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Jennifer Grebow is editor-in-chief of Nutritional Outlook.
Market researchers IRI (Chicago) and SPINS (Chicago) shared these observations during a webcast held on June 10, moderated by the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN; Washington, DC) and presented by Informa’s Natural Products Insider publication.
Dietary supplement sales may be leveling off following peak sales growth in March during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., but their sales growth still remains extremely strong over last year. Market researchers IRI (Chicago) and SPINS (Chicago) shared these observations during a webcast held on June 10, moderated by the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN; Washington, DC) and presented by Informa’s Natural Products Insider publication.
Consumer Sales: Leveling Off, but Still High Growth YOY
During the week ending March 15, 2020, during which many countries around the world began instituting nationwide lockdowns due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer purchasing of all types of consumer packaged goods (healthcare, food and beverage, general merchandise, and home care) experienced unprecedented sales gains, in some countries reaching gains as high as 96%. More than two months later into the pandemic, during the week ending May 24, 2020, overall CPG purchasing worldwide has leveled off to about 10% growth over the previous year-a number still remarkable. These numbers were reported by Kristin Hornberger, executive, healthcare, for IRI Worldwide.
In the United States today, she reported, those CPG sales are now sitting approximately 18% higher compared to a year ago.
Vitamin Growth Still High, Leads Healthcare Category
In the United States, vitamins are now the top-selling product within the healthcare category in the United States, Hornberger said. Vitamin sales gains accounted for 30% of the growth the healthcare category saw, year over year, during the previous 12 weeks ending May 17, 2020-outperforming other types of products in the category such as cold remedies, analgesics, and first aid items.
U.S. vitamin sales growth today is leveling off somewhat but is still significantly high. While sales skyrocketed during the six weeks ending April 5, 2020, up 44% from that same time period in 2019, by contrast in the six weeks ending May 17, 2020, vitamin sales growth was lower, at 16% higher year-over-year, Hornberger said. “Vitamins continue to grow at an accelerated rate of 16% over a year ago, which is still very, very strong growth when we think about that relative to 2019 of about 5%,” she said.
Put in dollar terms, consider that nutritional supplements in the U.S. saw a dollar sales gain of $345 million during the entirety of 2019. By comparison, during the six weeks of the pandemic ending April 5, 2020, alone, nutritional supplement sales gained $435 million. And in the six weeks ending May 17, 2020, nutritional supplements gained another $151 million.
Hornberger called this “really incredible growth for the nutritional supplements space,” pointing out that the growth the market saw from January 2020 to May 2020 is almost double the growth seen in all of 2019.
Online Sales Rule
E-commerce gains are outpacing in-store sales gains-unsurprisingly amidst U.S. nationwide lockdowns in recent months, Hornberger reported. For vitamins specifically, in the 12 weeks ending May 17, 2020, while in-store vitamin sales in the U.S. grew more than 30%, e-commerce vitamin sales grew more than twice that, at more than 62%.
Hornberger pointed out that these e-commerce gains persisted even beyond the sales peak in March, not only for supplements but for many other consumer markets, including first aid, personal care, and homecare. “We’re now continuing to see online growth surpass in-store growth for all of the top categories that are highly purchased during this pandemic,” she said.
One of the declining sales channels for vitamins has been health and vitamin stores, she said. “We saw that health and vitamin stores are losing share among vitamins…[T]his may be driven by the large uptick that we’re seeing in online sales.”
Online market share will continue to grow long term, said another one of the webcast’s presenters, Kathryn Peters, executive vice president, business development, SPINS. “We certainly believe that the shift to Internet has very much been accelerated by the entire COVID-19 pandemic and fear of being out in many public places, and of course we don’t anticipate that really ever going back to pre-pandemic types of levels.”
All of the webcast’s presenters highlighted the sales growth that the immune health category has experienced during the pandemic. But interest has also grown in ancillary products beyond just those consumers would typically seek out during cold and flu season-products such as those that support stress and sleep.
Said Peters: “What’s interesting…is that the longer consumers were staying at home, while certainly cold/flu/immunity was important, other things started to increase as a stronger focus for seeking products, whether that’s sleep or cognitive health or others. So again, it just shows that there’s continuing interest in a variety of ways to maintain stronger health.”
In terms of ingredients, while starring immune-health ingredients such as vitamin C, elderberry, and echinacea have already been highlighted for their extreme sales growth amidst the pandemic, Peters pointed to other ingredients that are also seeing strong growth, including ingredients like melatonin, vitamin D, phosphatidylserine, collagen, zinc, and mushrooms. Melatonin, for instance, is an ingredient for which sales growth was even higher following the initial pandemic onset: during the four weeks ending May 17, 2020, melatonin sales were higher than they were during the four weeks ending March 22, 2020, said Peters. Hornberger said that melatonin sales growth even surpassed the extreme growth of vitamin C during the week ending May 24, 2020.
Both Hornberger and Peters said that some changes in consumer behaviors are likely to be longer-term shifts, including consumers’ view on the role and value of supplements in health and wellness.
Said Hornberger: “The new normal is by no means in its finality of what it’s going to look like; in fact, I think we are just really getting started, and this new propensity to self-care will last beyond the world reopening.”
Peters pointed out that between 2018 and 2020, vitamins and supplements consecutively increased, indicating a long-term pattern. Of the pandemic, she said, “while certainly this is a fantastic accelerant for our industry, it’s also been a continuation of some prior trends.” She continued: “Certainly there was a significant peak [in vitamin and supplement sales] around that stock-up period [in March 2020], but they’re continuing at elevated levels [as] buyers continue to pick up more and more vitamins and supplements. So, again, very encouraging.”
Finally, Peters said, “This quarantine period will have probably changed some habits permanently, not just in immunity but beauty regimens and sleep and anxiety, etc.”