The COVID-19 pandemic is the cause of major disruption in the rhythm of everyday life and is inspiring widespread change in consumer behavior, potentially for years to come. For today’s supplement consumer, the new normal has prompted a realignment of personal health priorities. This paper explores this shift in consumer behavior and presents purchasing trends to consider for supplement brands strategizing for the post-pandemic world.
In the fall of 2019, MarketPlace conducted a survey to uncover insights into what consumers want in a supplement brand. These findings were presented at the SupplySide West conference in Las Vegas. To better understand how COVID-19 has affected supplement consumers, MarketPlace conducted a follow-up survey in June 2020. The new findings will be shared during an online presentation on how the pandemic has affected the purchase intent, shopping behaviors, and information-seeking habits of supplement consumers.
In June 2020, MarketPlace conducted a quantitative survey with an online panel of consumers who currently purchase supplements (n=852). Sampling was balanced according to gender distribution from the U.S. Census Bureau. Responses to the survey were analyzed in the aggregate and by purchase intent subgroups by MarketPlace.
Prevention and Wellness
Prevention and wellness remain the top reasons consumers take supplements. However, immunity is on the rise.
Similar to the findings from 2019, general health and wellbeing are the most popular drivers of supplement purchases. However, the effects of COVID-19 can be observed in the fact that personal immunity is a higher priority than last year. Sales of immunity supplements appear to confirm this shift, as the category is poised for a 25% bump in growth in 2020, according to Nutrition Business Journal.
Online sales of supplements, especially immunity supplements, have increased during the shutdown. New Hope Network reports that, in April 2020, 17 of the top 20 vitamins sold on Amazon were related to immunity. The uptick is consistent with an overall spike in online shopping.
While many of the brick-and-mortar retailers who carry supplements, such as pharmacies and grocery stores, were deemed essential and remained open, consumers made significantly more online purchases from March 2020 to May 2020 than the previous year. Recent online sales data from Bluecore shows that year-over-year online purchases spiked across the board. As such, supplement brands are well-served to invest in online and social media marketing in response to shifts in consumer behavior and channel preference.
Nutrition and Immunity
COVID-19 has changed consumer behavior related to nutrition and immunity. The immunity-focused consumer is much more likely than average to have made changes to diet and supplementation during the pandemic.
According to the survey data, 63% of supplement consumers prefer to get most of their nutrition through food but nevertheless take some dietary supplements. Only 12% prefer to get their nutrition through dietary supplements. These findings indicate that, for most consumers, supplements are intended to fill in the gaps in their daily nutrition.
While most supplement users have not changed their diet to improve their bodies’ immune systems, a significant portion has. About 44% of survey respondents said they have made a dietary change to boost immunity during the COVID-19 outbreak. Notably, the data also show that among consumers who buy immune-boosting supplements, the pandemic has prompted over half to change their diet (51%), eat more fruit (54%), or increase their usage of vitamin and mineral supplements (61%).
Reasons For Taking Supplements
Disease prevention, digestive health, and immunity are the top reasons for taking supplements. Vitamin D and Vitamin C are the most in-demand supplements.
Prevention is top of mind for supplement consumers and plays a key role in supplement purchase decision-making during the COVID-19 pandemic. Compared to 2019, immunity rose in the ranking of reasons for consumers to purchase supplements. Similarly, the most in-demand supplements have disease-prevention and immune-boosting benefits.
According to the survey, in the past 90 days, supplement users purchased vitamin D (54%), vitamin C (53%), probiotics (35%), and zinc (21%). Interestingly, the strong interest in probiotics is a possible indicator that consumers are associating gut health with immunity. Additionally, protein supplements (22%) and biotin (20%) were also popular during the initial months of the pandemic, suggesting that consumers continued to use supplements for fitness and beauty.
A significant number of supplement users believe CBD is effective; however, this appears to be somewhat in decline.
Opinions about CBD appear to be fluctuating. Compared to last year, perceptions of CBD’s efficacy are declining. Nonetheless, a sizable segment of supplement consumers holds positive beliefs about cannabidiol. Nearly half of supplement users (48%) believe CBD has medicinal value, according to the survey.
Similarly, 42% believe CBD is effective at treating anxiety and 41% believe CBD is effective at managing chronic pain. Furthermore, just over one-third (36%) believe CBD is an effective natural sleep aid. To find success in an increasingly congested market, CBD brands must invest in educating their consumers and validating their efficacy claims.
Gummy and Pill Format Preferences
While pills remain popular, supplement users are trying a variety of formats.
Preference for gummies appears to be growing during the pandemic, with more than half (59%) using this format compared to last year (45%). Preference for pills appears to be in decline (72%) compared to last year (90%). However, it remains the most popular format. While not among the top formats, fortified foods and beverages have a niche in the market and may appeal to those consumers who prefer to get their nutrition through diet.
Immunity-focused consumers are somewhat more likely than average to have used gummies (63%, compared to 59% on average). Moreover, CBD consumers are much more likely than average to have consumed gummies (67%). As consumer preferences for supplements shift during the pandemic, they may be more willing to try non-pill formats. Therefore, supplement brands who seek to innovate in the category should consider gummies as a trending format.
Top Attributes that Consumers Seek
Effectiveness and price are the attributes most supplement users seek.
Effectiveness and purity remain the top attributes that matter to supplement consumers. Seven in ten (70%) supplement users said effectiveness is important to them when deciding to purchase a supplement. Similarly, a majority (56%) said purity and quality are key factors in making purchase decisions. Convenience (34%) and bioavailability (22%) are lower-order priorities for supplement consumers.
The data suggest that more supplement consumers today are price-conscious compared to 2019, possibly due to economic repercussions of the pandemic. Anchoring price-points and establishing value-driven messaging can be useful for appealing to these price-sensitive consumers.
In regard to CBD consumers, these individuals are highly likely to consider efficacy when making supplement purchase decisions (82%), much more so than the average supplement consumer. Therefore, CBD-focused brands may wish to invest in certifications and lab studies to inform their on-package claims.
Consumer’s Trusted Sources
Supplement users trust their personal health advisors, friends, and family the most for information about supplements.
Similar to last year, physicians, friends, and family remain the most trusted sources of information on supplements. Many supplement consumers are also doing their own research via Google or social media. Print publications, television, and celebrity physicians are much less influential regarding supplement purchase decisions.
The importance of friends and family and social media indicate that word-of-mouth is an influential avenue for sharing information about supplements. With people spending more time on social media during the pandemic, supplement brands are well-served to create social media content geared toward sharing with one’s inner circle. Furthermore, the prevalence of online searches suggests that it is critical for websites and online stores to convey the effectiveness and innovative qualities of supplement brands.
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