Immune-support supplements gaining popularity with consumers of all types

April 12, 2019

In our fast-paced culture, few traits earn more praise than an almost superhuman ability to get stuff—a lot of stuff—done without hitch. At the same time, few forces are more expert at piercing those pretentions than the latest cold, flu, or other bug to lay us out flat.

That’s why immune-support supplements are perennial winners with consumers of all types—superhuman and otherwise. According to data from market research firm SPINS, products with a cold-and-flu focus racked up almost $1.13 billion in total conventional multi-outlet retail sales during the 52 weeks ending November 4, 2018—a jump of 15% over the previous year.

Such growth is hardly lost on Lisa C. Buono, client insights principal, health care vertical, IRI (Chicago). She’s noticed “much more chatter” about the immune system and its role in health writ large, and she cites growing interest in products like Airborne and Emergen-C as “a strong indicator that the masses are getting the message.” What message? “It’s a good idea to help head health troubles off at the pass through prevention.”



Ounce of Prevention

Keena Roberts, senior consumer health analyst, Euromonitor International (Chicago), agrees. Immune support, she says, is “hugely popular, especially in the wake of the severe flu season in 2014 and 2015.”

It may be getting even more popular as researchers progressively untangle the relationship between our physical wellbeing and the strain of modern life. “Consumers are busier and more stressed than ever,” Roberts says, “but they’re also very aware of the detrimental health effects that can occur as a result of stress. They want to be proactive and responsible for their health, but without disrupting their lifestyles.”

It’s all of a piece with the burgeoning “self-care” movement that consumers are embracing less as an indulgence of the privileged than as a crucial step toward fostering overall health.

IRI has surveyed consumers about self-care several times over the past five-and-a-half years, Buono says, and the insights thus gleaned suggest that the current trend is “vastly different from what we saw, say, a generation ago, where the approach was more weighted toward problem/solution and treatment,” she says. With prevention and promotion now at the fore, consumers are ready to invest in what Buono describes as “a robust immune system.”


Looking Out for Number One

Kimberly Weld, vice president of North American operations, Swisse Wellness (San Diego, CA), also believes consumers are looking at immune health with enlightened eyes—“taking into consideration not just what tablet they can take, but how their overall lifestyle affects their ability to stay well,” she says. “I think we’ll see a larger focus on everything from good sleep to stress management as part of holistic immune support.”

And the movement already disregards demographic boundaries. “This seems to be important to people of all ages and generations,” Buono observes. Among more mature consumers, she says, self-care’s emphasis on proactive prevention “is key to postponing or warding off entirely the diseases of aging: arthritis, cardiovascular disease, etc.”

It’s also key to maintaining a healthy pocketbook, which Buono wagers is “probably the biggest driver” behind mounting engagement with self-directed immune support. Healthcare costs keep rising, she says, which compels consumers to “actively try to stay out of our expensive system and manage many of their ailments on their own. This is definitely one reason we’re seeing an increasing sense of ownership and accountability on consumers’ parts regarding their health.”



Asserting Ownership of Health

As consumers are learning, dietary supplements are among the most affordable, accessible, and sustainable means of asserting that ownership.

“There’s so much that consumers are doing to boost immunity,” Buono says, “including eating a better diet with more fruits, vegetables, and immune-boosting ingredients, and getting more sleep. But that’s still a struggle, judging from the popularity of OTC sleep aids and supplement sleep formulas.”

Indeed, even the health-aware among us sometimes need a boost. As Samantha Cassetty, registered dietician and an advisory board member at supplements brand OMG! Nutrition (New York City), acknowledges, “A diet based on whole foods, with limited processed foods and added sugar, can be a very powerful support for immunity and protection against unhealthy aging. However, many Americans fall short of their needs.”