Keep an eye out and you might see products on store shelves from a women’s reproductive health startup founded in Charleston in 2019.
Natalist, which sells everything from pregnancy and ovulation tests to prenatal supplements, is looking to put a modern spin on the age-old issues of pregnancy and infertility.
The firm began in Charleston in 2019 by offering mostly subscription-based bundles of its products for purchase online. The major big-box store Target gave Natalist a shot in a limited number of stores in 2020, and now the company says its goods are available in Targets in every state, pharmacy giant Rite-Aid and grocers Albertsons, Safeway and Shaw’s.
It was important to get the products stocked in places where women normally go, said Vernita Brown, CEO of Natalist.
“Our company was really founded because of a lack of millennial-friendly products on the market,” Brown said. “When you think about fertility and pregnancy, what you find really are products that are just kind of outdated and not user-friendly.”
Brown was also the company’s first employee.
The sense in marketing fertility and pregnancy products to millennials is clear, given most new mothers right now belong to the generation.
In 2021, the millennial generation is between 23 and 38 years old. According to the March of Dimes, 92 percent of people giving birth are between 20 and 39 years old. The birth rate is also falling, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying in May the rate had fallen by 4 percent in 2020 compared with the year before; the trend has been downward since the mid-2000s.
Brown said as consumers, millennials want “fresh packaging, fresh instructions, and companies that stand for something.” Natalist also says it has committed to a net-zero plastic footprint.
It is also competing on price; its pregnancy tests costs between $3 and $4 apiece, compared with as low as $6.50 for one at CVS.
Brown also noted the customer base has generally waited longer than other generations to have kids, meaning they are much more accustomed to avoiding pregnancy than welcoming it. And once women decide they want to have kids, 10 percent will struggle either to get pregnant or stay pregnant, according to the CDC.
“We know a lot more about our fields of studies than we do our own bodies,” Brown said.
So Natalist is also seeking to de-mystify pregnancy and child-bearing. A section of its website is dedicated to dozens of articles ranging in topics from fertility to COVID-19 and pregnancy, all backed up by scientists. The company also has a medical director on staff and a handful of medical advisors. Brown said the information, which is free, is meant to serve as a “friendly, trusting resource” and encourage trust in the brand.
Natalist remains based in Charleston. It closed on a $5 million investment round soon after its launch in late 2019, and was also the first member of a business accelerator led by publicly traded software firm Benefitfocus that year.
Though it is women-centered, the company also began offering products to men, including a fertility test marketed at $195, for instance.
Brown said plans call for the company to remain based in Charleston, where she said the startup culture has a friendlier pace than in California’s Silicon Valley.
Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-607-4312. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.