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Monitor: Natural channel shoppers buy sleep and stress products while conventional shoppers left out

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The early 2020s are standing out as stressful and sleepless years but it’s becoming clear that the natural products industry is not serving the conventional shopper as well as it could.

Natural Products Industry Health Monitor, Sept. 30, 2021
 
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.

It’s probably too early to give the 2020s a decade name, but “the Stress Decade” has got to be an early favorite. Between the pillar-rattling experience of the pandemic, a never-ending cycle of economic uncertainty and the ongoing political trench warfare that includes a mob storming the capitol, we’re all craving reprieve.

We’ve seen the effects of that unrelenting news cycle in the natural products industry, chiefly in sales of supplements for stress and anxiety (though we should probably include sales of chocolate in that estimation). But what’s interesting about the obvious idea that stressed-out people are buying more products to cope with stress is who is making those purchases.

Consumers who identify as “natural shoppers” in research by New Hope’s NEXT Data and Insights team are far more likely than conventional consumers to say they are spending money on products for anxiety, stress, depression and trouble sleeping, as well as other challenges like focus and mental clarity that go hand in hand with all of the above.

 

While it’s not surprising that people are gobbling up products for mood and sleep—the Nutrition Business Journal estimated best-ever sales growth for both categories in 2020—what is notable is that difference between natural and conventional shoppers. It doesn’t tell us that those conventional shoppers don’t need the relief these products can provide. If anything, people whose household budgets steer them away from the natural channel could likely be feeling even more stressed. Instead, what it tells us is the natural products industry isn’t reaching those people. Whether it’s a matter of awareness, marketing, channel focus or price point, they are simply being left out of the picture.

When we take a closer look at the natural shoppers, the picture gets more interesting, if not puzzling. Sales of sleep and mood supplements, according to both NBJ and SPINS are up, way up; but in our research, the two categories show up as a contrast. The percentage of respondents who said they were spending more money since 2019 on products for anxiety and stress are up, and the number of people who said they were spending more money on healthy sleep products was lower.

 

While this limited research merely scratches the surface, it is a reminder that the two groups of consumers—natural and conventional—are certainly not monolithic. It could easily be that a relatively small slice of the natural shopper group is accounting for a significant part of the spiking sales across the mood and sleep categories, especially in sleep where NBJ charted 36.6% sales growth for 2020.

All of this makes clear that the obvious phenomenon of more stress, and the resulting loss of sleep, doesn’t automatically and smoothly equate to more sales of stress and sleep products. Education and even innovation—something to balance that sleep/energy equation perhaps?—are needed, but the first priority for marketing is probably not the natural channel shopper. They are already customers. Reaching and teaching the customers who need help but aren’t finding it is likely the better play.

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