The drug pathway may look different in the coming months. A slew of new brands have taken over the OTC industry, looking at how to make medicines with “cleaner” ingredients: free of dyes, parabens, talc, and artificial dyes, viz.
The latest brand to enter the regulated world of over-the-counter drugs is: welly. Started by the founder of Method cleaning products and Olly supplements, Eric Ryan, Welly is already dabbling in space selling colorful, forward-thinking bandages and first aid kits. But this month, they’ve launched a range of 14 everyday cold/flu, pain relief, digestive and allergy medications to add to that collection.
Eric Ryan, an accomplished entrepreneur, acknowledges that this startup may have a few more hurdles than its previous pursuits: the OTC industry is heavily regulated (and for understandable reason), manufacturers are less keen on working with startups, and innovation is thus, a little slower, he says. And given his track record of trying to make Method one of the more eco-friendly laundry detergents on the market, Welly’s packaging is plastic – largely due to regulations banning them from using recycled materials, which isn’t ideal.
“It’s certainly not an easy space to innovate in. But as I walk down the drug aisle, I see the need for change,” he says from his office in Northern California. “Everything I start, I actually have the idea for a decade that lingers in me, and this one was no different.”
But three years ago, just before the pandemic, Ryan and his co-founder, Doug Stukenborg, put the idea into practice.
Welly, he hopes, will revive the usual drug aisle layout. Grouped together, the brand’s offerings deviate from the typical set-up: by health problem, not by brand. Ryan hopes that by having all the products together, consumers can get exactly what they need without having to search through countless labels. Moreover, Welly’s range is a more composed collection: the essence, you could say. This is also to facilitate the selection process for the consumer.
“Personally, I found the drug aisle difficult to shop for. There is way too much choice. Each product is broken up into a million options, and you already don’t feel good shopping here. So with this expansion to Welly Remedies, we want to being a one-stop for great care by offering complete care solutions that are fun and easy to shop for.”
Since Ryan launched Olly, a supplement company, there’s also a bit of wellness mixed in with OTC. Some products are aimed at boosting immunity or relieving stress; but the bulk of its offerings are time-tested drugs, which have been further reviewed by a board of health professionals consulted with the company.
The general message from Welly and similar brands is that everyday medicines can be made with fewer added ingredients, and thus are safer for long-term consumption. So why aren’t legacy brands adopting this approach?
Ryan says it’s a matter of cost: “Unfortunately, it’s cheaper to do it the way we’ve done it so far.”
That puts Welly and similar “clean” drug brands in a more expensive category. “However, I want people to know that we are not doing this for profit,” he clarifies about their premium pricing.
Since Welly is targeting millennials who have shown a greater interest in reducing unnecessary chemicals from their lifestyle and wellness, Ryan is confident the marginal price difference won’t deter customers.
And what about the extra competition from comparable companies? “Usually it takes a few companies the effort to switch categories. So I’m not too concerned about that. We saw that happen at Method as well. Activity in the category is actually a sign that it is time for a change.”
As for sustainability, Ryan is trying to see what alternatives might work: glass was too heavy, he notes. And with aluminum, there were some safety and manufacturing challenges, he says. Using post-consumer recycled plastics requires a certain level of recycling infrastructure, as well as regulations that must be met. But he doesn’t give up: “Because we prove that this is a viable company, making packaging more sustainable is certainly one of our top priorities as a certified B company.”