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The supplement industry experienced a tsunami of shifts and pivots to accommodate a new reality this year. But how many of those changes will stick? Read on.

Todd Runestad

December 17, 2020

7 Min Read
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The year 2020 was one for the books. Many things changed—tape on grocery store aisles, Plexiglass everywhere, a mad rush on immunity supplements. And some of these changes may continue apace as part of the accelerated new way of life.

Below are six shifts in supplements that will be tantamount to either a fad or a trend, and an educated guess on their respective longevity.

1. Immunity supplements.

Remember the crazy third week of March? Elderberry flew off the shelves—up 200% in sales, according to Nutrition Business Journal, even having to counter the hiccup of whether it was responsible for a “cytokine storm” that could be bad news for COVID patients (it wasn’t). Vitamin D also saw its profile rise—even America’s doctor, Anthony Fauci, MD, said he takes the sunshine vitamin. And because magnesium is needed to help activate vitamin D, we might expect greater sales for the master mineral.

Look also to the emergence of the concept of immune rejuvenation—that you can train for immunity, like building muscle in a gym. It includes all the healthy living recommendations you already know—sleep, exercise, stress, environment, diet including no overeating, cut back on sweets, limit meats, low-glycemic load, more fiber and vegetables, time-restricted eating and microbiome integrity. This is exemplified in the new brand Big Bold Health, headed by nutrition legend Dr. Jeffrey Bland, PhD.

Related:5 natural beauty trend predictions for 2021

Fad or trend? Immunity supplements are the new multivitamin. A dietary supplement trend.

2. Vitamin D's hero status.

In 2020 studies were published almost every week showing that a person’s vitamin D level could mean the difference between life and death after contracting COVID-19. Fauci is taking it. Trump is taking it. Everyone should be taking it. “Vitamin D is an important regulator of human immune function, as vitamin D may stimulate the innate immune response,” said Roger Seheult, MD, at the Loma Linda University School of Medicine. “Vitamin D deficiency levels seem to be a problem.”

Seheult pointed out that magnesium is needed to activate vitamin D. Small regular daily doses of vitamin D have been shown to reduce acute respiratory tract infections, and could prevent the flu in schoolchildren. 

A provocative observational study published in September that looked at nearly 192,000 patients found the COVID-19 positivity rate was 9.3% among those with blood levels of vitamin D below 20 ng/ml, while those with “adequate” levels of between 30-34 ng/ml had a positivity rate of 8.1%, and those with blood levels higher than 55 ng/dl had only 5.9% positivity rate.

Studies like that will keep the attention on vitamin D set to sky-high.

Fad or trend? It’s like 2008-09 all over again, where a year’s worth of relentless research led to a consequent sales boom. Vitamin D is inexpensive, well-known as a letter vitamin and has a vast range of health effects. It’s easy to incorporate into a range of products and formulations. Let’s let the sun keep on shining in. Supplement trend.

3. Stores are the new gatekeepers.

Transparency is no new thing as consumers continue to demand high-quality supplements. This will create a deeper focus on supply-chain transparency—the type the hemp CBD world is already implementing among its leading companies. They have begun printing QR codes on bottles that show analytical lab results, sometimes for the very bottle consumers are holding in their hands in natural product store aisles. It’s not like the FDA has been a particularly aggressive enforcement agency over the last 25 years, regardless of whether an administration is Democratic or Republican.

Amazon is making some noise about being a gatekeeper, but if it's not going to do anything about it with its deep pockets, can there be anyone else? The answer is natural retailers, who already have trustworthy relationships with their customer base. That spells opportunity to demand the responsible supplement industry to step up to the plate with quality. It’s also an opportunity for supplement manufacturers and marketers, which already spend a lot on testing to vouchsafe ingredient and finished product quality. If you’re spending that money already, why not make that a focus of your marketing efforts? If you can walk the walk, you may as well talk the talk.

Fad or trend? To the brave go the spoils. Education makes for lifelong customers. Trend.

4. CBD: Is flat the new up?

Hemp CBD had all the makings of being the hottest natural product in the history of natural products. Farmers five years ago were making up to $100,000 an acre for quality material. After the 2018 farm bill passed, the 2019 growing season saw hemp grown from sea to shining sea. So much was grown, in fact—acreage rose from 77,000 acres to at least 250,000 acres—that the harvest of the 2019 crop led to the “great storage experiment,” as it was characterized by John Roulac, founder of Nutiva hemp nuts and the RE Botanicals hemp CBD line. All that supply led to a price collapse—great news for shoppers, many of whom could not stomach $100 tincture bottles.

And then COVID-19 hit, and shoppers seemingly dropped the CBD for immunity supplements. Fair enough.

“Brick-and-mortar for hemp is flat, if not down slightly,” said Rick Trojan, president of the Hemp Industries Association. “Online is up for CBD, across the board from my conversations. Those companies that were ready for online—Bluebird, Restorative Botanicals, RE Botanicals—have done OK, those with heavy brick-and-mortar retail—CV, Charlotte’s Web—have not done as well during 2020.”

But that’s not necessarily true. According to Mari Geier, co-owner of two Nuts ’n Berries Healthy Market stores around Atlanta, hemp CBD came on strong as COVID-19 wore on, likely because of its purported benefits for stress, anxiety and sleep issues.

Fad or trend? Despite some hiccups, cannabis keeps winning at the ballot box. Surely that will signal to drug warrior regulators to take a chill pill. We’re bullish. Supplement trend.

5. Stress solutions are key.

As United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres explained, “The COVID-19 virus is not only attacking our physical health; it is also increasing psychological suffering … Even when the pandemic is brought under control, anxiety and depression will continue to affect people.”

For 2016 and 2017, stress and sleep supplements were growing at a paltry 1-4%, according to Nutrition Business Journal. But 2018 and 2019 saw a quantum leap to between 12% and 18% sales growth. NBJ is estimating 2020 growth at a whopping 30%, with double-digit growth pegged for 2021 as well. Natrol just launched a Relaxia lineup, including gummies and fast-dissolve tablets that contain all the trending ingredients, from L-theanine to ashwagandha, melatonin to lemon balm. This is also, of course, the wheelhouse of hemp CBD supplements.

Fad or trend? Dietary supplement fad. At least for another year. When the country is all vaccined up, maybe we’ll all take a collective few deep breaths, dial it all back and establish a new normal where we’re all happier, nicer and more grateful for hugs and indoor restaurants.

6. Adaptogens will adapt.

Adaptogenic herbs are still big—and now it’s turning out they can help with immunity as well. They can modulate immunity, restore circadian health and reduce inflammation. Studies show the current king of adaptogens, ashwagandha, can improve adaptive immunity by enhancing NK cell proliferation and activity. 

But watch for others. Wisconsin growers of ginseng compelled the botanicals business to change the name of Siberian ginseng to eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) because the herb is not technically ginseng. It works just as well, but the name change was a hit to the sales fortunes of eleuthero. But Sun Chlorella has just launched in late 2020 a line of eleuthero in tea bags, bulk tea and tablets that could be the leading edge in the renaissance of eleuthero starting in 2021. Medline recommends eleuthero with andrographis, when taken within 72 hours of symptoms of colds and flu, reduces the severity and length of the malady.

Herbalists keep talking about the overlooked astragalus, which can help inflammation as well as immunity. Some evidence suggests it can increase the body’s production of white blood cells.

Finally, jiaogulan has the potential to be the “king of kings,” according to Medicine Hunter Chris Kilham.

It is only somewhat popular in Japan, says Kilham, but it boasts a chemical profile of compounds that are similar to ginsenosides in ginseng. “Whereas ginseng has 28 active saponins in ginseng that are ginsenosides, in jiaogulan there are 82,” said Kilham. “This is a superpacked, superconcentrated, ginsenoside-rich product.” Brands are starting to formulate with it, like Planetary Herbals and Solaray.

Fad or trend? We definitely think adaptogens are here to stay, and especially like new herbs angling for their time in the sun. Dietary supplement trend!

About the Author(s)

Todd Runestad

Content Director, NaturalProductsInsider.com, Sr. Supplements Editor, Natural Products Insider

I've been writing on nutrition science news since 1997. I'm The content director for NaturalProductsInsidercom and digital magazines. Other incarnations: supplements editor for newhope.com, Delicious Living and Natural Foods Merchandiser. Former editor-in-chief of Functional Ingredients magazine and still cover raw material innovations and ingredient science.

Connect with me here https://www.linkedin.com/in/toddrunestad/

My daily vitamin regime includes a morning smoothie with a range of powders including protein, collagen and spirulina; a quality multi, B complex, C with bioflavonoids, >2,000IU vitamin D, E, magnesium, high-selenium yeast, PQQ, choline, alpha-lipoic acid with carnitine, coQ10, fish oil concentrate, probiotics and some adaptogenic herbs. 

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