Sales of vitamins and dietary supplements grew 9.2 percent to $3 billion in 2010, with the biggest growth taking place in the conventional (food, drug and mass merchandisers) channel.
Sales in the natural channel grew 4.2 percent to $750 million in 2010, while the FDM channel posted sales of $2.3 billion, a 10.9 percent increase, according to data from Schaumburg, Ill.-based market research firm SPINS.
But while some supplements categories posted big gains, others showed signs of weakening. Channel differences varied considerably across certain categories as well.
“In some ways, it’s surprising to see such wide swings in sales,” says Judy Blatman, spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based Council for Responsible Nutrition. “However, in other ways, it’s understandable. There are many categories of supplements that are well established, like the vitamins and minerals category, and unless there were some scientific breakthrough or safety concern, you wouldn’t expect to see a huge increase or decrease because it’s a mature category.”
However, she noted, “there are other less established categories and new products that a consumer may have heard about from a friend, or a segment on a television show or even a doctor” that are ripe for growth.
The following five supplements categories had particularly noteworthy sales increases or decreases in 2010.
Hot and cold categories
Sports nutrition supplements sales showed a healthy increase of 22 percent to $3.6 million in the natural channel, but posted a nearly 25 percent drop to $7.3 million in FDM.
Don Summerfield, founder and vice president of integrative medicine of Boulder, Colo.-based Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy, attributes the gap to the fact that “FDM has had no new innovative brand launches in sports nutrition.” On the other hand, “a number of key natural brands have launched high-quality whey protein products in the past year, which has helped grow the industry.”
Frank Lampe, spokesman for the Silver Spring, Md.-based American Herbal Products Association, suggests that sales of sports nutrition products in the FDM channel “have been affected by the economy and are following the up-and-down cycles that we sometimes see for supplement products in this channel.” On the other hand, “shoppers in the natural channel are more likely to appreciate the value of these products and incorporate them into their daily health-maintenance routines regardless of the macroeconomic situation at hand.”
Diet formula sales decreased in both the natural channel (13 percent) and FDM (3.2 percent). Blatman says the drops are not surprising “given the beating these products continue to take in the press and from government agencies, based largely on questionable or overpromising claims.”
Summerfield notes that “açaí, hoodia and [conjugated linoleic acid] were big sellers in the natural channel for the past three years. Sales have fallen off fairly dramatically due to poor-quality hoodia and the lack of clinical results for CLA and açaí.”
Within the digestive aids and enzymes category, prebiotic and probiotic supplements sales showed a big increase in FDM (41.6 percent) versus a much smaller increase in the natural channel (10.3 percent).
Lampe says the differences are likely attributable to varying levels of awareness between natural and mainstream shoppers. “Broad consumer understanding about the digestive aids category is only now emerging,” he notes, whereas naturals consumers have already embraced probiotics and prebiotics, so sales spikes in that channel are less robust.
Whether sales of digestive aid supplements will take a hit as more probiotics make their way into food “will depend on whether customers view digestive aids and probiotics as having the same or different uses,” says AHPA President Michael McGuffin. If the former, “it is possible they will cannibalize each other.” But if customers see probiotics as an adjunct to digestive aid supplements, they may buy both, he says.
Summerfield thinks probiotic supplements will continue to sell well in the natural channel. “Most of the functional foods being launched with probiotics are unproven to be beneficial at room temperature,” he says. “I believe long term that consumers will not be willing to pay a premium for food containing probiotics.”
Within the meal replacement category, ready-to-drink formulations and supplement powders shot up 181 percent in the natural channel, to $1.5 million.
“This category has exploded with the new organic vegan meal replacement products like Vega,” Summerfield says. “The flavor profiles have been enhanced, and the meal replacement concept is appealing to many consumers on the go.”
Vitamins A, D and K
These supplements saw a 63.3 percent sales increase in FDM and a 38.7 percent rise in the natural channel. Summerfield says vitamin D has been a hot seller in the natural channel for three years and that FDM is finally catching up.
Chart of vitamins and supplements sales
Future looks bright for supplements
Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association, expects sales increases to continue for supplements, pointing to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, which reported a 26 percent rise in Americans’ supplement use since 1994.
In particular, Don Summerfield, founder of Boulder, Colo.-based Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy, and Council for Responsible Nutrition spokeswoman Judy Blatman predict that well-researched supplements such as vitamin D, fish oil and omega-3s will continue to post robust sales in the future—“a testament to the fact that good science helps drive business,” Blatman says. Summerfield also sees sales increases for vegan meal replacements, natural sleep aids and stress-relief products.