Vital Proteins CEO Kurt Seidensticker attends the Vital Proteins Launches Feed Your Beauty Popup … [+]
Upon hearing initial reports of novel coronavirus cases in the Wuhan province of China earlier this year, Kurt Seidensticker quickly got to work. The founder and CEO of collagen supplement maker Vital Proteins put an emergency response taskforce in place, and later, as state-wide shutdowns began to take place, shuttered corporate offices and shifted the Chicago-based company from a five-day production schedule to a four-day.
At the same time, the company saw a more than 50% increase in demand for its suite of 250 products, including powders, shots, capsules and protein bars.
“If you think about everything that is going on right now [as a result of COVID-19], people are less distracted with in-person meetings and work. At the same time, they are also worried about their health,” Seidensticker says. “We’re estimating to ship 1.7 million products just this month and have also seen a 38% uptick in our subscription service.”
Even before coronavirus, Vital Proteins was growing at a rate of 100% year-over-year. While other brands have struggled to keep up with the increase in demand for products, stockpiling inventory according to pre-pandemic growth projections set Seidensticker up to continue to fulfill orders for the next six to seven months.
A former NASA aerospace engineer, Seidensticker founded Vital Proteins in 2012 after learning of the potential health benefits associated with the amino acids in collagen, a protein that makes up 30% of the human body and as much as 80% of skin. “I reviewed them with my daughter, who was in medical school at the time and we were shocked,” Seidensticker says. “The potential benefits include improved joint health and muscle mass, as well as increased skin elasticity, decreased wrinkling and a treatment for osteoporosis,” says Seidensticker. After the age of 20, people’s bodies tend to produce less collagen every year, depending on different factors.
With their newfound knowledge Seidensticker and his daughter brought what they claim is the first easily digestible collagen product to the market, effectively creating a new category in the better-for-you consumer packaged goods space. Since then, the company, reportedly worth $1 billion, has emerged as a leader in the $4 billion ingestible collagen market, which is expected to reach $6.5 billion by 2025, according to Grand View Research. Its products generated more than $100 million in annual sales in 2019 and can be found in over 28,000 stores nationwide, including Whole Foods, Costco and Sephora.
“Consumer interest in protein is moving beyond just one-dimensional goals such as weight management or muscle build,” says Brett Thomas, cofounder and managing partner at CAVU Ventures, who led a $19 million investment in the Vital Proteins in 2017 and has since joined the board. “Given that it’s tasteless and odorless, consumers can easily eat it as a bar, take it as a shot, or mix it into their morning coffee or matcha. It meets every lifestyle need.”
The attention the brand has received thanks to celebrity clients like Kourtney Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, Jennifer Aniston, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Candice Swanepoel and Olivia Culpo hasn’t hurt either.
“I’ve been drinking collagen—the main protein found in the body: hair, skin, bones, muscles, joints and tendons—every morning for years, and it’s made such a difference in my body, skin, hair, nails,” says Kardashian, who has gone so far as to partner on custom co-branded products with Vital Proteins through her Poosh lifestyle brand. “Vital Proteins is what I was already taking personally, had been muscle tested on, so I knew my doctor felt the ingredients were well-sourced,” she says. “It felt like an organic collaboration between both of our communities.”
Vital Proteins x Poosh custom collaboration collagen product
More recently, though, Seidensticker has been exploring the potential benefits of ingestible collagen for people’s immune systems, specifically long-distance runners who often suffer from upper respiratory infections. “I looked at a research study on the efficacy of amino acids like Glutamine before and after a very long run,” he says. “What the study showed was that the individuals that had supplemented with the amino acids at both intervals were less likely to get sick.”
After consulting additional research, on March 26, he released Vital Proteins Vitality Immune Booster, an immunity-boosting supplement. The product—which contains 5 grams of collagen peptides, Wellmune, immunobiotics, electrolytes, amino acids and vitamins—had been in the company’s innovation pipeline for six weeks but production was accelerated due to demand related to the global health crisis.
Some preliminary research suggests that some of these peptides may help the immune system, but more research needs to be done, explains Dr. Rachel Miller, chief of the division of clinical immunology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Our immune system functions in very complicated ways. Ongoing placebo controlled clinical trials of several vitamins may be helpful in evaluating whether specific vitamins at specific doses for specific populations may be helpful in promoting better health.”
There are studies showing benefits from collagen supplements for things like skin elasticity and joint pain, but more research is needed for other applications, says Dr. Ohara Aivaz, a dermatologist at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. She also warns that since those products are not regulated by the FDA, it’s important to do your research on the collagen products you buy. “Ultimately, if you pick a safe collagen product, there’s probably very little known harm to come from trying it,” she adds.
In the meantime, Vital Proteins will be focusing on international growth. By the end of the second quarter, the company plans to have its products stocked in 1,000 more stores in Canada (it already has partnerships with 350) and 650 in Mexico.
For Seindensticker, who maintains 80% ownership of the business, one thing is certain: “Collagen goes beyond what is going on today. People are coming back to their wellness and vitality and we believe that will be here to stay well beyond this pandemic.”