How do supplement perceptions differ between US and EU consumers?

By Nikki Hancocks

- Last updated on GMT

Getty | Tero Vesalainen
Getty | Tero Vesalainen

Related tags Trends Healthy ageing Supplements Vitafoods europe

While perceptions of supplements can vary greatly between US and EU consumers, reasons for reduced usage are pretty similar across both populations and there are some basic areas the industry can focus on in order to gain big returns.

This was the key message from Steve French, senior vice president at the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), in his presentation at Vitafoods last week.

He provided insights from NMI's supplement/OTC/Rx database of consumer perceptions across the globe, which has been continuously updated since 2005, and discussed how the different markets view their health needs and the health solutions currently available on the market.

Health concerns

Discussing what are the biggest health concerns for adults in the two regions, French said 38% of the US adult population is managing a heart issue, 37% are managing a digestive issue, 32% are managing a weight issue and another 32% are managing a joint issue.

Whereas, in the EU, digestive issues are the top concern (42%), followed by immune issues (39%), headaches (37%) and emotional issues (33%). So digestive issues are a commonality between the two regions, while heart health and weight are higher on the agenda for US adults and immune and emotional health are of greater concern in the EU.

In terms of consumers’ perceptions of effectiveness of supplements used for these different health issues, NMI data shows that 34% of US adults believe digestive supplements are effective, and this is a little lower in the EU, at 29%. These aren’t particularly high numbers but digestive solutions are ranked higher than solutions for any other health issues for the efficacy.

NMI data shows that there is a lot of concern around preventing COVID-19 amongst both US and EU adults (43% and 46% respectively, are concerned about this).

Heart, immune and digestive health are then the second, third and forth greatest concerns for US consumers, while cancer, heart and immune health rank second, third and forth in the EU.

Digestive, emotional and joint health are also in the top seven health concerns for both populations.

In both the US and EU, vitamin D is considered to be deficient in the diet by the most consumers, EU consumers consider magnesium to be a mineral they are highly likely to be deficient in - 31% of EU consumers perceive this compared to and only 14% of US consumers.

Both populations are also likely to perceive it as common for the diet to be deficient in calcium, vitamin C, fish oil, and iron.

Product usage

When it comes to what types of products consumers use, the numbers are very similar, with 77% of US consumers and 73% of EU consumers using supplements, around 50% using prescription medicines and around 45% using OTC meds.

Looking at the top six products used in both regions, multivitamins are number one in the US (44% of consumers used in last 30 days), whereas vitamin D and Magnesium top the ranks in the EU (38% of consumers used these in last 30 days), followed closed by multivits (35%).

Vitamin C, Calcium and fish oil also rank fairly high in terms of usage in both regions.

Almost a  third of both populations have increased their supplement usage in the last five years (27% in the US and 32% in the EU) – a very positive trend for this industry to see.

Barriers to entry

Looking at frequency of use, NMI data shows that only 62% of US and 55% of EU consumers are taking their vitamins and minerals once a day as recommended, and this shows a serious compliance issue and opportunity for change.

“This compliance issue is not only relevant to the world of dietary supplements but its one of the biggest issues with prescription medicines as well," ​said French.

“Simple math would tell us, if we can just get that percentage up a bit there will be significant increases in terms of sales. This is a huge opportunity.”

Looking at the drivers to encourage consumers to increase usage or enter this market for the first time, French pointed out that around 50% of both US and EU adults said they would be very likely to use immune health focused supplements if they were proven effective.

Looking at those who had reduced their supplement usage in the last five years (6% in the US and 10% in the EU), cost was the top reason for this in both regions – 37% of US consumers and 30% of EU consumers.

Another reason for using these less frequently is the perception of ineffectiveness, with 26% of US and 17% of EU consumers stating this was their reason for reducing supplement use.

Other reasons for not using supplements in both geographies include: dislike taking pills, no doctor recommendation, uncertainty over what should be taken, no health issues, trust in diet to provide nutrients, and lack of proof of efficacy.

French pointed out that most non-users want to see scientific proof of efficacy in order to enter the market – 33% of US and 39% of EU consumers said they would start taking supplements if there was scientific proof that they would improve their health.

Other important factors impacting whether consumers in both regions would start taking supplements, include: unquestionable safety, price, easy digestibility, easy swallow-ability, and knowing the source of ingredients.

A promising trend revealed in the NMI data is that while prescription medicines are viewed as the most effective treatment option in both the US and EU (44% and 43% respectively say they are effective), this is very closely followed by vitamins and minerals (41% and 30%) and, even more encouraging, those numbers for vitamins and minerals are going up year-on-year.


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