Prevention is less expensive than treatment. As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, consumers continue to ramp up their search for vitamins, minerals and supplements that provide high quality at a value. Immune support, gut health and sleep were among the most in-demand products at the start of the coronavirus crisis, and are still being sought today.
The result is that more and more retailers are making sure their VMS aisles feature budget-friendly private label versions of the latest innovations.
According to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm, for the 52 weeks ended Aug. 9, sales of vitamins in total U.S. multi-outlet (grocery, drug, mass market, military, select club and dollar retailers) totaled more than $8.59 billion, an increase of 13.6% compared with the same period the previous year. National brands accounted for 74.6% of sales, or $6.41 billion, and private label totaled more than $2.17 billion, a 25.4% share.
Private label had a slightly higher share of the mineral supplements segment, with 30.8% of sales. Sales of mineral supplements totaled nearly $4.07 billion, an increase of 7.0%. National brands accounted for $2.8 billion, and private label accounted more than $1.25 billion.
Even though it lost some share to national brands, the private label VMS category is strong, according to manufacturers. Retailers that capitalize on the latest trends have opportunities to grow their brands.
“There is tremendous interest in the private label space with significant growth within the immune category as well as vitamins and minerals,” said Tammy Johnson, vice president of sales and marketing for the human division at Food-Science. “Products that include ingredients like vitamin D, vitamin C and zinc are in high demand.” Also, stress and sleep items are seeing growth during the pandemic.
Williston, Vt.-based FoodScience recently launched a Zinc Lozenge with Elderberry and Vitamin D3, which the company said delivers immune boosters to the tissues that need it most. Earlier this year the company launched Amyloid Benefits capsules, which are meant to help slow the aging process and counteract the stressors that damage the brain. Johnson added that consumers are interested in a variety of delivery systems, including capsules, tablets, chewables and liquids.
Others agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic is making consumers prioritize their wellness, and retailers need to make sure they are offering the right products. “Private label supplements are currently experiencing explosive growth,” said Brianne Vaskovardzic, director of marketing for the private brand manufacturer Norax Supplements, based in Newnan, Ga. “As demand for immunity support products has increased significantly, clear category winners are liposomal vitamin C, elderberry, zinc and multivitamin formulations.”
Vaskovardzic pointed to limited healthcare as a strong driver for the nutraceutical industry, especially in private label. “Today’s environment is creating a need for private label supplement brands to provide high-quality products to the end user, while also providing a product that is accessible and affordable.”
At Secaucus, N.J.-based retailer The Vitamin Shoppe, the private brands portfolio is steadily growing and is a key area of growth for the company, according to CEO Sharon Leite. “Our customers look to our private brands for quality and innovation across vitamin, supplement, sports nutrition and wellness categories,” she said.
New from Kerry is Wellmune, a proprietary baker’s yeast beta glucan that the company said interacts with the body’s natural defenses, supporting the immune system without overstimulating it. “Wellmune is backed by more than a dozen clinical studies, which is obviously important at a time of huge consumer demand for proven immune health support,” Quilter said.
In immune support and in other VMS segments, consumers look for evidence of the efficacy of products. Demand for scientific substantiation is the most important trend across all supplement categories, Quilter said, noting that the Kerry survey also found that 39% of consumers said seeing claims based on research or scientific data would make them more likely to buy a healthy lifestyle product.
These benefits should be communicated on the packaging. Retailers can leverage this demand for truth and transparency to drive private label sales. “The reputation of private label has massively improved in recent years, mainly because of manufacturers doing more to focus on quality,” Quilter said. “Now retailers can confidently say that private label products work as well as nationally branded equivalents.”
The VMS category continues to expand. According to a 2019 statement from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), over the previous 25 years the $4 billion industry comprised of about 4,000 products grew into an industry worth more than $40 billion, with more than 50,000 products.
With growth comes certain challenges. “A lot of the growth right now is from inline sales,” said John Atwater, senior director of the verification program at Rockville, Md.-based U.S. Pharmacopeia. “Consumers really need to take precautions to make sure what they are ordering is a quality product.”
Safety and efficacy are as important in private label products as in national brand products. USP, which develops quality standards for medicines, dietary supplements, and food ingredients, offers verification services. “The retailers are concerned,” Atwater said. “They have a high regard for a focus on quality.”