2019’s most unexpected supplement ingredient sales trends, according to SPINS
* Nutritional Outlook thanks SPINS (Chicago, IL) for sharing market research data and insights for this story.
As storytelling creatures, we humans are always seeing through lines and lessons in even the most random events and accumulations of data. So it is that we look back on the year that was for dietary supplement ingredient sales and try to make sense of what happened-better to prepare for the 365 days to come. What messages can we glean from the trends seen last year?
“When looking across mainstream and innovation channels, we see a lot of commonality among top growing functional ingredients,” reflects Kimberly Kawa, wellness product specialist for market researcher SPINS LLC (Chicago). “Those that appeal to both natural and conventional shoppers-protein, collagen, elderberry, magnesium, MCTs, CBD-parallel broader industry trends and give us insight into current consumer wellness priorities.”
Guess you could call it a “healthy” market for wellness products.
To draw a finer bead on just how well the top wellness products are doing-and to take the temperature of those under the weather-we steeped ourselves in SPINS’ data. Ahead is a brief snapshot of 2019’s winners and losers.
*All sales numbers are courtesy of SPINS and cover the 52 weeks ending October 6, 2019. “Cross channel” reflects a combined data pull of mainstream multioutlet (MULO), natural, and specialty-gourmet retailers in the total U.S. market, unless otherwise specified. “Innovation channel” refers to the natural and specialty-gourmet segments combined.
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Judging by the numbers-heck, judging by the pure buzz-CBD might as well stand for “cannot be deterred.”
Of course, CBD actually stands for hemp cannabidiol-but you probably already knew that, given that this non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid found in Cannabis plants is once again one of the hottest ingredients around.
“CBD and hemp derivatives have been the highlight of the year in the supplement industry, with seemingly plentiful potential across multiple segments, including therapeutic topicals, pet wellness products, and the functional beverage set, just to name a few,” Kawa says.
Combining sales from both mainstream channels and innovation channels (natural and specialty gourmet), CBD witnessed triple-digit growth over the 52-week tracking period, shooting up 161.4% from an initial value of $44.3 million in October 2018 to $115.8 million by October 2019.
And while increased distribution likely accounted for some of that growth, consumer fascination with CBD-and buy-in of its purported benefits-no doubt helped.
As for which CBD products consumers are buying, alcohol-free tinctures reported the highest cross-channel dollar sales in the human supplements category, clocking in at $59.2 million and 127.7% growth. Next in line were softgel and capsule products, at $15.7 million and $10.4 million in respective dollar sales. CBD’s popularity contributed to innovation-channel gains for supplement oils, Kawa adds. And while multi-ingredient formulations highlighting CBD content accounted for $31.5 million in total CBD sales, single-ingredient CBD supplements generated more than twice that: $64.6 million.
So how long can the boom last? In the absence of regulatory clarity for CBD (for now), it remains to be seen: When the Natural Products Association (NPA; Washington, DC) asked 1000 registered voters in October 2019 whether they’d be more or less likely to use CBD or recommend it to friends and family in the absence of FDA regulation or enforcement of consumer-protection standards, 44% said they’d be “less likely”-a response NPA called “a warning sign for the burgeoning hemp and CBD industry.”1
1. Grebow J. “Will consumers drop CBD once they learn FDA has not established safety standards for it? NPA poll says yes.” Nutritional Outlook. Published online October 18, 2019. Accessed at: www.nutritionaloutlook.com/regulatory/will-consumers-drop-cbd-once-they-learn-fda-has-not-established-safety-standards-it-npa-poll-says
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You’ve got to hand it to contemporary consumers: When they’re not scrambling after “peak energy,” they’re looking for something to help them wind down and capture that oft-elusive prize, a good night’s sleep.
No wonder, then, that early last year, SPINS counted among its 2019 trend predictions an uptick in products that promise sleep support-an accurate prediction, it turns out.2
“Sleep-focused formulas are on the rise in industry reporting from recent tradeshow trends,” Kawa says. “According to SPINS data, supplements with an overt sleep-health focus have been reporting gains across channels, as well.”
Chief beneficiaries include the ingredients 5-HTP, L-theanine, and GABA. But the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin rose above the rest as a key growth driver in 2019.
In the mainstream market, Kawa says, the hormone-support segment reports the highest sales gains, “with melatonin the standout driver.”
Just as notable is melatonin’s rise in SPINS’ dollar-change rankings over the 52-week reporting period, especially across channels. “Compared to a year ago,” Kawa says, “melatonin went from 10th place to 2nd in terms of total dollar change, gaining 28.8% from $285.4 million [in 2018] to $367.7 million [in 2019].”
As hormone- and sleep-support supplementation pull in more converts, expect melatonin to appear in novel delivery formats, including liquid sprays, drink mixes, lotions-even transdermal patches.2
2. SPINS. “Top 10 Trend Predictions for 2019.” Published January 10, 2019. Accessed at: www.spins.com/2019-trend-predictions/
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Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCTs)
Somewhere out there, a grandparent is telling her grandchild that there once was a time when people avoided fat because they believed it was “bad for you.”
Hard to imagine, right? With all the fat-friendly, carb-phobic diets making news these days, fat-or at least some fats-are donning healthy halos.
That’s been the case with medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs. Fats commonly sourced from tropical palm and coconut plants, MCTs and their medium-chain fatty acids boast a devoted following among athletes and bodybuilders as well as those trying to lose weight. Why? Studies suggest MCTs enhance immunity, boost endurance, and jumpstart the body’s oxidation of stored fat. With further evidence pointing at benefits vis-Ã -vis cognitive support, nutrient absorption, and more, these functional fats are on a roll.
SPINS data reflect “impressive growth” for MCTs over the past 52 weeks, Kawa says, noting that they rank 7th by dollar change cross-channel (a jump of 95.8% to $41.8 million) and 5th in innovation channels (a dollar change of 22.4% to $15.3 million).
“This ingredient has gained more attention lately due to its broad appeal among sports enthusiasts and its inclusion in the more recently popular keto diet,” Kawa notes. Where MCTs go next will be a topic for discussion in 2020.
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Multi-Sourced Plant-Based Protein
Consumers are so besotted with protein that it no longer makes sense to track its sales monolithically. Far more insightful is getting a granular reading of which types of protein are doing well, and with whom.
Thanks to such a granular reading, plant-based proteins derived from multiple sources have now entered the top-10 rank of SPINS’ cross-channel growth-driver ingredients, “reporting noteworthy mainstream gains,” Kawa says. More specifically, growth of 7.1% in the past 52 weeks took multi-sourced plant-based proteins to the #9 spot on this list, representing $229 million in sales during the year.
This rise in the ranks should come as no surprise in light of the fact that “plant-based” and “protein” are both each bona-fide health-and-wellness phenomena in their own right; combine the two and you have the basis for product innovation, a lifestyle-nutrition movement, and an opportunity for brands and retailers to change how consumers eat, drink, and supplement.
The mainstream appeal of plant-based proteins “makes a broader connection to increasing consumer interest in adding more plant based-products to their shopping carts,” Kawa says. The upshot: Watch this space.
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Move over, turmeric; it’s magnesium’s turn in the spotlight.
Sound harsh? It may be. But SPINS data show that the humble mineral magnesium replaced trendy turmeric in the 10th spot in the firm’s cross-channel list of top functional ingredients by dollar change.
That’s not to say that turmeric is nowheresville; it still reported 1.8% growth, up from $140.8 million to $143.3 million over the 52 weeks tracked.
But magnesium growth is multiplying by double digits, clocking in at 11.0% and increasing sales from $136.1 million to $151.1 million.
“Magnesium supplements are doing well in SPINS’ innovation channels, as well,” Kawa adds, “coming in 4th in the rankings by dollar change,” with 9.8% growth to $40.5 million in that segment.
The drivers behind magnesium’s growth are plenty: This fourth-most-abundant mineral in the body serves as a cofactor in biochemical reactions, playing a role in everything from protein synthesis, nerve function, and blood-glucose control to blood-pressure regulation, energy production, and the synthesis of DNA, RNA, and the antioxidant glutathione.3
3. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. “Magnesium Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.” Updated October 11, 2019. Accessed at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/
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Thanks to widespread interest in digestive health, it’s no longer a social faux pas to discuss the gut’s goings-on amongst polite company.
So you’d think that with gut health now acceptable dinner conversation-and with research on the microbiome drawing yet more attention to the intestinal tract-probiotics would be enjoying a real sales surge. But you’d be wrong.
Although probiotic supplements still top SPINS’ list of digestive-health ingredients across natural, specialty, and MULO channels, they chalked up a loss in overall mainstream and innovation channels over the 52-week period, falling 3.7% from $924 million to $890 million.
“In analyzing recent industry news, it may be the case that other microbiome and gut-support supplements are taking the spotlight from probiotics-most notably prebiotics,” Kawa notes. Digestive enzymes, flaxseed-even ginger, magnesium, and charcoal-may also be stealing some of probiotics’ thunder.
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Capitalizing on today’s public embrace of healthful fats, omega-3 fatty acids continue to attract attention-and to generate sales. But not all sources of these good-for-you oils are feeling the same love.
Consider that omega-3-rich fish oil experienced the fourth-biggest cross-channel decline among ingredients in SPINS’ analysis, with sales dropping 5.5% from $350 million to $331 million over the past year. And while krill oil-another source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids-didn’t appear on the list of top-10 declining ingredients, it, too, continues to see slower sales, just as it had in 2018.
“Are consumers turning to other anti-inflammatory oils-perhaps plant-based sources?” Kawa asks. After all, black seed continues growing in mainstream channels, she says, and may even be adding distribution, as triple-digit growth in MULO of 136.7% suggests.
Moreover, notes SPINS’ content strategist, Jessica Hochman, “I might point to growing interest in algae-based essential fatty acids in the future.” With the passion for all things plant-based apparently reaching the omega-3 space, she may well be right.
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Green Tea Supplements
Green tea has so much going for it: an august tradition, a “natural” reputation, a compelling story, and a list of bioactive components, including catechin and flavonoid antioxidants, that may improve everything from the heart and brain health to the waistline.
But one thing green tea supplements didn’t have going for them in 2019 were rising sales, as the category landed on SPINS’ top-10 list of cross-channel decliners for the first time, with a double-digit drop of 24.6% taking sales from $27.2 million to $17.7 million during the year.
The decline makes a certain sense to Kawa, who notes that the primary health focus attributed to green tea supplements is weight loss, “which reports a decline in this set,” she says. “Also of note is the fact that weight-loss-focused supplements report slight declines overall across channels.”
But green tea isn’t all dried up yet. It still landed on the list of consumers’ top-10 supplements in the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s (CRN; Washington, DC) latest annual survey, with 19% of supplement users claiming to use it.4
4. Grebow J. “Record number of U.S. adults are taking dietary supplements, with confidence in the safety, quality, and efficacy of supplements remaining steady-and high, CRN poll shows.” Nutritional Outlook. Published online November 18, 2019. Accessed at: www.nutritionaloutlook.com/trends-business/record-number-us-adults-are-taking-dietary-supplements-confidence-safety-quality-and-efficacy
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Honorable Mention: Elderberry and Medicinal Mushrooms
Not every functional ingredient can reach the top tier of growth drivers. But that needn’t mean that 1) their sales are in decline, nor 2) they don’t merit mention as potential inductees onto upcoming lists of ingredient movers and shakers.
Exhibits A and B: elderberry and medicinal mushrooms, both of which Hochman calls out for future consideration.
“I expect to see continued growth for elderberry, especially in mainstream retail, as more consumers look to herbal and botanical ingredients to support immune health,” Hochman says. Adding to elderberry’s advantage is its accessibility, as it’s both palatable to adults and kids and versatile in formulations.
As for ‘shrooms, Hochman’s keeping her eye on continued growth among “medicinal” varieties-especially in innovation channels-“as more research brings their properties into popular health-and-wellness discourse.”
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