Amid a global health crisis, wellness has never become more of a priority. When Sara Cullen launched GEM, it was largely inspired by her personal health journey. Now, following the success of the brand’s flagship product Daily Essentials, her and her growing team are introducing a new lineup of nutrient-dense, whole food vitamins that target some of the most critical aspects of wellness: sleep, immunity, and anxiety.

We caught up with Cullen to learn more about the company’s growth, new product launches, and why she sees 2021 as a year to refocus and set new intentions on health.

ForceBrands: When GEM launched in 2018, it was a first-of-its-kind ‘real food vitamin.’ You’ve since shipped nearly 5 million bites. What do you most attribute to GEM’s success?
Sara Cullen: We attribute our success to our consumers; without them, we wouldn’t be able to keep growing GEM. At GEM we have never thought about building just a product — it’s actually been about building community since day one. We brought our community’s voices to the table when we built the brand, created real space for them to have conversations about their health, and ultimately helped them feel empowered to make decisions about their health. We’re thankful that they choose GEM to help them accomplish that.

FB: GEM was inspired by your own personal health journey. How did you approach research to ensure you are addressing health concerns for all women?
SC: We very much started with our community to learn what they were most interested in addressing when it came to their health. We tested the market by creating an invite-only Facebook group that grew to more than 300 women by word of mouth. We were shocked by the community that came together organically to share inspiration around their health. We learned from our customers who found GEM after endlessly searching for solutions to their chronic ailments and had tried everything under the sun that they were fatigued by swallowing handfuls of pills and following complicated routines, and were skeptical of the synthetic, artificial, and overly processed pills and candy supplements that were currently on the market. GEM provides them with a transparent and whole food solution. We learned that women want holistic and not reductionist solutions to their health, so we built a food bite that works symbiotically to activate full nutrient efficiency and best absorption on a cellular level. We also brought in doctors, nutritionists, herbalists, and more experts to ensure we were delivering these nutrients in the most effective way possible. Our Daily Essentials are made with 13 different plant-based ingredients making it easier for our bodies to absorb nutrients in their natural state versus the marketed pill or capsule. Immunity and Sleep bites are also both comprised of 10 unique whole food ingredients. All of our GEM products have a holistic and interconnected approach — each product is intentionally designed to support your whole body health. That means that our new Immunity, Sleep, and Calm (launching soon) bites function great on their own, but they’re also designed with intentional cross-therapeutic effects so people can build their own synergistic combinations that fit their lifestyle. GEM products can be layered to build upon each foundation, ultimately creating a personalized self-health system and activating full nutrient potential.

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FB: GEM initially launched with ‘daily essentials.’ Now, you’re launching bites that help promote sleep, immunity, and calm. Why did you decide to focus on these key functions?
SC: Wellness is a booming $4 trillion industry. Today, more money is being spent on health supplements than ever before, yet statistically, Americans are not getting healthier. Three decades ago, one in 400 people developed autoimmune diseases. In 2021, one in 12 people has one. Humans are not receiving the nutrients from food that they once were (for a variety of reasons from reductionist nutrition to soil degradation). To adapt, many consumers introduce supplements and vitamins into their daily routine, which itself is a $132 billion global market, but these still fall short in providing the necessary nutrients to keep us healthy and are only offered as pills, gummies, and powder that are not making us any healthier.

Further, stress and anxiety are at all-time highs for Americans, affecting sleep outcomes, which takes a toll on the immune system and day-to-day health at the cellular level. For many, 2021 represents a time to refocus, set new intentions, and put nutrition and health top of mind. So our new products continue in the philosophy of “food as medicine” and address these health concerns that are top of mind for Americans, aka Sleep, Calm, and Immunity.

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FB: At ForceBrands, we like to say we build the teams that build the brands. How have you approached hiring and optimizing your team for long-term growth?
SC: Hiring requires a thoughtful, structured, and proactive process that eliminates unconscious biases.

At GEM, when hiring for a new role, we first create a scorecard instead of a job description. The scorecard describes exactly what we want the person to accomplish in great detail — a set of outcomes or deliverables and competencies that indicate whether they are meeting and exceeding expectations in that role. This scorecard helps clarify the type of candidate we’re seeking to be able to meet and exceed the role’s requirements. From there, our interview process is proactive, organized, and consistent across all candidates. We also invest time in asking for and looking at references.

FB: The vitamin category has boomed amid the pandemic for obvious reasons. What has the past year been like for GEM?
SC: We’ve been really fortunate to build a product that supports your immunity and health — something that people are investing in now more than ever. In 2020, the business grew almost 400 percent year-over-year and we also saw customer retention increase month-to-month over the pandemic.

FB: What excites you most about the journey ahead? Where do you foresee GEM in the next 3-5 years?
SC: I hope to see a lot of continued growth in the next 3-5 years. GEM’s Daily Essentials are targeted toward only women right now but with our new launch of Sleep, Immunity, and soon to be Calm, I hope to see more men subscribe to GEM. With that in mind, the next step for us will be to introduce a men’s version of the Daily Essential bites. Men and women alike both need a very specific dosage of nutrients each day and I hope we can encourage men to also join in on using food as medicine.