‘Bitter is Better:’ Apothékary’s Unique Approach to Product Education and Packaging

It’s important for brands to stand out, particularly in crowded categories such as wellness, but offering a unique value proposition comes with its own challenges. Apothékary, a DTC wellness company with an emphasis on selling natural herbs and tinctures, has the benefit of a message that resonates with consumers. Unfortunately, this resonance hasn’t always included shoppers’ understanding of exactly how its products were supposed to be used. For example, while most supplements are designed to be dissolved in water, Apothékary’s are not — and their sometimes bitter flavor is a feature, not a bug.

Founder and CEO Shizu Okusa was inspired to take the natural approach by her upbringing — she was born and raised in Canada and grew up in a traditional Japanese farmer family. Her history informed the founding of Apothékary, which utilizes traditional Eastern herbal medicine to treat modern Western ailments in a way that appeals to Western consumers.

“Part of what we are doing is bringing natural medicine to the masses in a really beautiful, elegant way — but not in capsule format,” said Okusa in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “One of the biggest problems I saw on the market when I was walking through CVS and Walgreens is, everything’s in a capsule. Everything is in opaque packaging and plastic bottles. You have no idea what’s inside. The shift that we saw in grocery to clean food, frankly, has not yet happened in the world of medicine or over-the-counter supplements.”

Potential customers who were interested in Apothékary’s clean, transparent approach to health didn’t necessarily understand how the products were supposed to be taken. To tackle these challenges, the retailer is undergoing a rebranding effort, including new sustainable packaging and revamped customer experience models with a larger emphasis on education.

The effort also has the benefit of helping Apothékary’s brand stay fresh and ensure it stands out from the competition. “In the world of consumer goods it’s so easy to get stale,” said Okusa.

Clear Bottles Make Ingredient Transparency Literal

Apothékary’s new packaging takes the idea of transparency to its natural conclusion by using clear glass jars to hold its product. Natural brands already have an advantage over manufactured medicines that carry long ingredient lists, but the retailer wanted to make the very appearance of the product easily accessible to the curious.

“Everything tends to be very opaque, and we really wanted to take this to the next level so that you can actually see what’s inside” said Okusa. “In this space there is no other company, really, that does glass jars that are super transparent. We really think that consumers want to see exactly what’s inside — the color, the viscosity, the herbs — to know truly what they are buying.”

The new packaging includes carboard with a window cut out to see the clear glass, as well as instructions on how to use the product within — something new to the brand, according to Okusa. The packaging also has a QR code that can bring curious customers to Apothékary’s site to learn more about their purchases and its uses.

Additionally, Apothékary earns approximately 30% of its business through its subscription service, and the new packaging includes options to reduce the impact repeat purchases have on the environment, using recycled and biodegradable ingredients and refillable bottles.

Customers Care About Quality, Not Quantity, of Content

Packaging is just part of the rebrand, and Apothékary’s new site has more educational content, including personalized quizzes and one-on-one consultations with clinical herbalists. Additional information is available for casual visitors as well, to ensure they understand how the products are meant to be used.

For instance, many powder-based supplements are meant to be dissolved in water. However, Apothékary’s products don’t contain the additives necessary to make them soluble, and the updated site makes this much clearer for visitors.

One of our slogans has always been ‘bitter is better,’” said Okusa. “The more bitter and pungent it is, at least in Eastern medicine, the better it is for you, because it’s touching upon these herbs and naturalness in a way that isn’t covered up by sugar or fats or anything of that nature. That message is very, very much more prevalent our website.”

Customers looking for a more personalized experience can fill out a 24-question assessment quiz that gathers information about their bodies and the results they’re looking for, in order to get product recommendation regarding which choices might help. They also can sign up for classes or access other options from Apothékary’s suite of educational content. During COVID the classes were primarily held over Zoom, but as customer demands shifted the company now focuses on offering fewer classes but holding them in person.

“We’ve really listened to the customer and looked at the data and the trends so that we’re not wasting our time delivering something that they don’t even want,” said Okusa. “I think that was hard for us. ‘Okay, do we just take away this entire program?’ Frankly, customers just want quality. They don’t they care about the quantity.”