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Monitor: Consumers like gummy supplements but they’re still buying pills

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A Nutrition Business Journal report on emerging delivery formats for supplements charts the rise of popularity for gummies and and other 'candyceuticals' but pills are still going strong.

Natural Products Industry Health Monitor, April 14, 2022
 
As the world emerges, haltingly from COVID-19, new challenges emerge. In this feature, New Hope Network provides an ongoing update on those challenges and the opportunities they hold. 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.

A glance at the shifting sales of dietary supplements and consumer preferences for gummies and so-called “candyceuticals” might suggest that the age of the pill is over and that at some point in the not-so-distant future we will all be chewing our way through an all-gummies supplement market.

But that’s the quick glance.

The truth is more complex and explored thoroughly in the new NBJ Delivery Format Report, but what we see in sales and consumer research makes it very clear that declarations of doom for pills are at best premature.

That rush to the soft and chewy might not be as strong as it looks in the chart below. When all consumers were asked which format they prefer, 27% said gummy. That’s ahead of tablets at 25%, capsules at 20% and SoftGels at 13%, but if we consider tablets, capsules and softgels to be “pills,” gummies rank a distant second.

 

Sales tell a similar tale. Pills, including SoftGels and vegicaps, represent a minority of the market at 41% of sales in Nutrition Business Journal’s 2021 estimates, but it’s a precipitous drop to second place. Gummies make up 22.1% in contrast. Powders, which includes those huge tubs of protein powder that have gone from shakes at the gym to the staple in the pantry, account for a 16.2% market share.

It’s also important to note that what people want and what they buy are two different things. Asked what format they actually use, both “capsule” and “tablet” are well above gummies. Tablets come in at 56%, capsules at 47% and gummies well behind at 39%. The 29% of respondents who said they use SoftGels, which most people would accept as another variation of “pill,” is closer to gummies than gummies are to tablets in the survey.

Gummies and the other sweetened formats also face a challenge that pills never had to bother with: sugar. Brands are tackling that challenge with monkfruit, stevia and, more recently, allulose, but the level of consumer sophistication around sweeteners isn’t clear. There’s a vague “that stuff’s bad for you” undercurrent that sweeps up even the healthier sweeteners. Sugar is obviously not a deal killer, given the growth in gummies, but it is important to note that the share of people strongly agreeing with “I try to limit the amount of sugar in my supplements” is more than twice as large as the share that strongly agreed with “I have difficulty swallowing pills.”

In short, people are still taking pills. They are probably going to keep taking them too, especially as personalized nutrition brands gain customers for those millions of pill packets. Looking past that, however, there is much that needs to be understood about the format puzzle for supplements, a puzzle that obviously includes a large number of pieces that are neither pill nor gummy.

Read more about market sizing, sales growth and consumer sentiment in the NBJ Delivery Format Report.
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