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Coronavirus causes 'huge spike' in immunity supplement sales

The COVID-19 pandemic has suppliers, manufacturers and retailers all reporting record growth in the category.

On Amazon last week, 17 of the top 20 vitamin category products in sales were immune related.

In the overall category of vitamins and dietary supplements on Amazon, 1 in 5 of the top products were elderberry—including the current No. 1-ranked product in all of health and household, above even toilet paper and face masks if you can believe it. Another 1 in 5 are vitamin C supplements.

Immunity supplements sales growth is projected to spike above 25% in 2020, up from 8.5% growth to $3.3 billion overall, according to Nutrition Business Journal. The growth potential for 2020 could be the highest in a decade—and, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be easy to guess that sales growth in immunity supplements will be the highest on record.

“This very week,” said NBJ senior industry analyst Claire Morton Reynolds, “more than half of all consumers have increased their use of supplements. Even more so, they are planning on increasing their use three months from now. And of the consumers who never take supplements, 20% plan on increasing their use three months from now. That’s interesting.”

Investment banker William Hood, founder and managing director of William Hood & Co., said everyone along the value chain, from suppliers and manufacturers to retailers, are experiencing record demand.

“It has started with immunity products,” said Hood, “but it has spread somewhat like a virus to other products like a halo effect. Companies are reporting record first quarters.”

He predicts a higher category base as consumers become more compliant with supplements intake, and as new users become converted.

“Supplements are more and more recognized as supporting good health,” he said.

Strories from retailers

The supplements industry overall is on track to surpass $50 billion in annual sales in 2020—and that estimate was before COVID-19 hit. U.S. supplements sales grew at 5.7% to $48.7 billion in 2019, according to NBJ. And supplements companies—and retailers—are reporting outsized sales in consumer response to the pandemic. 

“That first weekend, in mid-March, when hoarding went on, Thursday was hard, Friday school was off, and that weekend we took our best sales ever and doubled it,” said Cheryl Hughes, owner of The Whole Wheatery, in Lancaster, California, and board chairwoman of Independent Natural Food Retailers Association (INFRA). “Immunity supplements are through the roof. They’re still through the roof. Vitamin C is hardest to keep in stock. Elderberry keeps coming, oregano oil we’re never completely without, zinc and vitamin A are selling.”

Adam Stark, Chief Miscellaneous Officer at Debra’s Natural Gourmet in Concord, Massachussetts, said his store also experienced a “huge spike” in immune-supplement sales, and then it died back down to normal wintertime levels.

“Most customers already stocked up on what they want,” he said. “Peoples’ cabinets are saturated. We’re still going strong on immune supplements. They’re hot, but it’s not a crazy surge anymore.”

The interesting story is what will happen after the stock-up.

“There’s very much a heightened awareness of self-care for immunity,” said Peters. “We think this one will be a positive prolonged impact as it relates to supplements. There is an underlying strength that is more than impulse buying. This is an unprecedented time.”

She said there is an excellent chance of a “significant bifurcation” in the market, with different behaviors becoming apparent among consumers between the haves and the have-nots.

And that could spell opportunity for retailers who might look to go private label on supplements so consumers can save money. That’s a win-win right there for retailers and consumers.

Brands shift to highlight immunity

Brands are making hay out of the immune consciousness.

Barlean’s is sending out educational emails about boosting immune systems, offering a free download of its 40-page booklet on olive leaf complex.

Barlean’s also has a consumer giveaway of its “Less Stressed Care Kit” including greens powders, olive leaf complex, CBD, hand sanitizer and—the world’s greatest stress-relieving product—a four-pack of toilet paper.

Gaia Herbs is reporting immune product sales on average more than 150% higher than the same time period last year. This is a significantly higher rate of growth compared to some of its other categories—stress support, for example, is growing 25% year over year.

“We would have had even higher sales in March,” said Gaia Herbs’ brand director, Stacey Gillespie, “had we not experienced out-of-stock issues on some of our top-selling immune formulations including Astragalus Supreme, Quick Defense, Black Elderberry Syrup and Oil of Oregano.”

NOW Foods reported overall supplement sales roughly triple what was normal, while some immune products—vitamin C, zinc, elderberry and lysine—were selling at astonishing rates of 10 to 50 times normal volumes.

Youtheory CEO Darren Rude told NewHope.com that its supplement sales are up 76%, led by standby collagen “for healthy skin” and turmeric “for system health, overall health.”

Peters said SPINS recorded an initial sales spike around the week of Feb. 23, during which time consumers were proactive stocking up on products essential to well-being, including vitamins and supplements, disinfectants and cleaning products. Then came the week of March 15.

“The week of March 15 was a spike,” said Peters. “We really did see that everything rose. Yes, most related to immunity. Elderberry and vitamin C and probiotics. Stores were definitely going out of stock. The March 22 week was lower, likely related to being out of stock. How high could high have been?”

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