Growth in UK supplements looks uncertain

Related tags Supplements Dietary supplement Vitamin Mintel

The UK's vitamin and supplement market is one of the largest in
Europe, with sales of £350 million (€510m) last year. But with
sales levelling off for the past two years, and new European
legislation set to considerably reduce the number of products on
the shelves, continued growth in the market looks uncertain, warns
new Mintel research.

British consumers are nearly twice as likely as other Europeans to take vitamins and supplements, finds a new report from market analysts Mintel, but this popularity, growing considerably in recent years, could be hampered by new European legislation.

In a poll of some 25,000 consumers in the UK, over 40 per cent said they took dietary supplements, compared with around a quarter in Germany (28 per cent), France (25 per cent), Italy (24 per cent) and just one in 10 in Spain.

The research also shows that the British are the most regular users of vitamins and supplements, with more than three in four people taking them at least once a day, said James McCoy, senior consumer analyst at Mintel.

But the EU food supplements directive, due to come into force in July 2005 and likely to prohibit the sale of around 270 nutrients and nutrient sources currently available in supplements sold in the UK, may dampen sales somewhat. While the House of Lords (the UK government's upper house) voted this week to revoke proposals to implement the European regulations, it is not clear whether the Government is prepared to accept an EU fine for failing to comply.

However, Mintel's research shows that sales have already been slowing, from £360 million in 2001 to £350 million (€510m) in 2002, with sales stagnating at this level in 2003. The market could therefore go either way, depending on the outcome of this legislation.

The fall in market value of vitamins, especially single vitamins since 2000, can be partly blamed on media coverage of the possible ineffectiveness of vitamins, or worse, possible side effects of taking excessive doses, which has put consumers off, adds the Mintel report.

Despite the stagnating market however, there have been some significant shifts in the popularity stakes of particular vitamins and supplements over the past two years, notes Mintel. Sales of ginseng have increased by a massive 57 per cent and garlic by 13 per cent.

"This undoubtedly reflects the growing interest in natural herbal and especially Asian supplements and remedies. This is in line with the massive growth seen in the complementary, non-conventional medicine market over the past five years,"​ explains McCoy.

There has also been a drift away from themore traditional vitamins towards dietary supplements, said McCoy. Cod liver oil, hardly used by other Europeans, is by far the most popular vitamin or supplement in the UK, with some three in four adults using it. This is likely to have been helped by the wealth of research backing fish oil in recent months. Elsewhere in Europe, multi- and single vitamins prove most popular.

But British attitudes to vitamins and supplements are becoming stronger and more polarised into camps of 'believers' and 'non-believers', warns the research. Since 1999 there has been an increase in the proportion of adult respondents who say that they take vitamins and supplements regularly because they believe that these are beneficial to health, with one in four now doing so. There has been also an increase in those who take them when run-down or under stress.

However, conversely, there has been an increase in the proportion that donot believe that vitamins and supplements work and so do not take themand fewer people appear to be taking supplements on the advice of their doctor.

This polarisation presents a potential problem for manufacturers of these products because, although they have many loyal users, it will be increasingly difficult to bring new users into the market if these people reject the basic tenet of the products, cautions Mintel.

Yet many positive influences remain, including demographic factors, set to work in the industry's favour. The number of women and the over 55s ,the main users of these products, is set to continue to rise in the foreseeable future. And consumers are increasingly looking to supplement their diet when stressed or run down.

The proposed EU regulations will exacerbate the feeling of uncertainty regarding prospects of growth. Vitamins and supplements that are not to be outlawed should use this to their advantage and maximise any growth potential in the market, urges McCoy. This can only be achieved however through more effort and imagination on behalf of the manufacturers, he concludes.

Vitamins and Supplements in the UK​ is available from Mintel​.

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