Beacon Award Winner Vella Bioscience To Sell Sexual Wellness Products In Boots Stores This Spring

After launching on British pharmacy chain Boots’ website in November, sexual wellness brand Vella Bioscience will venture to 200 of its locations by April.

The retail expansion marks Vella’s first major push abroad and into the mass market. In the United States, the brand has stuck to prestige retail partners so far. It’s carried by Neiman Marcus, Blumercury, Bergdorf Goodman, Nordstrom, Cos Bar and Saks Fifth Avenue, among many retailers.

“We wanted to find other large format channels that would be really supportive of the brand,” says Nial DeMena, CEO of Vella. “We looked around and saw that there was a white space in the U.K. and the opportunity to go in really got us excited. Really, the only way to carry a U.K. launch in our view for any kind of revenue stream would be through Boots.”

He continues, “If we want to normalize sexual wellness, we do need some kind of volume channel outside of those kind of super high-end prestige retails partners that we have, and it felt like a good opportunity to see what a larger volume channel could do for us. We must go where the market and customer is and, importantly, where the retail culture is ready for such products. Boots is ready and has been incredibly supportive and enthusiastic throughout the process.”

In 2019, Boots introduced a dedicated sexual wellness section on its site. Along with Vella, brands currently featured in the section include Elvie, Skyn, Woowoo, The U, LELO, Hanx, My Viv and MegsMenopause. In general, entering a retailer through its online business is customary for sexual wellness brands as retailers are still figuring out their roles in the segment and how their customers react to sexual wellness items. On its site, Boots has Vella’s signature product, Women’s Pleasure Serum, for 59 pounds. In the U.S., it’s priced at $65.

To support its in-store rollout, Vella will be offering Boots’ customers a three-sachet starter pack at checkout lines in 50 of the chain’s top doors. Overall, Boots has 2,100-plus stores in the U.K. DeMena says, “The more touchpoints in place where the product is physically visible, it reinforces that it’s here to stay, that beauty is a subset of wellness and that sexual wellness is the final frontier for beauty products.”

Nial DeMena, CEO of Vella Bioscience

Vella’s Boots partnership was a year in the making. The brand tapped distributor Kenneth Green Associates to help it navigate regulatory requirements in the U.K. To prepare for selling in the country, it set up an Irish manufacturer and subsidiary to produce products, take payments and pay vendors.

With its British infrastructure shored up, Vella is in talks with additional U.K. retailers like Beauty Bay, Space NK, The Hut Group and Sephora UK. There’s potential to extend to the European Union down the line as well. The brand aims to generate $500,000 to $1 million in revenues from the U.K. market this year. Industry sources told the publication Women’s Wear Daily last year that the brand could reach $25 million in total 2022 revenues.

Vella is expanding its retail footprint at home, too. Neiman Marcus, which previously stocked the brand only online, is planting it in its Atlanta flagship. Beyond traditional retailers, Vella is interesting in growing distribution at luxury hotels, spas and premium adult stores. DeMena says, “Basically, we’re trying to find where she [Vella’s customer] shops in a way that would still keep the prestige of the brand intact, and there are a lot of routes to take.”

Vella’s Intimate Elixir is one of two lube products in its offering.

This year, Vella is releasing Per-aid, a patch designed to relieve period pain, and another product. The brand’s goal is to specialize in products for women that address previously unmet needs. DeMena says, “We want to stand on that and try to innovate new ways for women to have better sexual experiences and ways that we can influence pleasure positively and have an impact on the payoff and the benefit in a way that’s really innovative, and that is, for business purposes, patentable and protectable.”

Perhaps the best example is Vella’s inaugural and Beacon Award-winning Women’s Pleasure Serum formulated to promote frequent and satisfying orgasms. “I would’ve never have thought that we could have invented a product that would relax vaginal and clitoral smooth muscle tissue, and yet here we are,” says DeMena. “We just have to do a lot of experimentation, filter out what works from what doesn’t, and then really actively pursue those leads until we feel like we have a good commercial candidate for product.”