CPG Playbook   //   May 8, 2024

Hilma enters Walmart as part of the retailer’s new focus on gut health assortment

As interest in gut and digestive health grows, Walmart is bringing in a number of buzzy startup brands to refresh this side of the supplements aisle.

The latest of these is Hilma, which launched in January 2020 and specializes in natural digestive supplements like its bestselling gas and bloat relief. In November of 2022, Hilma was acquired by French pharmaceutical company the Biocodex Group and, since then, getting into Walmart has been a top priority.

After focusing for the last few years on building brand awareness and adding new retail partners, Hilma is now looking to target shoppers at the country’s biggest retailer. This year Hilma’s retail presence is going from 2,000 to over 10,000 locations, driven largely by the Walmart entry and the expansion of Target and Walgreens door counts. Hilma’s retail business tripled in 2023, and the Walmart debut is set to build on that momentum.

To woo Walmart, Hilma was focused on finding the right assortment for the retailer. According to Hilma co-founder Nina Mullen, Walmart was particularly interested in Hilma’s digestive products. Hilma offers a range of supplements and remedies, like immunity, sleep and tension relief. But the Walmart assortment is tightly focused on its digestive products, like dairy and gluten digestive enzymes and its version of heartburn and indigestion relief capsules.

“[Walmart has] been very clear with us that they’re committed to being a leader in digestive health, and specifically interested in offering cleaner natural solutions to their customers,” Mullen told Modern Retail.

Bringing in Hilma products is part of that strategy. Mullen said the big-box retailer “loves to partner with new and innovative brands that connect with consumers.”

Last year, Walmart brought on multiple startups in the digestive and gut health categories, like Bloom Nutrition’s Walmart and Love Wellness. In the last few years, Walmart has brought on several startup brands specializing in digestive health. IBS-friendly snack brand BelliWelli launched in 1,022 Walmart locations in April, debuting its new fiber mix line that’s exclusive to Walmart and BelliWelli’s website.

“We’re in very good company,” Mullen said.

An evolving category 

In the last 18 months since its acquisition, Hilma has been able to add a director of retail and a retail associate to oversee operations. To double down on the digestive category, Hilma also just launched two new products, a pre- and probiotic supplement with herbs, and its daily fiber and digestive enzymes mix. 

Having grown brick-and-mortar gradually, Mullen said the company is applying lessons it learned over the last couple of years. And because Walmart is known for its price competitiveness, Mullen said it was important to ensure the brand offered SKUs that would appeal to the average Walmart shopper. 

As it expanded into retailers leading up to Walmart, Hilma reconfigured its retail bottle sizing to be able to hit the $10 point. In Walmart, its gas and bloat relief bottle will cost $9.79 for 28 capsules. On Hilma’s DTC website, meanwhile, the product costs $20 for 50 capsules. “We’re already trying to convince someone to try a natural product when they’d typically go for conventional brands,” Mullen said. “You don’t want them to walk away because the sticker shock is high.” 

As the supplements aisle has gotten more crowded, Hilma has also had to evolve its on-shelf presence to drive better sales. 

After launching its small bottles at Target in 2021, the company decided to tweak the packaging by placing them in cardboard boxes. According to Mullen, this helps them pop because the boxes take up more space than bottles. Additionally, she said that, visually, this better draws the customer’s eye to the row of light green boxes compared to small bottles sitting next to competitors’ large jars.

“That was an enormous improvement, we saw velocity improve by 30%,” Mullen said. “We also learned what SKUs work, we have had two SKUs removed from Target that didn’t sell well.”

Walmart’s Hilma partnership signals a continued bullishness on digestive and gut health, which has gained more awareness thanks to social media. As more people navigate conditions like IBS and food sensitivities, interest in the gut microbiome has grown. Overall, people are interested in the gut microbiome, and trying products that help them navigate issues like IBS and food sensitivities. 

According to a 2023 Ipsos poll, 48% of respondents say they are concerned with their digestive or gut health, with 46% of Americans having taken over-the-counter digestive products like laxatives or fiber supplements. Furthermore, 46% reported having taken over-the-counter probiotics. 

Bryan Gildenberg, founder of commerce consultancy Confluence Commerce, said it’s no surprise that Walmart is continuing to expand its digestive wellness assortment. Carrying startup brands like Hilma also fits under Walmart’s overall direction toward more sustainable and clean labels, he said.

Gildenberg also referenced Walmart’s decision to shut down its health centers and telemedicine business. “If you think healthcare and wellness are important and healthcare is too hard, then you’re going to go after wellness,” he said. 

Gildenberg said the retailer’s better-for-you digestive supplements push is also a chance to premiumize this category through higher pricing. “With inflation, some people are looking at certain areas they’re willing to pay more for,” he said. Putting these innovative products in front of shoppers is a better-for-you play. “But it’s also growing the margins in the overall category,” Gildenberg said. 

Mullen said Walmart’s big bet on gut health is evident through the partnerships it’s striking with young brands. “Walmart was willing to continue the conversation for three years until we were ready,” Mullen said. “They’ve been very collaborative on how we can grow the category with them.”