Gwyneth Paltrow has been called a quack, a genius, and the Martha Stewart of today’s health conscious generation. The Academy Award-winning actress and entrepreneur was recently promoted from Creative Director to CEO of the company she founded back in 2008.
“Some people are like ‘Why is she talking about yoga?'” Paltrow says of the public’s fixation with her health pursuits, which Goop.com regularly publishes articles about (along with Paltrow-style travel, relationship, shopping, and cooking advice). “I’ve been in this cycle for 20 years where I talk about something and people think I’m insane—like trying out acupuncture or getting divorced in a civilized way. I somehow ‘break the internet.'”
But, Paltrow claims, even though her company’s latest products and suggestions—like keeping a jade egg in one’s vagina—are sometimes met with howls, her ideas often eventually find an appreciative audience. “It’s pattern recognition,” Paltrow continues. “Six months or two years, you start to see that the culture is also curious and more accepting.”
It’s with that mindset that Paltrow has launched her most ambitious product yet. Goop Wellness is a collection of vitamin supplements created in collaboration with Paltrow-approved doctors. The vitamins aim “to address the acute needs of the women [these doctors] see in their practices every day.” Each monthly vitamin pack, outfitted in cheeky branding, costs $90.
The Why Am I So Effing Tired pill contains a high dose of Vitamin B to “help re-balance an overtaxed system” (i.e, combat stress and fatigue) and boost energy. The Mother Load pack is formulated with nutrients to help “new moms get back on their feet.” Balls In The Air is an antioxidant-rich (beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E) regimen that targets thyroid dysfunction, autoimmunity, or digestive issues (“It plays defense so you can play offense,” reads the packaging).
High School Genes, meanwhile, is made for women in a perimenopausal or postmenopausal state whose metabolism might need a boost. That one was concocted was by Sara Gottfried, a Harvard and MIT-educated physician and best-selling author of “Younger, The Hormone Reset Diet” and “The Hormone Cure.”
Paltrow and her product team were inspired to enter the supplements market after a 2014 Goop feature on deciphering the vitamin aisle became one of site’s most-read pieces of the year.
goop Wellness just dropped in the #goopshop ???? Not only is the vitamin aisle confusing AF, there are also well-founded concerns about what’s actually in them. So we're making things simple: we worked with four goop doctors to create four protocols to address the acute needs of the modern woman ???? Tap the link in our bio to shop. #ingoophealth
“One common confusion for people who are interested in wellness or optimizing their health is they think, ‘I should take a vitamin, but I don’t know what to take and why,'” explains Paltrow. “As we started to think about making our own products, we took a cue from our readers, and that’s what we do well. We ask good questions and we ask the right doctors and they help us formulate how we want to think about things.”
Paltrow says the supplements are a natural extension of what Goop.com already does editorially and with its other product ranges. “How do we bring [what Goop writes about] to life? How do we create products that do what we do, which is exactly that: narrow down, curate, provide context, and make quality products that are above the norm?”
Paltrow took it upon herself to personally research and manage the products’ evolution, starting with choosing and approaching experts and facilitating their vision. The vitamin line includes Paltrow’s own personal touches. For example, Why Am I So Effing Tired was created because Paltrow found herself feeling far too sleepy all the time.
“The way I approached this, and really most things we do, is as the consumer,” explains Paltrow, comparing the vitamin-creation process to how the Goop team scouts the best new restaurants for its city guides: seeking out advice from experts, then going out and testing the restaurants themselves. The journey to create these vitamins was “laced with a lot of curiosity and trying to find the right doctors and leverage the relationships and bring that to the audience.”
Dr. Alejandro Junger is an L.A.-based cardiologist whom Paltrow approached to help create her Why Am I So Effing Tired pack. The supplements are designed for people suffering from “adrenal fatigue,” which basically means physical and mental exhaustion. Junger completed his postgraduate training in internal medicine at NYU Hospital and completed a fellowship in cardiovascular diseases at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. But he also studied Eastern medicine in India. It’s that mix, he says, that gives him credibility in both medical worlds. Despite his impressive resume, however, he has come under attack by several publications specifically because of his support for unorthodox practices such as detoxes.
“Western medicine doesn’t really recognize this issue in its entirety,” Junger said of “adrenal fatigue.” “It just recognizes it when it’s already pretty severe. But even before blood tests show any changes, you can have adrenal fatigue. It’s an epidemic right now.” Meanwhile, the Mayo Clinic describes “adrenal fatigue” as a term given to a collection of nonspecific symptoms, like body aches, fatigue, and nervousness, but also notes that “adrenal fatigue” lacks a scientifically validated medical diagnosis that is accepted by the mainstream medicine community.
Indeed, Eastern versus Western medicine is a lightning-rod topic that invites a level of scrutiny to Goop’s new collection. The supplement industry might be worth $37 billion, but for every nutritionist or alternative health consultant that might recommend it, there’s another doctor or peer journal labeling it pure placebo. This is partially because supplements manufacturers and distributors are not required to obtain approval from the FDA before marketing their products.
Academic studies have also raised doubts. A recent one directed by Elizabeth D. Kantor, an epidemiologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, found that some supplement combinations are “essential” to treat vitamin and mineral deficiencies and can improve certain medical conditions like macular degeneration. At the same time, for the majority of adults, “supplements likely provide little, if any, benefit.” It’s that grayness that makes the sector hard to decipher.
“The country is divided politically—it’s also divided in terms of ideas,” says Junger, who regularly encounters skepticism of alternative medicine in his field. “What I’m trying to do is trying to bridge that gap and really educate people that there’s amazing things on both sides of these camps and they can even be combined in a very successful way.”
Junger believes Western medicine is ideal for acute problems like heart attacks or broken bones, while alternative medicine is great for modern-day epidemics like chronic fatigue. “That’s where the other therapies and modalities come in and really help the situation…We need to be open-minded.”
At the same time, Junger is frustrated that Eastern medicine is oftentimes more marred by scrutiny than its Western counterpart. It’s an unfair viewpoint, he feels, but one he thinks is gradually changing.
“I see in the news all the time medications that have been recalled or medications that poison people or had substandard testing,” he says, “it goes through both worlds.” A quick look at the FDA’s website does confirm a high degree of drug recalls, though it’s unclear how that compares to the supplement industry.
Regardless of what you think of the validity of vitamins, Goop is especially touting the quality of the ingredients in these supplements. While the company will not name the manufacturer it is working with, its spokespeople confirm that all the ingredients in its vitamin packs are gluten- and GMO-free and manufactured in a triple GMP-certified facility. That means the factory has received three independent certifications for Good Manufacturing Practices.
“All of our vitamins and supplements were sourced from the highest-quality ingredients, and underwent rigorous testing to ensure their purity and potency,” said a company representative via email. “For example, every batch of our concentrated omega-3 fish oils are tested for more than two hundred pesticides, six heavy metals, and multiple polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs), dioxins, furans, and dioxin-like PCBs. So, no pesticides, no heavy metals, no environmental pollutants, and definitely no rancidity.”
None of this, however, deters Goop’s critics. The supplement announcement raised more than a few concerned eyebrows during its first week on the market. Vox, for example, declared “[Gwyneth’s] out of control.” Meanwhile, other similar supplement startups, such as Ritual and Care/Of, seem to receive glowing reviews from media and tech outlets touting them for “disrupting” the vitamin industry.
So is Goop unfairly under heavier scrutiny than other players in the supplement space? Is Paltrow taking more flack because she’s a celebrity—or a female CEO? Or are people just more distrustful of clever marketing—and anything related to Goop?
Paltrow says she finds it interesting that Goop receives a higher degree of skepticism than a lot of its competitors, considering her company, at the very least, has been the game longer than some similar businesses. The negative attention her brand endures, Paltrow believes, is simply a consequence of her Hollywood celebrity.
“I think it’s a blessing and a curse,” says Paltrow of her fame. “Because of my celebrity, I have a platform from which to speak and get earned media which then makes customer acquisition costs much lower than other companies. There are real upsides to it. At the same time, I’m a celebrity, so they like to be critical.”
“Sometimes there are good lessons to learn from criticism when it’s meaningful, but the problem is most of the time it’s not helpful,” she adds. “It’s not particularly insightful or bright.”
Paltrow doesn’t sound bitter or snarky as she explains these common reactions to her work. If anything, she’s resigned to it.
“Sometimes people react strongly to what they don’t know, which is totally understandable—I don’t take that personally,” she explains. Instead, she prefers to view her high-profile status in terms of its business benefits, specifically when it comes to scaling Goop, which she founded in her kitchen nearly a decade ago.
“I do think in my case, eventually always the pros of [celebrity] outweigh the cons because I can go into any market and talk about what I’m doing, and that’s a powerful lever to be able to pull,” she says. “And interestingly enough, and this is all that really matters: We move product and people read our content and our metrics around those things are really good.”
In fact, Paltrow’s company doubled its overall revenue growth from 2015 to 2016, according to a Goop representative. In the last year, Goop released several product ventures, including the clothing line Goop Label, Goop Fragrance, and Goop’s Clean Beauty book, which hit number 1 in the Health & Fitness category on Amazon. According to a Goop press rep, the company also boasts a 90% campaign renewal rate for luxury clients—such as Gucci and Chanel—who advertise on Goop.com.
Tony Florence is head of internet investing at New Enterprise Associates (NEA), which was part of a $15 million Series B investment round in Goop last August. NEA also supplied Goop with its first large investment in 2015.
“The company’s initial launch and strategy has gone exceptionally well,” says Florence. “They’ve proven a business model and market opportunity and branding opportunity that we think is quite significant.” NEA’s most recent investment is meant to aggressively fund consumer-branded product categories and “contextualized commerce,” which refers to the now-common practice of using content to help consumers discover products and convince them to purchase them. “That’s what Goop is pioneering in many ways,” Florence notes. Indeed, the Goop newsletter was relatively early to this trend when it launched its first product back in 2012—the company used the editorially driven newsletter it had been operating for years, and the subscriber list it had garnered, to drive interest in that first for-sale item: a simple white T-shirt.
As Goop ventures into the vitamin market, Florence notes that transparency is increasingly becoming more important in all product categories, part of a growing consumer desire to buy “what’s good for them.” Consumers care about what they are putting inside their bodies. Meanwhile, women in their 30s and 40s, as well as the millennial generation, Florence says, are “much more open-minded about the things they’re putting their time and money into”; in other words, they’re willing to try out practices that perhaps seemed more far-out a few years ago, like meditation or vegan cooking. Florence also says consumer are increasingly “brand consistent with how they see themselves,” meaning that shoppers want their purchases to align with their personal values and lifestyle aesthetics. Goop, Florence believes, is at the forefront of that conscious e-commerce movement.
Goop is delving into the health and wellness business at a good moment for the industry. The rapidly growing category (which includes health, nutrition, beauty, fitness, and alternative medicine) is now valued at $3.4 trillion, three times the value of the pharmaceutical industry, says Clare Varga, director of trend forecasting firm WGSN. More than two-thirds of American adults takes supplements each year, according to a report funded by the Council for Responsible Nutrition.
“Consumers increasingly place a premium on ‘wellthness‘ as a lifestyle—it’s become aspirational,” explains Varga. “It’s an investment and demonstration of self-value with a healthy body becoming the ultimate must-have fashion accessory.”
Goop’s mix of aesthetic lifestyle content blended with e-commerce offers its team a unique opportunity to pursue an array of product areas, not just skincare potions and nutritional supplements. Paltrow says Goop has plans already in place for more “body, hair, and food” products and even more supplements that enter the body in “innovative ways.” She didn’t elaborate on what those “innovative ways” might be, but I assume anything goes for a woman who steams her uterus and cups her back.
“Our physical product roadmap is very carefully thought out and it’s [about] how to keep building out this wellness vertical—we have a lot of room to really build our physical product,” Paltrow says, stressing the editorial pull of the site. “We’re very unique in that way. We have the ability to produce content that people find meaningful.”
And if the public disapproves or cracks jokes at her ventures, well, Paltrow need only point to the company’s numbers. Goop Wellness sold over $100,000 worth of merchandise just on launch day. You can debate alternative wellness all you want, but there is undoubtedly a strong market for it out there. And besides, even snarky articles and tweets about the latest Goop suggestion have a positive effect for her company: They draw more attention to the content Goop.com publishes.
“I just keep my nose to the grindstone and do what I’m doing and some of these things, people just like to talk shit and that’s fine,” says Paltrow. “What we produce at Goop resonates. So I try to keep my eye on the prize and take the good out of it… When you have an intention that’s really true, I think the consumer and the reader know that.”
As for bridging content to product—I couldn’t help but ask whether her new product can be tied to Goop’s wildly talked-about sex issue, which was published last week and covered topics like anal and casual sex. Can Goop’s supplements, I wonder, give one a better sex life?
“Absolutely,” Paltrow coos playfully, “100 percent.”
If there’s anything Paltrow can do, it’s certainly contextualize her commerce.