As a consumer, standing in the supplement aisle deciding what to purchase can be a daunting task, even for those who work in the industry. The rise of condition specific product labels and online information can be a great help. But how does the average consumer feel about supplements and their use for the treatment and prevention of the health conditions that concern them?
Health concerns & treatment choices
NBJ asked approximately 250 consumers about the health conditions which concern them and their preferred treatment methods. Of the 17 health conditions that NBJ tracks, the $4.6 billion general health category is by far the “condition” about which consumers care most—cited by 82% of respondents. For 60% or more of the respondents, immune health, weight loss, and heart health are also top concerns. Other top-ranked conditions include sports/energy, gastrointestinal health and mood/stress—all cited by over half of the respondents.
When it comes to treatment of what ails them, consumers appear to prefer the simplest, least-engineered approaches. Across almost all health conditions, surveyed consumers are most likely—60% of the time on average—to use healthy food or diet to treat the condition. One consumer summed up an idea that many of us follow ourselves: “Eating healthy is my No. 1 way to keep healthy all around.”
Supplements are generally a solid second treatment choice. For joint health and menopause, consumers polled actually preferred supplements over diet. While supplements do come in second to healthy eating options, more than half of consumers looking to address general, joint, bone and men’s health do include supplements in their solution set.
Consumers are not excited about treating their health concerns with over-the-counter drugs or prescriptions medications. On average, consumers polled only used these treatment methods about 10% of the time. OTC won out over other options only for treatment of cold and flu, with 48% of respondents indicating preference for this treatment option. Sleep and gastrointestinal health are the only other condition categories where more than 20% of consumers preferred OTC drugs.
The dark horse treatment method—prescription drugs—is most associated with diabetes, mood, sleep and heart health, with about one-quarter of respondents treating these conditions in this manner.
The supplement choice
The majority of consumers are aware of supplements as a method for maintaining good health, but integration into their daily regimens still lags. Of our survey respondents, just over one-third indicated that they take supplements on a daily basis. For nearly another third of the population sampled, use is more sporadic, which could be limiting the effectiveness of the products they take.
Respondents who take a daily supplement themselves are much more likely than non-users to make sure that their children receive daily supplementation. Thirty-two percent of daily supplement users with children had them using supplements daily, compared to only 13% for the remainder of the surveyed population.
Improving overall body health is by far the biggest reason for taking supplements—not too surprising given that general health is the condition where supplement usage is top of mind. Balancing out the nutritional intake is also important for about 40% of consumers—emphasizing the strong link that supplements and food can have. One consumer summed up the zeitgeist of supplementation versus our current food chain nicely: “I take two supplements—a low dosage general vitamin and mineral, and an extra calcium supplement. I take these because, although my diet is 90% raw unprocessed foods and 5% cooked lean protein, I worked on a farm in my youth and I know for a fact that produce is picked and sent to market often before it is naturally ready. This results in oranges that look like oranges and taste like oranges but have very little vitamin C in them.”
Consumers are most likely to begin taking a condition-specific supplement once an issue has arisen (the onset of pain for example), but for about one-quarter of the population, prevention or the knowledge that a condition is likely to arise soon is a strong motivator.
Our surveyed consumers are not atypical in the supplements they take. Sixty-eight percent indicated that they used multivitamins at least some of the time with 35% managing to keep to a daily regimen. Also at the top of the list were vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, green tea, and omega-3s, but many consumers are only using these as need arises.
Multivitamins are big business, with $5.2 billion in consumer sales in 2011—a full 17% of total supplement industry sales. NBJ has investigated how manufacturers are keeping this category vibrant with targeted multivitamins. Gone are the days of the generic one-size-fits-all multi. Gender-specific, age appropriate, targeted condition—it’s all there (and we’re not even considering the other hotbed of innovation—delivery system). Gender-specific multis continue to be the most popular—with about one-third of survey respondents using them. Condition-specific is also gaining popularity—with one-quarter of respondents indicating that they use multivitamins that promise extra fiber or energy.
Delivering the product promise
One obvious concern for consumers is whether or not the supplements that they take actually improve the targeted condition. On average, consumers mildly trust supplements. According to one consumer, “I'd generally say that some may not be as useful as others but I doubt any are completely useless.” General health and bone health—both categories that have a long history in supplementation—are generally the most trusted categories related to effectiveness. Gastrointestinal health and immunity are close behind. Ranked at the bottom are anti-aging and cancer prevention supplements—likely because it’s hard to see or feel these benefits.
NBJ bottom line
Consumers are looking to stay healthy, and they’d rather do it with food and supplementation than OTC and prescription drugs. The rapidly emerging whole food supplement market appears to be one way to merge food and supplements to provide consumers with a product they can trust to deliver at a higher level.
Consumers also need help with education and compliance. Make keeping them healthy an easy partnership where you can serve as their trusted guide through a complicated industry.
NBJ’s March 2013 issue will be devoted to the natural products consumer. Help us make the most of the issue—submit your burning questions, comments, and insights to firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @nbjcarla.