Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) President MaryEllen Molyneaux has been watching the trends and developments in the natural space for 35 years, conducting in-depth research on market trends in the natural products industry. NBJ spoke with Molyneaux about NMI’s 2014 Health & Wellness and Trends in Sustainability reports from her offices in Harleysville, Penn.
nbj: What does your most recent research say about the state of the supplement industry?
MaryEllen Molyneaux: We saw an 18% increase in household penetration since 2009, which is remarkable when you understand the level we were already at. If you look across the past year, 84% of the population said they used a supplement in the last year. Even when you are talking about the last 30 days, that number is three quarters of the population. We are doing really, really well compared to what we’ve done in the past.
nbj: Can you qualify that growth in a bit more detail?
Molyneaux: When you think about the future of supplements, it’s going to be really important here to understand that consumers still prefer to get nutrients in food rather than pill form, so that segment of consumers who want other options than pills is growing. It’s not the majority yet, but it is growing. We are now seeing the emergence of supplements in beverages, bars and shots, and those may be better meeting the needs of Millennials and attracting this younger group of consumers. Forms—it’s something we need to watch. We think we are going to see more introductions of different types of forms and different types of benefits.
nbj: Is there a consumer segment that’s showing particularly strong growth?
Molyneaux: Millennials went from 50% saying that they used any type of supplement in the last 30 days to 68%, just since 2009—that’s a 36% increase. They are also increasing in the number of different types of supplements they are using. So they are really starting to go across different categories. They are taking more per day than they were five years ago, even in multivitamins. Some of this ties to getting older and more informed. It also ties back to Millennials probably being the most stressed generation, so they are looking for solutions. The number of millennials using condition-specific supplements is still relatively low, but it’s been a 500% increase since 2009. It kind of shows you where they might be headed. That’s good news for the future.
nbj: Where is the growth more tepid?
Molyneaux: I would say Matures are the only group that have not shown growth. But you still see Boomers with very large increases in single vitamins and condition specifics, and certain types of supplements like the omega-3s. For Gen-Xers, it’s a little different. They also grew from a low base and showed very large increases in condition specific. But when you look at all the different groups, the growth is there for all of them, just some significantly more than others. You could say that all generations except Matures are increasing their uses of multivitamins.
nbj: What do you think is the best strategy to keep the Millennial market growing?
Molyneaux: It’s really a dual strategy here, because it’s all about making supplements relevant to Millennials. It’s about educating them. Sometimes I think marketers forget that these are new consumers in the categories, so they need education as much as anybody. We also know Millennials are inclined to use these newer formats. Understanding that, and understanding how that applies to your brands and categories is important.
nbj: Have you seen any effects from all the negative press last year on multivitamins and omega-3s?
Molyneaux: The answer from our team is no. We don’t see it affecting consumers and how they think about supplements. They have a lot of information and they continue to get it. When you look at something like omega-3s, you can have those who were not integrative users of supplements—maybe they are multivitamin users, or they used a couple of things. Those are the types of consumers who will listen when they hear negative press. The integrative users, they will say, ‘Well, omega-3s are good for joints. They are good for all kinds of things, and I am using them for a lot more reasons than just heart-related issues.’ There are some effects from negative news, but it’s not the core users.
nbj: To go broader here, what groups in the Perspectives and Trends in Sustainability research does the nutrition industry need to watch?
Molyneaux: The Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability consumer group is really the leading group within sustainable and green products. They are now 21% of the population. They are the group that is most responsive, and not only that, they are the go-to group. Other people are going to them for information. They are leading the other groups into new areas of sustainability and new areas of health.
nbj: How do you reach a segment with such high expectations for authenticity?
Molyneaux: Don’t miss the opportunity to apply sustainability within your brand equity. There are opportunities waiting to be discovered at the brand and category level as to what is going to resonate. Look at Unilever and Dove. That has been a success because it’s relevant to the brand, and relative to the consumer. They hit the nail on the head because they attached the message to the emotional needs of their consumers. I think that’s what a lot of companies are missing. We all want to drive sustainability, but as marketers we have to remember how to connect that to the emotional needs of the consumer, and to the brand. It can’t just be a ‘sustainability’ sticker on the label. It has to be relevant.