Natural Foods Merchandiser

Gloomy economy has yet to dim supplement sales

The cratered economy is dishing out bad economic news for almost every product category. Car sales, restaurant visits, jewelry and clothing purchases—they all were down in 2008 and are expected to fall further in 2009, as this big, bad recession gets worse before it gets better. As a bit of bright light in an otherwise gloomy consumer environment, however, dietary supplements appear to be bucking the negative sales trend in the United States, according to the most recent sales data from Nielsen Co. For the 52 weeks ending Dec. 27, 2008, vitamin and other supplement sales were up 5.9 percent to $3.8 billion in food, drug and mass merchandiser stores, Nielsen reports.

U.S. consumer sales of dietary supplements across all sales channels grew almost 6 percent to $23.7 billion in 2007, according to Nutrition Business Journal research. Much of this growth was fueled by the sale of new specialty products, such as omega-3 supplements targeted to specific health conditions and juice supplements featuring the latest super-fruit stars. NBJ will present our final 2008 sales and growth estimates for the U.S. supplement industry in our U.S. Nutrition Industry Overview issue, which will publish in July, and at the 2009 NBJ Summit. But our early estimate is that U.S. consumer supplement sales grew about 7 percent to $25 billion in 2008.

So what’s in store for 2009? Anecdotally, NBJ has been hearing that retailers are being much more cautious with supplement inventory levels, placing smaller orders from manufacturers and waiting longer to restock their shelves. Manufacturers, in turn, are setting the bar higher for new product development to ensure that the new offerings they do roll out can survive in a tough consumer environment. Still, the Nielsen and other reports showing that consumers continue to equate dietary supplements with health and wellness—despite the economy and the recent barrage of negative research stories questioning the efficacy of supplements—have us at NBJ feeling cautiously optimistic about how the category will fare in 2009 and what its resiliency will mean for the overall health of Americans.

Given the current economic environment, NBJ’s research and editorial team is looking forward to strolling the supplement aisles at this year’s Natural Products Expo West. You can be sure we will be speaking to as many finished-product manufacturers, ingredient supply companies and retailers as possible, asking them what effects they are feeling from the downturn and what they are doing to ensure their organizations come out on the other side of 2009 stronger and better positioned than ever before.

NBJ will moderate several education panels at Expo West, including NBJ’s State of the Industry: Hot New Products and Industry Trends, March 5 at 10:30 a.m. We look forward to seeing you at one of our panels, on the show floor or during one of the many social and networking events planned for this year’s Expo West.

—Carlotta Mast, Nutrition Business Journal

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