While the wellness category continues to boom, Black consumers’ needs are not being met.
According to a report from McKinsey & Co, between 47 and 55 percent of Black consumers, who make up about 14 percent of the U.S. population, said they need more wellness services and products to meet their needs. The firm reports that serving Black consumers is a $300 billion opportunity, with food and health care being two of the top five categories in which consumers are underserved. However, spend is expected to grow — Black consumer consumption is estimated to reach $1.7 trillion by 2030.
For Black consumers, shopping the wellness category has many pain points, including lack of representation in terms of brand imagery, founders and executives. Furthermore, Black-owned and -led brands face ongoing barriers to enter the category — many founders are over-mentored and under-funded, making scalability difficult.
According to Tiffany Burns, an Atlanta-based senior partner at McKinsey, beauty consumer surveys show that the Black shopper’s journey is hindered from the moment of discovery.
“The first thing was that Black consumers didn’t feel like the messages in the marketing were reflecting who they were,” she said.
From there, the experience only becomes more difficult — the survey showed stores were often far away, products were often out of stock and associates struggled to answer consumers’ questions. McKinsey cites minimizing beauty desserts as a key step in increasing access. Burns said it’s the same when it comes to wellness.
“There’s just a lack of access to lots of different products and categories and wellness is no different unfortunately,” she said. Lack of representation, both in terms of diverse brand imagery and broad accessibility to Black-owned brands, continues to be an issue.
Research shows that when a person sees themselves reflected in a brand, they are more likely to spend. For example, Nielsen cites that 59 percent of Black consumers are more likely to purchase from a brand that includes someone from their identity group in advertisements.
Trinity Mouzon Wofford, CEO and cofounder of Golde, began building the superfood-focused health and beauty brand after feeling she wasn’t represented and her wellness needs were not being met, similar to many Black consumers today.
“I was looking at the wellness category and feeling personally caught between this crunchy granola sort of offering that you would find in the local health food store and what was trending at that moment, which was this new wave of ultra-luxe offerings,” Mouzon Wofford said. “As a young woman of color, I didn’t see myself represented in either of those spaces. It felt like there was squarely something missing at that time that took this concept of wellness and self care and made it approachable for everyone.”
In order to ensure the brand was approachable, Mouzon Wofford focused on creating affordable, efficacious products and establishing representation across all of Golde’s marketing and messaging.
“This is where the wellness industry very much mirrors the broader beauty market in that representation is critical. Still, today, there is a lack of Black-founded businesses in the wellness space,” Mouzon Wofford said.
This traditional lack of Black representation within the wellness space led Devin McGhee and Brit Kirkland to start Deon Libra, a wellness topical and ingestible brand that launched this fall with two adaptogen-based stress products (though the brand plans to expand into other wellness categories).
McGhee dove into the wellness space after losing her father to a stress-induced heart attack. While she found relief through adaptogens, she struggled to find a brand that she saw herself in, even though research across the board shows that Black communities have higher rates of chronic stress.
“We don’t even see ourselves from the time we enter the door in some of these establishments, or when we’re shopping some of these brands online, so how would I know this is for me if I never see myself,” McGhee said.
Instead of waiting for a brand to be representative of a diverse group of consumers, McGhee and Kirkland decided to create it themselves.
“Playing with the different adaptogenic mixes in my home or mixing single ingredient adaptogens myself, I realized how beneficial this could be for Black people,” McGhee said. “While we’re creating products that work for everybody, I always say, ‘I create products for Black people first,’ because we’re always the afterthought.”
Being on the market, Mouzon Wofford, McGhee and Kirkland have recently made a key discovery: consumers want to hear more from the founders.
For Mouzon Wofford, this has translated into emails directly from her and Golde’s other cofounder Issey Kobori (rather than generic brand messages), website updates to emphasize the founding story and consumer communication through social media.
For the Deon Libra team, a podcast titled “Stressed and Highly Favored” is on the horizon to educate consumers and connect with them on a more personal level.
“It’s important for us to show ourselves more,” Kirkland said. “People have come to us and said show yourself more. People really want to see you, want to hear you….I think it’s because we are so transparent with our health/wellness journeys.”
Plant-derived vaginal care line The Honey Pot Company founder Beatrice Dixon attributes much of their success to this sort of authenticity and connection. The brand hosts events and provides education throughout the year. For example, this month the brand has hosted its Reclaiming Wellness series in collaboration with Target at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the country to celebrate community, culture and wellness.
“Bringing experts together to have really beautiful conversations and then allowing the humans who are watching us and experiencing the conversations to be able to lean in and weigh in with their thoughts or questions or feelings or emotions or whatever, that kind of transfer of energy is how you build a very beautiful, authentic” relationship, Dixon said.
From founders to the board room to brand imagery, this diversity is not only sought out by consumers but essential to building the category itself.
“You can always have businesses trying to figure out how to tap into the Black market in their boardrooms, but the most important thing you can do is invite Black folks into those conversations so making sure that there are Black marketing leaders, Black entrepreneurs, really spearheading this idea of what wellness needs to look like for that community,” Mouzon Wofford said.
While representation and positive shopping experiences are key for reaching consumers, funding commitments from investors and retailers for Black-owned brands is the first step in actually bringing these brands to market.
“It’s widely acknowledged that Black founders tend to be over-mentored and underfunded,” Mouzon Wofford said. This sentiment was seconded by the Deon Libra team.
According to data from TechCrunch, Black founders received 1 percent of overall venture capital funding in the U.S. in 2022. While funding for Black-owned brands increased in 2021, investment in 2022 greatly decreased; it dropped from $4.3 billion in 2021 to $2.3 billion in 2022 across all categories.
“I don’t know where this notion that Black companies only need advice and mentorship came from, because we need the funding just as desperately if not even more than our non-Black counterparts,” McGhee said. “The amount of grant programs and incubators that have popped up since 2020, since George Floyd was killed, is great. While we do need the access and the knowledge to properly run a business…they can’t do anything for me if I don’t have the money to build the company.”
Venture capital firms including Debut Capital have taken on a mission-driven approach to ensure historically under-funded founders are able to scale their brands.
“Our overall mission and thesis is to invest in Black-, Latinx- and Indigenous-led start-ups… They’re creating products and services that are prioritizing either making life easier or more inclusive for underserved markets,” said Pilar Johnson, cofounder and managing partner at Debut Capital.
For Johnson, mission-driven firms and BIPOC investors will continue to be the key drivers in supporting diverse brands.
“I am a Black, Mexican woman and so I’m also an underrepresented consumer. When I’m meeting with underrepresented founders, specifically on wellness and beauty, I get it because I’m a consumer. I know it’s hard to find product that is prioritizing me as a consumer,” she said.
BIPOC-founded brands have also created initiatives in order to support other founders. For example, Brown Girl Jane, a functional fragrance brand founded by Tai Beauchamp and Malaika and Nia Jones, has partnered with Shea Moisture for their #BrownGirlSwap, which has funded more than 38 businesses with more than $500,000 over the past three years.
“As Black women are disproportionately outpacing our counterparts in starting businesses and yet receive less than .006 percent of the funding, we wanted to be a part of that solution,” Beauchamp said.
“You can’t be true around a wellness mission without involving community, particularly in communities of color,” said Malaika Jones.
Retailers also play a key role in supporting brands. Similar to Debut Capital, retailer Thirteen Lune, cofounded by Nyakio Grieco and Patrick Herning, has taken a mission-driven approach, as 90 percent of its brands are BIPOC-founded, including an array of wellness companies like Movita Organics.
“We are offering the opportunity to discover brands that maybe others haven’t heard of who create beauty and wellness for all,” Grieco said. “There are more brands, especially BIPOC founders, focusing and tapping into their roots. To see the cultural representation in the hands of founders who stem from those cultures, that brings a level of authenticity and truth and helps the consumer to better believe that they will deliver on their promises.”
- Black consumers need to see themselves in the brand story, products and marketing.
- For Black founders and Black-led companies, access to funding is essential.
- Consumers want to hear from brand founders through marketing, social media and other storytelling tactics.