It all began when she realised, as a mother of two, that there was a market gap for quality children’s multivitamin in Sri Lanka. The urge to fill this gap made Roshini Galappatti begin her own business of selling multivitamins.
Narrating her fascinating career journey, Roshini stated, “I stepped into the new millennium by joining Grant McCann Erikson where my love for strategic communication really set the pace for my career. From there, over the next fifteen years, I explored the realms of advertising, PR, corporate communication and integrated report writing, working and collaborating with industry trendsetters of the likes of BateyPR of Singapore, Triad Advertising and corporate communications agency Emagewise.
“In 2014, I had a light bulb moment when I realised that there is a market gap for quality kids multivitamins. I was relying on stockpiling during overseas visits and this isn’t sustainable as most often we ran out of stocks. It wasn’t just the vitamins for kids, we couldn’t find premium quality supplements for ourselves either, and that was when inspiration struck. After exploring this market gap and ascertaining an opportunity, later that year, we registered the business as Vitawell.
“When we began operations in 2015, Vitawell was the only dedicated, omni-channel specialist retailer of vitamins and supplements for the entire family. Five years ago, we had no idea of the Sri Lankan market size nor definitive category information. Likewise, five years on, secondary data on the market dynamics are sparse. This is because Sri Lanka’s dietary supplements industry is presently in the nascent stage of the life cycle.
“However, there are a few indicators which we have used as the ballmarks for strategising. One is that Sri Lanka’s healthcare spend over the last decade has shifted from communicable disease to non-communicable disease (NCDs). That means lifestyle triggered diseases are on the rise – obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease. Consumer lifestyles and demographics are changing(ageing population), and thereby dietary trends are shifting dramatically. Consumer disposable incomes have risen in the SEC A,B segments. In line with this, there has been a gradual perceptual shift in consumer mindset towards proactive healthcare and created a space for “wellness”. Individuals now desire to take ownership for their wellness. These trends will propagate growth for the Sri Lankan nutraceutical industry.”
Speaking about local production, Roshini stated that Sri Lanka has a good potential to step into the Functional Food category by adding value to the indigenous agriculture in coconut, tea and cinnamon to create globally demanded nutraceutical ingredients and finished products.
“The scope is immense but unfortunately under-invested. Botanicals are being recognised as the new medicine in global markets. Given the purity stance of our tea, coconut and cinnamon, it is imperative that the local industry invests towards R&D to derive therapeutic outputs. Our age-old Ayurveda is also a wealth of opportunity to tap with easy to use supplements for the global consumer.”
Furthermore, she said that botanicals and nature-derived supplements are now gaining ground. “Science-backed botanical derivatives for immunity like elderberry and echinacea have grown exponentially in 2020 driven by the pandemic. Natural stress solutions are gaining ground with botanicals like lemon balm, passion and adaptogens like maca and ashwagandha becoming preferred options. The gut or the microbiome has been recognised as central to health and pro and prebiotics have witnessed tremendous growth moving well beyond just digestive health to evidence based benefits for heart and brain health, blood sugar management and immune support. Anti-ageing solutions such as anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants are also trending.”
Expressing her views about product quality, Roshini mentioned that maintaining quality and efficacy of ingredients is the most critical requirement and that high quality global brands, which Vitawell sells, use specialist ingredients that are in themselves trademarked, tested and quality assured. She added that it is not only the finished product that goes through quality and efficacy tests, but also the individual key ingredients.
The Managing Director of Vitawell continued to say that perception is the biggest challenge faced by the sector as Sri Lankans are culturally resistant to supplementation due to the belief that a balanced diet delivers all nutritional requirements.
“This was true before the age of soil depletion and modern intensive agricultural methods. In the present day, even in Sri Lanka, the nutrition derived from food is becoming less and less due in large to agro-chemicals, accelerated yields and pesticide toxins. In addition, stress and the accelerated pace of lifestyle has changed our life habits. So the key challenge is to change this perception and benevolently nudge consumers to recognise these facts and inculcate a habit of daily supplementation.”
Therefore, in conclusion, she stated that Vitawell’s mission is to empower people to proactively make lifestyle changes and work towards preventive healthcare.
“According to WHO, NCDs account for 75 percent of total deaths in Sri Lanka (pre-pandemic). When analysed under the lens of demographics, a sharp incline in NCDs is evident from urban localities and higher socio-economic groups. It is in this light that Vitawell views its role. We believe that individuals must take ownership and invest towards their own preventive health consciously.
“The ongoing pandemic is looked upon as the start of the end of substandard nutrition and has highlighted the rightful use of nutraceuticals as a preventive cure. It has brought to prominence the impact of macro and micronutrients in maintaining optimal health. Consumers now recognise and accept the importance of supplementing with Vitamins C, D, E, Zinc and Magnesium to maintain immune health. I believe that is a turning point in dispelling the perceptions against supplementation.”