rhiona Robertson

So you want to start a supplement brand?

Don't do anything until you've read this.

As we ring in a fresh new year, we tend to brace ourselves for the onslaught of new brand and product briefs that will be sent our way. It’s an exciting time for us, as we are introduced to concepts that have been incubating in the hearts and minds of the innovator, sometimes for many years before this moment. For the innovator, there’s palpable excitement, relief to be able to finally talk to someone in the know about their idea, along with the understandable apprehension, and in some cases, fear and anxiety that come along for the ride. And the questions- so many questions.

After spending some time over the holiday season working on the concept, and staring down the barrel of another year of the same old, the new year always brings about fresh new energy to get started on these projects that have been a twinkle in the innovators eye for what feels like forever.

Sound familiar? We’ve been here a few (read: many many many) times, we get it! We’ve seen innovators of all different shapes, sizes and inclinations. We’ve worked on briefs that are so far off the wall they’re mind warping. We’ve been handed briefs with monolithic budgets and some on shoestring budgets. We’ve had innovators approach us from all different walks- entrepreneurs with eye watering financial goals and distribution connections to match, through to practitioners who have seen a specific gap in the market, and everything in between. We have really seen it all.

What has become clear to us over all these years is that there tends to be some common factors which determines the success of the product and brand, and we’re going to let you in on it, so you don’t have to learn the hard way or waste time and money (after all, we are obsessed with saving our client’s money, time and headaches!)

Here’s a few important points for your consideration before you get too far down the road. While some of these may seem a bit backward or a bit advanced from where you are right now, we find it valuable as Stephen Covey says, “to start with end in mind”.

  • Your distribution footprint is the key to success – Put your product at risk of being purchased!
    You’re about to embark on journey which requires a significant level of investment in terms of monetary investment and personal sacrifice. In our experience, having broad distribution agreements prior to launch will mean that you will hit the ground running and start recouping some of that investment straight away. Don’t wait until you have the product in your hands, because your shelf life will be like a ticking time bomb. The success of your project in terms of securing and servicing broad distribution will be fundamentally dictated by what happens in the product development process. You need to have clear goals before the product development process starts. Where and who sells your product will impact your retail price point, cost of goods, margins, batch turnover, minimum order quantities, desirable claims, benchmark products, the look and feel of your brand, launch timelines, and how many products you will need to launch with, among other things.
  • Create a budget covering set up costs and costs for the first 2 years of operation, and make sure you’re properly funded.
    • Set up costs – including product and brand development costs, product costs, website development, marketing spend for launch, legal agreements etc.
    • Ongoing costs – Your marketing calendar activities will be a major expense driver and also will fundamentally determine your ongoing success. Ultimately if no one knows about your product, you won’t sell it regardless of how great it is or how many doors you have initially secured for distribution (plus it’s likely you’ll be de-ranged from major retailers if your marketing contribution and sell-through isn’t sufficient).
      In addition, you need to consider insurances, warehousing, your Sponsor obligations with the TGA including annual listing costs, pharmacovigilance requirements and stability studies (if you’re heading down this route), variable costs like merchant and bank fees and shipping etc.
  • Understand the landscape.
    It’s important for you to understand the competitive nature of your target category. For example, are you considering a commodity product – like a magnesium supplement for example? If you are, you need to consider:

    • How you are going to convert customers or retailers to your brand- Is it via price? Unique ingredients? Claims? Something unique no other brand offers? What is it about your brand that will sway consumer loyalty away from other brands who they may already trust and purchase multiple products from?
    • How are you going to compete in retail distribution? You’ll need very good margins and a strong discount and marketing contribution structure.
  • Create a domestic and international strategy
    The regions you are targeting need to be considered in the formulation stages of your product development because regulations can differ between regions. You don’t want to have to reformulate in order to expand your business internationally. This is especially important with seasonal products like immune, cold and flu, sunscreen, tanning and weight loss products which are significantly impacted by the season. Having international distribution in another hemisphere will mean that you will smooth out your income rather than have a 6-month dead zone.
  • Start off on the right foot with your compliance position
    Sadly we have seen all too often, brands kick off with a less-than-ideal compliance position, thinking they are too small for the regulators to care or because they want to test the market before investing too heavily. While there is certainly a reasonable case to be made here, the challenge for most brands who start in this way is that either the brand stays small because of the restrained mindset, or the brand doesn’t stay small- which is obviously a great thing- except when unwanted regulatory attention catches up with them and they have to start taking more of a compliant position, which feels like quite the departure for the community they’ve worked so hard to cultivate, not to mention the potential fines, product recalls, supply challenges and bad press that come along for the ride. Sadly, we’ve seen several entire businesses wiped out overnight because they didn’t start off with a risk-appropriate compliance position in the first instance.


HPS has brought countless products to market for both small startups and large brands. What we know for sure is that the most successful brands have well planned projects with clear goals and distribution in mind. Brands that start out on a whim, that change their briefs as they go along, work along the vein of “build it, and they shall come”, or who are restricted by a small brand mindset, rarely achieve the level of success needed to warrant the level of investment or effort.

One last word to the wise, be wary of agencies that charge ongoing royalties for your initial development. Offers which appear to be good deals in the start-up phase with low development costs or low order quantities are usually too good to be true. The trade-offs you make for lower market entry can include: ongoing purchasing through agencies (they earn royalties on your product every time you order without providing any service whatsoever), you don’t own the IP or formulation, or you’re essentially private labelling a standard formulation which is no different to others in the market, making it very difficult for your brand to stand out. It is also important to note that if you intend to create a brand to sell in the future or obtain external investment, the first question you will be asked is whether you own your formulation. If you don’t, you will never achieve the sell price you deserve for your efforts.

HPS don’t work this way, meaning our start-up costs might be a little higher than others, but you will own your IP and the contract manufacturing relationship so that when you have built your successful brand, you have the opportunity to scale up, receive attractive price breaks, investment/ acquisition opportunities and true financial success for your hard work. From our point of view there’s no need to clip the ticket once the development work is complete- your successful launch and unburdened growth is what we are all about.

Have a project you’d like to chat about with us? Complete our new client details form here and we can get started with a discovery call.

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Rhiona Robertson

Rhiona is a naturopath, nutritionist, educator, innovator, product development and regulatory all-star.