Peak And Valley Sets High Expectations For Transparency In The Wellness Industry
When scientific researcher Nadine Joseph began to battle anxiety, lethargy and eczema that covered her face, hands and legs three years ago, she did what came naturally: she researched solutions to her problems.
“I was experiencing classic symptoms of adrenal fatigue. My adrenal glands were producing all of this cortisol to keep up with my hectic lifestyle, and they became fatigued after a while because they couldn’t keep up,” says Joseph, who was working three jobs—she was a research fellow at UCSF, a research assistant at UC Berkeley and an aide to a woman with cerebral palsy—at the time. “I was prescribed a traditional SSRI, an antidepressant, anti-anxiety medication, but I wasn’t really a fan of going down that route because of the side effects, and I was studying the neuroscience of stress and knew it was stress-related.”
Joseph’s research led her to adaptogens, a class of herbs and mushrooms that help regulate stress levels. She sampled reishi mushroom and ashwagandha from different suppliers to determine variants that were effective for her. She learned a ton about mushrooms, specifically that the beta-D-glucans or polysaccharides in them providing immune benefits are concentrated in the fruiting body rather than the mycelium or thread-like network beneath mushrooms, and it matters the materials mushrooms are grown on and the form they are consumed in. Wood is superior to grain. Extracts are superior to powders.
“Every single mushroom that you are getting has different amounts of beta-D-glucans. Reishi mushrooms have a higher amount of beta-D-glucan than others. The thing you really want to know is that you are maximizing the amount of beta-D-glucan you are getting in that mushroom,” emphasizes Joseph. “If you’re consuming a mushroom that was grown on grain that’s powdered and not extracted, you are going to get next to no beta-D-glucans from that mushroom. You are basically going to be consuming a grain product at that point. These differences are really important for people to know.”
“What we see in the herbal supplement industry is that there is a complete lack of transparency.”
Joseph’s extensive research and personal experimentation motivated three blends that resolved her issues and became the foundations for the launch of her brand, Peak and Valley, last year: Balance My Stress, Nourish My Brain and Nurture My Skin. For each $38 blend, beta-D-glucans information is disclosed. For example, Peak and Valley’s website shares that the cordyceps extract in Nurture My Skin contains over 25% beta-D-glucans. The reishi extract in Balance My Stress has over 35% beta-D-glucans. The brand’s blends are packaged in glass.
“What we see in the herbal supplement industry is that there is a complete lack of transparency. It’s almost laughable. And there’s a lack of sustainability in the packaging, which is incredibly behind other segments,” says Joseph. “I think we are going to be seeing both of these things being reflected upon in the herbal supplement industry. People are going to be more concerned about where their ingredients are coming from and how they’re being packaged.”
Before the rest of the herbal supplement industry catches up, Peak and Valley is garnering recognition from major retailers for its attention to ingredients. The brand has entered Nordstrom as part of the department store’s New Beauty pop-in running through Nov. 1 in nine locations and is scheduled to break into Anthropologie’s online selection next month.
“People are going to be more concerned about where their ingredients are coming from and how they’re being packaged.”
Joseph says Nordstrom contacting Peak and Valley “was such a humbling experience, and it made me really happy that they are reaching out to brands that practice mindful sourcing. I thought it was fantastic that they were going in that direction and felt they were a great partner. I think the pop-in experience is going to be important in terms of building an initial partnership with Nordstrom and exposing our brand to people who haven’t seen it before who maybe aren’t really looking for a brand like ours.”
With financial assistance from family, Joseph created Peak and Valley with $10,000. She decided to quit her outside jobs in 2018 and focus on the brand. With a meager budget, Joseph crafted SEO-optimized content digging deep into adaptogens, partnered with microinfluencers jazzed about mushrooms, and hit the ground first in her local Seattle area pursuing small retailers to spark Peak and Valley’s momentum. The brand is currently carried by about 50 physical stores and 10 e-tailers. It remains primarily a direct-to-consumer business. Credo, Sephora and Whole Foods are among the retailers on Joseph’s distribution dream list. Within five years, her plan is to expand Peak and Valley beyond the United States.
As consumer interest in wellness remedies spiked at the outset of the pandemic, Peak and Valley’s sales tripled, according to Joseph. On a monthly basis during the last two months, as the spotlight turned to Black-owned brands in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests demanding justice for the killing of George Floyd and police reform, its sales increased 30%. Simultaneous with sales mounting, Peak and Valley faced pandemic-instigated supply chain interruptions. Amid uncertainty in the macro environment, Joseph hasn’t set a target for 2020 sales.
Going forward, one of her main goals is to shorten Peak and Valley’s supply chain. Joseph explains there can be traders and auction houses in between herb and mushroom farmers, and brands. As often as possible, Peak and Valley will attempt to forge direct relationships with farmers or suppliers that have direct relationships with farmers. “It’s supporting the farmer. You are able to compensate them more than they usually would be compensated because you are cutting out all these middlemen,” says Joseph. “The reason why it’s important is because you get to show respect and support for their culture in way that’s not normally done.”