Monitor: Supplement sales look best in worst-case pandemic scenario

COVID-19 inspired consumers to take stock of their health, and the popularity of supplements has boomed as a result. But while many predicted a new normal, others feared a bad economy and an unchecked virus could impact sales. Proprietary New Hope Network consumer research, however, reveals a different picture.

Rick Polito, Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Business Journal

August 20, 2020

6 Min Read

Natural Products Industry Health Monitor, Aug. 7, 2020


A global lockdown might make weeks feel like months and months weigh like centuries, but business allows little room for ennui. As distracting as the daily inundation of the negative can be, the time to look forward is always now. In this feature, Informa Health and Nutrition sister properties provide that right-now-right-here update. Look for the Industry Health Monitor every other Friday to learn the major news that is affecting the natural products market immediately and the less obvious insights that could dictate where the market may struggle or thrive in the months to come.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When life gives you a pandemic, remind everybody that lemonade is rich in vitamin C, a widely accepted immunity ingredient!

Making the best of the worst case has driven the dietary supplement industry into a year historic both in terms of sales growth and consumer acceptance. With the coronavirus shoving the world into lockdown and pharmaceuticals offering few options or answers, supplements have become a go-to solution for consumers seeking immunity, general wellness to support that immunity and  relief from the anxiety and sleepless nights that go hand in jittery hand with all the pandemic stress.

But it’s difficult to tamp down the pessimism when every headline reveals a pandemic far from controlled in the United States and shoving the economy ever closer to the brink ruin. Gravity, as we learned when we skidded off our tricycles as toddlers, is real and how much room will remain in household budgets for supplements presents a vexing question.

But it’s a question New Hope Network has attempted to answer.

Consider this: Bad news is good news for supplements

The idea of a post-pandemic “new normal,” in which consumers more conscious of their health spend more on supplements emerged as a dream in the early days of the pandemic when exploding sales fueled industry exuberance. Back then, it was easier to look past the pandemic, as though it were an inconvenience that would merely last into the summer.
That was tens of thousands of deaths and no small number of bungled reopenings ago.

With that as a backdrop, New Hope Network’s NEXT Data and Insights team approached consumers to find out what could happen if the worst-case scenario shows up as a full-on catastrophe.

That bad news, it turns out, could be good news for supplements.

Asked to consider opposing scenarios—one in which the virus is controlled and the economy recovers and another that features a virus running unchecked and an economy lurching into disaster—the percentage of respondents saying they would buy more was higher for the worst-case scenario than for the best-case scenario.

In both scenarios, notably, the percentage of respondents indicating they would spend less on supplements was insignificant.

What this indicates is that all the concern about optimal nutrition is not just a temporary feature. We might have seen some panic-induced pantry-hoarding in the early days of lockdown, but the realization that remaining healthy requires being healthy in the first place has set in.

We could call it a “new normal,” or maybe just understand it as what should have been normal all along.

Natural Products Industry Health Monitor indexes

Consumer behavior indexes measure consumer behaviors through weekly surveys that are compared to a 2017 benchmark before COVID-19 emerged to see how the novel coronavirus is changing consumers. Behaviors seeking environmentally and responsibly made products, high-quality ingredients, nutrient density, transparency, and natural products have recovered since the onset of social distancing back in mid-March and 7 to 12 points higher than their pre-COVID benchmarks. Seems consumers are taking more time to scrutinize products, changing their behaviors to seek nutritionally superior and eco-socially responsible products. 

Natural products industry engagement index tracks social and mass media engagement of the top 50 trends defining and shaping the natural products industry. The index tracks weekly keyword engagement of these top trends that are compared to a Q4 2019 weekly average benchmark before COVID-19 emerged. With almost 5 months of tracking since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States, engagement in these trends remain a few points above 2019 benchmark scores. 

Nutrition Capital Network tracks financial activity in the natural products industry. Investment activity continues with dips and spikes but ultimately investors are not abandoning the natural products industry.  


Know this: Consumers are expanding their supplement regimens

A “right now” report. Looking ahead six months, as consumers were asked to do in the research addressed above, is revealing of the future. But the news right now is the foundation on which that “new normal” might be built. The Council for Responsible Nutrition conducted an in-depth study of supplement usage in the wake of the pandemic and discovered that 43% of supplement users had changed their supplement regimen and 91% of them had increased their supplement usage. Nearly half, 46%, had added new supplements to their regimen.

Toxic Trumper. My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell tugged the president’s ear to promote oleandrin, an extract of the Oleander plant as a COVID treatment but the supplement industry quickly came out with cautions. The United Natural Products Alliance, the American Herbal Products Association and the American Botanical Council have all issued warnings that the derivatives of the oleander plant are highly toxic.


Hear this: Vitamin D and multivitamins market smartly amid unchecked COVID-19 claims

Careful language. Irresponsible supplement companies are getting dinged by regulators over language claiming to cure, mitigate or prevent COVID, but smart voices are treading more carefully. In an article on the benefits of vitamin D that can be associated with COVID, North American Institue of Medical Herbalism Director Paul Bernger was careful but clear: “Vitamin D is not a specific treatment for COVID-19, it is a treatment for vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency is highly correlated to the frequency of respiratory infections in general. Vitamin D deficiency is also highly correlated to the intensity of cytokine storms. A vitamin D deficiency also correlates with poorer outcomes in intensive care units generally. A vitamin D deficiency correlates with most known co-morbidities including cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes.”

Multiplying multivitamins. “Sales of multivitamins targeting immunity alone are projected to more than double in 2020,” writes Nutrition Business Journal Senior Analyst Claire Morton Reynolds in her latest Analyst’s Take on, detailing how an association with immunity is driving sales for general wellness products and multivitamins in particular.


Enjoy this:

Sometimes we want to get away from it all. And sometimes, 2020 in particular, we might want to stay there. This meme sums up that sentiment perfectly.

desert island meme

About the Author(s)

Rick Polito

Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Business Journal

As Nutrition Business Journal's editor-in-chief, Rick Polito writes about the trends, deals and developments in the natural nutrition industry, looking for the little companies coming up and the big money coming in. An award-winning journalist, Polito knows that facts and figures never give the complete context and that the story of this industry has always been about people.

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