Usage of Vitamin D has risen 8% in the last 12 months, and, today, it is taken by 38% of VMS users, up from 30% in 2019, according to the results of Mintel's recent UK-focused supplement usage survey covering June 2019 to July 2020.
New product development is on the rise as well; according to Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD), there has been a 20% increase in new product launches containing Vitamin D from January to August 2020 compared to the whole of 2019, as brands respond to the nation’s insatiable appetite for the sunshine vitamin.
Emilia Greenslade, Mintel OTC and Personal Care Analyst, UK, said: “The rise in Vitamin D usage is likely due to its associations with immunity and memory improvement. Highly publicised research linking Vitamin D with protection against COVID-19 may have also impacted usage, although this has been challenged by NICE which concluded that there is no evidence to support taking vitamin D supplements to prevent or treat COVID-19.
"Government advice may have also impacted usage, with the government advising that people consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of Vitamin D as social distancing sees people spend fewer time in the sunlight and more time indoors.”
The market isn't booming across the board though. With the exception of Vitamin C, which grew marginally - from 28% to 29% - usage of all other single vitamins has declined over the same 12 month period: Vitamin B complex 20%-16%; Vitamin A 19% to 11%; Vitamin E 10% to 6%.
The survey data reveals that consumers are more focused on leading a healthy lifestyle and following a healthy diet which could indicate a wider shift to getting certain nutrients through diet, triggering the decline in the usage of certain vitamins, as well as the minerals calcium (32%-24%), iron (26%-23%) and plant-based omega-3 (12%-8%). The growing availability of fortified and functional food and drink may also be impacting the use of these supplements, Mintel's report adds.
That being said, the usage of multivitamins has remained stable at a sizeable 51%, which aligns with the most common reason for taking vitamins and supplements – to support overall physical health.
Mintel also notes that busy lifestyles could be a factor influencing the preference for multivitamins, with the ‘catch all’ solution perceived as a more convenient way to get the same benefits as taking individual vitamins.
However the report also notes that this catch-all preference suggests a lack of education around the specific vitamins: "The preference for multivitamins instead of individual vitamins could also highlight a lack of knowledge about specific vitamins, suggesting that education is essential to encourage the use of specialised vitamins."
Market set to hit almost £500 million
Despite the drop in the number of consumers buying single vitamins, the market has seen slow and steady growth in 2019 and is predicted to see a five year record rise in value of 9% in 2020, reaching £494 million, according to Mintel.
Overall popularity of vitamins is not predicted to fall either, with the market set to top the half a billion pound mark (£515 million) in 2021. By 2025, sales are forecast to reach £559 million, increasing an estimated 13% since 2020.
Emilia Greenslade, Mintel OTC and Personal Care Analyst, UK, predicts heightened popularity of vitamins is likely to be a result of COVID-19, as a quarter (24%) of VMS users have taken more VMS as a result of the virus outbreak.
Of course, immune health has become a priority since the pandemic began, with 36% of VMS users taking them to strengthen their immune system, compared to around one in seven using them to improve their mood (15%) and combat stress (13%) - two trending areas of health.
Mintel has added probiotics and prebiotics to its list of supplement categories in its annual survey and found that 10% of VMS users were taking these in the last year.
The report notes that consumers are showing interest in these products for a widening range of health concerns, beyond digestive health. "The gut-brain axis is another area which could be further explored, as more research involving prebiotics/probiotics for cognitive and physical wellbeing comes to light, as well as the baby microbiome and oral microbiome.
"Brands could also focus on prebiotics/probiotics for immune health, especially since the rise in interest towards immunity as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic."
Sales up; audience steady
Whilst the pandemic has clearly increased awareness of nutrition, vitamins, supplements and the importance of preventative health measures, Mintel's data suggests the market is yet to attract new users, with the number of users saying they supplement daily (36%) and occasionally (24%) showing little change since 2019.
Emilia Greenslade, Mintel's OTC and Personal Care Analyst, UK, said: “Undoubtedly, consumers are more worried about their health following the outbreak of COVID-19, and are seeking out preventative measures in the long term, including taking vitamins and supplements.
"Strong consumer demand for VMS in the initial weeks of the epidemic led to stockpiling which impacted availability of these products. While supply chains quickly returned to normal, demand has continued to remain high.
"But despite the boost in sales, the number of users remains the same with the rise in value of the category in 2020 driven by increased usage amongst existing users.
"Driving habits amongst occasional users is essential to ensure long-term engagement and sustained value growth, and brands can do this by using apps to set reminders and create schedules or offering specialised plans giving consumers more structure to routines."