Supplement sales hit $11.5 billion in U.S., report says

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Dietary supplement

Supplement sales hit $11.5 billion in U.S., report says
Supplement sales across the U.S. have shown strong, steady growth in the face of economic uncertainty, posting a 7% gain in 2012, according to a new report.

The report from Packaged Facts, titled Nutritional Supplements in the U.S​, says sales hit $11.5 billion in 2012, and forecasts they will reach $15.5 billion by 2017. Driving this growth, the report says, is a desire by consumers to seek less-costly alternatives to traditional medical care such as doctor visits or prescription medications.

“In general, the condition-specific products are doing especially well,”​ Shannon Brown, author of the report, told NutraIngredients-USA.

“Multivitamins, not so much,”​ she said. This decline, she said, could be attributed to the way the data supplier for the report, Symphony IRI, categorizes these products.  So many of the multivitamin products have differentiated with added ingredients targeting, say, women's health, that they might be categorized in different segments.

“In terms of different segments, digestive supplements are doing very well right now, especially probiotics,”​ she said.

“Additionally, the Omega-3s are doing exceptionally well.  Omegas can be marketed as heart health supplements, but it is becoming increasingly clear that they are beneficial in other ways, so they have taken a turn and are now marketed in and of themselves rather than for any specific condition.”

Other categories that did especially well were joint health supplements, which posted $140 million in sales, a 14% increase of the previous year.  Eye health supplements did well, too, posting $114 million in sales for a 9% increase.

Surprising decline in bone health segment

But even though a rising tide may float all boats, some leak more than others.  Brown said some categories declined, some surprisingly so.

“Surprisingly, bone health supplements, calcium supplements in particular, did not do well this past year. The calcium supplements going down is actually quite surprising given the number of older people using supplements across the board,” ​she said.

The decline in another category, men’s supplements, is more easily explained, Brown said.

“I think what happened there is many of those are geared toward ‘performance enhancement’ and there was some negative press about some of those and health risk involved in them.”

Format switch in energy category

Another place where there were more substantial losses was in energy supplements. The picture here is a little more complicated, Brown said, as it appears that consumers weren’t turning away from the entire concept so much as switching delivery forms.

“That is a direct result of people turning more toward energy shot products, so they are more of a drink product than a supplement product,”​ she said.

“The shots are being marketed more effectively. Perhaps it’s where they are being placed in the store. And there is the convenience – you can pick them up and carry them around in their bag.”

Brown said the shot manufacturers have been successful in positioning their products as an impulse buy, even though they tend to be significantly more expensive on a per-dose basis than their supplement competitors.

“You are checking out at the gas station or drug store or whatever and the shots are right there.  You very seldom would see an energy shot there.  It’s kind of that instant gratification. On a cost basis the shots would not be the most economical, I think it’s mostly the convenience,”​ she said.

Growing consumers for the future

The report said that  consumers over age 65, aging Baby Boomers and adolescents form the backbone of market support for supplements in the U.S.  But industry needs to find better ways to reach younger consumers, whose supplement usage rates have been declining.  Also, the Hispanic market is of great importance, the report said, given its rising share of the U.S. population. Rates of supplement usage among Hispanincs remain below other population groups, the report said, but there is reason for hope as those rates have been rising.

The report offers some insight as as to where industry should look to maintain the sales momentum, Brown said.

The older demographic has the highest usage.  And industry should target that group that is going up into that age bracket – the Baby Boomers. Anything that is related to maintaining youth, like joint health issues, maybe cosmetics, stuff that’s going to help them fight the aging process,”​ she said.

But, she said, the dietary supplements industry has to look toward the future with the goal of growing a new generation of consumers.

“Equally important is maintaining interest in the younger demographics, because usage is fairly low in the under-25 age group. So if they could find a way to boost those numbers it go a long way toward boosting sales."

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