Vitamins boom after disease outbreaks in Asia

By Dominique Patton

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Infectious disease

Outbreaks of bird flu and other infectious diseases have triggered
strong growth in vitamin consumption in many Asian markets in
recent years.

And if heightened media attention on bird flu continues in Europe, makers of immune-boosting supplements nearer to home could also benefit this year.

While the European market differs quite significantly from Asia, where many countries have typically low consumption of supplements, the trend in recent years demonstrates how fears of disease can heighten awareness of preventive healthcare.

In Indonesia, for example, supplement sales reached less than $200 million in 2002, but the following year they grew to $268 million and then a further 25 per cent during 2004 to reach $322 million.

Analysts at Euromonitor say that much of this growth came from new awareness of preventative healthcare, initially motivated by the SARS epidemic that threatened much of Asia in 2003.

China too saw unprecedented growth that year, with supplement sales rising 15 per cent, after only 2 per cent growth in 2002.

"We had a real peak in China during 2003 with SARS,"​ noted Adrienne Crossley, responsible for Euromonitor's OTC market reports.

She added that the new awareness of preventive health did not drop substantially the following year, despite the reduced risk of SARS. Rather it continued to drive Chinese supplements sales to a further 12.7 per cent growth during 2004, giving them a retail value of $3.38 billion.

In Indonesia, the SARS fears were compounded by an unusually large dengue fever epidemic in early 2004, which killed hundreds. This was swiftly followed by avian flu, another virus-associated disease, reaching the country's poultry industry and posing a significant threat to human health.

Consumer fears are thought to be responsible for the strong growth in multivitamins, vitamin C and dietary supplements such as echinacea that year.

A new Euromonitor report on the country's OTC market shows that sales of vitamins in Indonesia increased by 29 per cent over 2004, making it the most dynamic and most valuable sector within the OTC healthcare market. Vitamin C recorded the highest growth, achieving a 32 per cent increase over the year.

Other Asian countries hit by bird flu are also seeing strong growth in supplement sales. In the Philippines, vitamin and dietary supplement sales grew by 8.3 per cent in 2004, although they have slowed since the receding of the threat of SARS.

The spread of disease has not so far impacted European supplement sales, according to Crossley, with growth being generated instead by products for targeted health conditions like heart, joint, or skin health.

But as bird flu reaches eastern European markets, and the media attention on human health risks grows, immune-boosting products could see some gains this year.

"If there's continued media attention, we're likely to see an increase in immune-boosting ingredients,"​ Crossley told

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