U.S. supplement brands should consider cross-continent distribution

The United States still leads the world in dietary supplement usage. But as demand increases in international markets, brands should look abroad, as well.

November 6, 2023

4 Min Read
Ean Brandon

For the past decade, I’ve had the pleasure of representing U.S. supplement manufacturers—from small brands to nine-figure powerhouses—in the international arena. My work has taken me to over 40 countries on six different continents, and each trip has influenced how I think about the nutraceutical space.

Early in my career, I found myself in Hong Kong, indulging in plate after plate of delicious Hainanese chicken and rice. However, my gastronomic adventures were soon accompanied by indigestion, and the jet lag from my long flight made matters even worse. I stepped into a local pharmacy in search of relief, hoping to find an antacid and some melatonin to combat the time-zone adjustment. What I encountered there profoundly influenced my perspective on the dietary supplements industry.

As I browsed the pharmacy's shelves, I couldn't help but notice the abundance of supplements from around the world. There were products from mainland China, Australia, Europe—even coral calcium from Japan. But surprisingly, the section designated for supplements from the United States was small and picked over.

I struck up a conversation with the cashier and asked about the noticeable absence of American supplements. Her response was succinct but revealing: "We don't get enough in, and they sell fast." It was a candid acknowledgment that supplements from the United States were not only highly regarded but also in high demand.

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Why U.S. supplements brands should look overseas

That experience in Hong Kong served as a powerful testament to the international reputation of U.S.-made supplements. However, while the Asia Pacific international supplements market is expected to continue growing at a CAGR of 6.1% between now and 2030, according to Grand View Research, this growth is largely driven by domestic players in the region. And there remains significant room for growth in most Asian countries before consumer usage numbers match the record-high 80% of Americans who used supplements in 2021, Statista reports.

It’s clear that American supplements are synonymous with quality in the eyes of consumers worldwide. This perception translates into a willingness to pay a premium for American supplements, creating a lucrative overseas market opportunity for U.S. supplement manufacturers and brands.

Fast forward to today, and the landscape of the dietary supplements industry has evolved even further. Supplements sold outside the United States now represent a significant portion of the market, accounting for around 73% of total international supplement sales, according to PwC, one of the four biggest accounting firms in the U.S. This staggering figure underscores the tremendous growth potential that exists beyond U.S. borders. It also highlights the importance of seizing the opportunity to distribute American-made supplements internationally.

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Luckily, the expansion of e-commerce has made international distribution more accessible than ever before. With the click of a button, consumers from around the world can access a wide array of products, including dietary supplements. This ease of access has democratized the global marketplace, allowing smaller supplement manufacturers and emerging brands to compete on a global scale.

So, why should you consider looking for international distribution opportunities for your supplement brand? Here are some compelling reasons:

  • Increased market potential—The international market represents a vast and largely untapped customer base. By expanding your distribution internationally, you can tap into this potential and significantly boost your sales and revenue.

  • Diversification—Relying solely on domestic distribution can leave your brand vulnerable to fluctuations in the local market. Diversifying your distribution channels to include international markets can provide a buffer against economic downturns or shifts in consumer preferences.

  • Brand legitimacy—The perception of American-made supplements as high-quality and trustworthy can lend credibility to your brand on the global stage. This can be a significant asset when entering new markets where consumers may be unfamiliar with your products.

My Hainanese chicken and rice-induced pharmacy visit in Hong Kong serves as a valuable reminder of the global appeal of American supplements. The world is hungry for high-quality dietary supplements, and if you have a quality supplement brand, you should seriously consider exploring international distribution opportunities. Whether you're a well-established player in the U.S. market or an emerging brand, expanding your reach beyond American borders can be a strategic move that not only bolsters your bottom line but also elevates the prestige of your brand on a global scale.

The bottom line

Even if you already have a strong presence in the United States, don't underestimate the potential of international clientele. Diversifying your customer base internationally can be a game-changer, offering new growth opportunities and enhancing the long-term sustainability of your brand. So, as you contemplate the future of your supplement business, remember that crossing continents may well be the key to unlocking untapped potential and securing a prosperous future for your brand.

Ean A. Brandon has been an international marketer, salesperson, and consultant in the dietary supplements space for over 12 years. He currently serves as director of international business development for Somafina.

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