2018’s most unexpected supplement sales trends, according to SPINS.
As if anyone needed further convincing that 2018 was a year full of headlines, headaches, head fakes, and headscratchers, the gyrations of the vitamin, dietary supplement, and herbal products sector drive it home: You almost need a super-strength cognitive-energy tablet just to keep up with it all.
Or, as Kimberly Kawa, retail reporting analyst, SPINS LLC (Chicago), puts it with much greater subtlety, “A panoramic view of the supplement industry reveals some noteworthy findings.”
She can say that again. Over the past 12 months*, we’ve seen marquee ingredients shake in their shoes, strapping upstarts make their ascent, and the usual suspects continue to give consumers who trust them and brands that market them value.
All of which is why we quizzed the experts at SPINS on the biggest-and most surprising-supplement sales stories of 2018. Click through the following slides to ride the ups and downs of the functional year that was.
*All sales numbers are courtesy of SPINS and cover the 52 weeks ending December 2, 2018. Statistics are derived from a cross-channel aggregate data pull of multi-outlet (MULO), natural, and specialty-gourmet retailers of the total U.S. market, unless otherwise specified.
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For protein, 2018 was the best of times, it was…Well, maybe it wasn’t the worst of times, but a softening of sales among some protein subcategories gives the lie to the notion that, as far as consumers are concerned, this macronutrient is invincible.
To wit, while sales of combined animal proteins had the highest absolute dollar growth among supplements and claimed the highest dollar share among functional ingredient values in supplements-up almost $54 million, or 9.1%, over last year, and capturing 4.7% of dollar share across channels-Kawa points to combined animal and plant proteins as “one of 2018’s standout functional ingredients showing decline.”
“These products hold a whopping 9.7% dollar share in VMS,” Kawa notes, using the acronym for vitamins, minerals, and supplements. “But that’s down from 10.2% dollar share in 2017,” she continues, adding that the majority of sales come from conventional MULO retailers. Yet even in innovation channels, which comprise natural and specialty gourmet retailers, combinations of plant protein showed the most decline in terms of absolute dollars: down almost $11 million, or 12.4%.
Then again, innovation channel sales of pea protein registered triple-digit growth-136.6%, to be precise-driven largely by powder protein supplements…
…So what lesson can we draw from all these ups and downs? “Reviewing the various protein values within these channels, there isn't a black-and-white sales story along the animal-versus-plant lines,” concedes Jessica Hochman, content strategist at SPINS. Maybe the best stance going forward is simply to keep an eye on this space.
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Dialing in on one protein in particular, Kawa notes that in 2016 SPINS singled out collagen “as a functional ingredient to keep on the radar with a mere $11 million in sales.” And in 2018? “We’re seeing it go mainstream, with a cross-channel growth rate of 57.9% to $85.8 million in sales.”
The reasons are elementary. This most-abundant protein in the human body-composing some 25%-30% of our protein content-enjoys a stellar reputation in Asia as a beauty food, fueling healthy nails, hair, and skin. And while that reputation was already catching on stateside in 2016, “Collagen’s appeal has broadened,” Kawa says, “and we’re now seeing a triple-digit growth rate for collagen products in the protein supplements and meal replacements category.”
Credit collagen’s mild, neutral taste, reliable solubility, and all-around easygoing nature in formulation for its spread: Not only is it gaining traction in meal replacement beverages; consumers can now find collagen in everything from coffee to chocolate-coated pretzels.
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There’s a temptation to refer to the past 12 months as “high times” for cannabidiol (CBD), the news-making cannabinoid that saw some real upside in 2018. But given CBD’s non-psychotropic nature-in contrast to its cousin tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-the times weren’t so much “high” as simply very promising
Exhibit A: FDA in June approved an orally administered CBD solution called Epidiolex as a prescription treatment for seizures-the first time the agency put its imprimatur on an active pharmaceutical CBD product.
Then on December 20, President Donald J. Trump signed the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018-aka the Farm Bill-and with the stroke of his pen officially released industrial hemp to legal cultivation, also possibly releasing a new source from which to legally extract CBD.
And finally, consider that mounting scientific evidence continues to undergird CBD’s health benefits, which some say range from anxiety alleviation and analgesia to improved mental focus and a natural assault on inflammation.
No wonder, then, that CBD clinches SPINS’s number-five spot among functional ingredients in dollar growth across natural, specialty gourmet, and MULO channels. However, CBD’s truly impressive sales volumes appear in innovation channels, where it’s the top ingredient by dollar change-up a whopping 343.1%-and pulled in sales north of $44 million. “Numerous new brands featuring CBD entered the marketplace in these incubator channels this past year,” Kawa says, “and we expect this number to continue to grow in 2019.”
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It was barely a year ago when this very publication listed magnesium among the mineral supplements it considered worth watching in 2018. And sure enough, current SPINS data vindicate that prediction, showing that in innovation channels, dollar sales of magnesium grew 15.8% last year, hitting a grand total of $37.5 million.
What are consumers getting from their investment? Research continues to support magnesium’s heart and mental-health benefits, while emerging science shows that the mineral can enhance exercise performance. Indeed, virtually every metabolic and biochemical process in the body has some role for magnesium-which makes it somewhat shocking that, by some measures, as much as 80% of the U.S. population is deficient in it.
The upshot of that deficiency is that magnesium’s current sales growth barely scratches the surface of what it could bring in. As Kawa says, “Magnesium appears to be a growing trend in the innovation channels. We’ve noticed this ingredient expanding with innovative delivery methods, including gummies and transdermal applications in the body-care segment.”
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The big news in turmeric this year wasn’t that it was a functional ingredient on the rise; yellow has been the new green, so to speak, for years now, particularly among the young, in-the-know, health-involved consumers who’ve made turmeric lattes coffeehouse staples and the Ayurvedic root as trendy as avocado toast.
Rather, says Kawa, the real story is that “while turmeric began as a trend in the natural space, it’s clearly gained mainstream appeal in supplement segments, up 18.9% cross-channel, with the majority of sales volume reporting in conventional MULO, and 32.6% growth,” vaulting it nearly to $92 million in 2018 sales.
Capsules and tablets are the preferred delivery methods, Kawa says, but powders, drink mixes and infinitely Instagrammable ready-to-drink bottled beverages are moving, too. And don’t forget “the real daal”: though turmeric may be a functional darling in the supplement space, it’s also a valuable ingredient in South Asian cuisine.
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Like turmeric-or protein, or collagen, or several other ingredients in this rundown-cider-vinegar supplements are no strangers to annual functional-ingredients-to-watch rosters. And in 2018, Kawa recalls, “We called out cider-vinegar supplements as a growing star. We reported 146.2% growth to $3.8 million in 2017, and in 2018 we see these supplements having grown 185.9% to $27.8 million, with most of the dollar share taking place in conventional MULO and with a continued trajectory for strong growth.”
Kawa finds it “interesting to note” that about one-third of the dollar share for cider-vinegar products comes from private-label lines. And, adds her colleague and SPINS natural insights analyst and writer, Michelle Gillespie, NTP, “More palatable capsules and tablets are far outperforming the traditional liquid delivery method.”
But cider vinegar’s utility, and popularity, has spread beyond the supplement category into the shower and salon, where a raft of apple cider vinegar, or ACV, haircare products contain the pectin, amino acids, and malic and acetic acids that purportedly strengthen, hydrate, and smooth hair.
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Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics
It’s worth remembering that not all year-end supplement sales surprises are good ones, for a notable decline in probiotic sales was surprising in a confounding way, “given the growing awareness of and interest in gut health and other health focuses connected to the microbiome,” Hochman says.
One explanation Hochman posits “may be that consumers are choosing to consume probiotics from sources outside of supplements, such as cultured foods or the multitude of other food and beverage products to which probiotics have been added with the development of shelf-stable strains.”
Regardless, despite probiotic supplements still accounting for the vast majority of sales volume among products with a pre- and probiotic label attribute, their dollar sales dropped 2.9%, or $21 million, in conventional MULO, and 6%, or $14 million, in innovation channels. Prebiotic supplements, for their part, remained relatively flat in innovation channels, but lost 13.1%, or $16 million, compared to year-ago sales, in conventional MULO.
Is there a bright spot amid the darkness? Hochman directs us to supplements combining both pre- and probiotics as “the area that still shows year-over-year growth, pointing to promise in products that provide a more holistic, synbiotic approach.” In conventional MULO, growth for synbiotic supplements looks to be even stronger.
So while “the decline of probiotic supplements takes us by surprise at first, it’s worth noting that synbiotic supplements point to a different sales trajectory and may be a trend to watch in the years ahead,” Hochman concludes.
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A decline in dollar sales of 2.7%, or $12 million, for adult multivitamins is another worrisome “surprise” that SPINS tracked in 2018.
However, says Hochman, “It’s worth taking a closer look at multivitamins in general.”
When one does, one sees that multivitamin sales are not in decline across the board, but only for those marketed to adults. And even there, the decline appears only in products marketed to the generic adult, rather than to adults of a specific gender.
“Multivitamins for adult women, adult men, children, and seniors are growing,” Hochman notes, “with adult men and adult women’s formulations showing the strongest growth.”
Namely, the adult men’s and adult women’s multivitamin subcategories saw dollar sales increase by 9% and 5.9%, for an upward change of almost $15 million and $24 million, respectively, in 2018. As for children’s and seniors’ vitamins, their sales grew by 3.1% and 1.4%, or $7 million and $3 million, respectively. All of which offers more than enough silver lining to brighten any cloud hanging over adult multivitamins.
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