Seasonality returns to the immune support category

By Asia Sherman

- Last updated on GMT

© Imgorthand / Getty Images
© Imgorthand / Getty Images

Related tags Immune health Seasonal Supplements market trends cold and flu Vitamin d

Heightened awareness during the pandemic may have boosted year-round interest in supplementing healthy lifestyles holistically, but retail data shows that consumers have reverted to pre-pandemic habits of priming their immune systems during the cold and flu season.

Market research firm SPINS reveals a marked difference in U.S. immune supplement buying behavior between winter and summer months in the last year, reporting a decline from $208.7 million in sales from Oct. through Dec. 2022 to $92.1 million in sales from July to September 2023. 

“From what we are seeing, there is still a seasonality to the purchase of immunity products, evident by dollar sales going down during the summer months,” Haleigh Resetar, corporate communications specialist at SPINS, told NutraIngredients-USA. 

The trusted seasonal go-tos

Supplement retailer The Vitamin Shoppe confirmed that its sales forecast for the overall cold and flu season is back to pre-pandemic levels as well—with consumer demand for conventional immunity products starting to build in October and continuing through December and January.

“The products we traditionally expect to drive our immune support category are vitamin D, vitamin C, quercetin, NAC, zinc and elderberry,” said Muriel Gonzalez, president at The Vitamin Shoppe. “These are our customers’ trusted go-tos during the winter cold and flu season.”

Among these, Gonzalez said that Vitamin D is a key trending supplement, with sales up double digits from last year both in store and online.

In its recently released 2023 Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements​, the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) reported that 42% of U.S. adult supplement consumers have taken vitamin D in the last 12 months—down from 50% in 2022 and 52% in 2021 after jumping up from 42% in 2020.​  

“As the days get shorter and sun exposure decreases, people make less vitamin D, thus increasing the importance of supplementation,” recalled Luke Huber, vice president of scientific & regulatory affairs at CRN. He referred to a review published in the British Medical Journal​ that showed significantly reduced risk of acute respiratory tract infection among over 11,000 subjects who supplemented with vitamin D.

Although overall supplement usage is down from its pandemic peak, CRN shared that immune-boosting supplements are holding steady from last year, with vitamin C (60%), multivitamins (54%), vitamin D (50%), zinc (31%) and probiotics (28%) as consumer favorites in the category.

These trends align with SPINS retail data that shows top performers as minerals (traditionally zinc, copper and selenium), vitamin D, vitamin C and herbal singles (like echinacea and elderberry). Amino acids and children’s supplements with immunity claims also represent a sizeable contribution to total dollar sales.

Resetar noted that while the data indicates that immunity products are still most popular across the vitamin, minerals and supplements category, SPINS is seeing more products in grocery and other departments starting to offer immune ingredients in beverage and candy format. 

Less conventional immune support supplements

Like others in the supplement industry, The Vitamin Shoppe says that its search for innovation outside conventional immune supplements has led it to microbiome modulation products due to the now well-established connection between digestive and immune health.

“We identified an opportunity in this category to formulate new products with ingredients like PreforPro and Butyragen, which are included in our new ProBioCare Women’s and Men’s Once Daily formulas that support digestive and immune health by combining prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics,” said Eric Cohen, senior brand manager at The Vitamin Shoppe.

The company has also seen an increase in lung health product sales, including antioxidants N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and reduced glutathione, as well as green foods supplements with immune support claims. Ingredients like mushrooms, cordyceps, colloidal silver and oregano are creeping into the category but still make up a relatively small subset of The Vitamin Shoppe’s immune products. 

Cohen highlighted the growing interest in mushroom formulas like the Plnt brand Organic Multi Mushroom capsules that contain a mix of over a dozen mushroom fruiting body and mycelia including maitake, reishi, turkey tail, chaga, cordyceps, shiitake and lion’s mane.

“Although known for immune support, we believe mushroom products are also increasing in popularity because they offer a range of ingredients that are associated with benefits including brain and nerve health, energy, stress and cardiovascular support,” he said.

Skye Chilton, CEO at mushroom ingredient supplier Nammex, explained that mushrooms are a true bio-factory of beneficial compounds, primarily beta-glucans that modulate the immune system to keep it functioning optimally in a steady, balanced state. 

“Reishi, turkey tail, chaga, maitake and shiitake certainly have the most research and traditional use, but all mushrooms support healthy immunity and contain beta-glucans,” Chilton said, specifying that reishi and turkey tail mushrooms contain the highest levels and significant quantities of triterpenoids, which also have immunomodulatory properties. 

He added that turkey tail in particular has seen exponential growth in the immunity category, a demand that Nammex meets by cultivating the mushroom on a grand scale rather than increasing unsustainable wild harvest.

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