Probiotics for immunity: Online reviews surged 26% in first half of 2020

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Lumina estimated the US online sales to account for 20-25% of total probiotic supplement sales in 2019.   Image © newannyart / Getty Images
Lumina estimated the US online sales to account for 20-25% of total probiotic supplement sales in 2019. Image © newannyart / Getty Images

Related tags Probiotics e-commerce Dietary supplements immune support Digestive health

While digestive health remains the leading health position for probiotics in the US, immune support is the second most popular positioning with online reviews growing 26% in the first half of 2020 to hit 179,000 in July, says Lumina Intelligence.

According to the recently published “USA: Probiotic supplements in e-commerce”​ report by Lumina Intelligence, a unique insights service from NutraIngredients’ parent company William Reed, there are 196 probiotic products on the US market positioned for immune support.

As with the wider immune health category, interest in probiotics positioned to support immunity has gained importance in 2020 as consumers seek ways to support their health and wellness in the face of a global pandemic.  

Indeed, 43% of American dietary supplement users reportedly increased their overall usage during the first six months of 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with ‘overall immune support’ cited as the top reason for this increase, according to a survey commissioned by the Council for Responsible Nutrition​.

The leading probiotic supplement e-commerce market globally

The US is the largest market for probiotic supplements sold through e-commerce. While probiotic supplement sales have been significant over the past decade, some industry observers predicted that fermented foods and more probiotics option in food and beverage would slow sales of probiotic dietary supplements.

The global pandemic, however, upended these predictions. The increased interest in immune support, and consumer understanding of the role of the gut and its microbiome in immune function led to many companies reporting significant growth, with some players reporting 15-20% YoY growth in February and March​.

Increased use carried over into the early summer months, with a survey from DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences​ finding that American consumers increased their probiotics usage from 15%six months prior to the time of the study to 25% in May, an increase of 66%.

A congested landscape

The Lumina report highlights that while there are a lot of probiotic supplement products for consumers to choose from online, (Lumina’s scan captured 53 companies (global brand owners) and 248 brands), the top 15 global brand owners by number of reviews account for 81% of all reviews (July 2020).

Indeed, the US market is dominated by established players including Culturelle (i-Health/ DSM), Align (P&G), Renew Life (The Clorox Company), Garden of Life (Nestlé), Rephresh (Church & Dwight), Jarro-Dophilus (Jarrow Formulas), and Dr Tobias (Mimi’s Rock).

All of the main dietary supplement players also offer probiotic products, including NOW, Nature Made (Pharmavite), and Nature’s Way (Schwabe Group), for example, while most retailers offer their own private label probiotic products, including Walgreen’s, CVS, Walmart, and Kroger, giving consumers a lot of choice

Digestive health and women’s health

The top position for probiotic supplements in US e-commerce remains digestive health, which is claimed by 244 products. Probiotic supplements positioned to support digestion received 242K reviews in July 2020.

Women’s health remains a category to watch, with probiotics benefiting vaginal health seeing the third fastest growth (92%) in the number of reviews in the first half of 2020, indicating a sharply rising consumer need. Lumina captured 23 products specifically formulated to support vaginal health

“The competitive fight is on”

Commenting on the new report, Ewa Hudson, director of insights for Lumina Intelligence, told NutraIngredients-USA: “With so many probiotics on the market offering consumers relatively similar health benefits, especially around immunity and digestion, it’s becoming hard for products to stand out. The competitive fight is on, and the online space is the epicenter of the game.

“Consumers can so easily cross compare product features online. Some of them simply think the more the merrier. They look at the CFU dosage, how many species in the product, health/function claims made, and are ready to buy. Or so they think. But just before hitting that purchase button, they also check the number of customer reviews, and what people say. They will think twice if the products gets below 4 stars. They want the assurance coming from other product users, not the adverts, that products work as intended. Whether they search for probiotics alleviating constipation, outbreaks of eczema or acne, they feel happier parting with their money when others confirm that they had seen the results.”

Hudson added that there is another group of consumers already starting their product search with reviewing the number of reviews and star ratings and working from there.

“Of course, what they are shown on the retailer platform is subject to sophisticated algorithms running in the background that favor products that engage consumers, that receive higher satisfaction rates. Therefore, reviews increasingly rule the location of products on the retailer page, and whether displayed on page 1 or 100.”

Hudson said there is no escape from the fact that these days customer reviews will make or break the brand in the e-commerce world, and a careful strategic management of customer engagement is key to product’s success.

“Manufacturers need to know which are the most engaging probiotics online and what’s in their formulations, as this sets the benchmark for the whole category,” she said. “We see, for example, that probiotic supplements formulated with prebiotics receive more reviews and higher star ratings in the US. Manufacturers also need to know what benefits consumers search for and be guided by these when preparing marketing materials or planning the NPL roadmap.

“The first half of 2020 certainly saw interest in relatively new areas that probiotics address, such as women’s health and inflammation, for example. That’s why this report provides the strategic detail mapping out the online engagement with probiotics not only by brand, manufacturer and the ingredient supplier, but also target population for gap analysis, and health benefit.

“Stakes are getting higher and higher as the probiotic offering increases sharply in the US. Listening to what consumers say and a fast response to their changing needs is critical.”

About Lumina Intelligence

Lumina Intelligence​ is a unique insights service covering the probiotics markets, focusing exclusively on the e-commerce retail channel. Through the analyses of post-purchase reviews by customers across leading online retailers; and the detailed ingredient data and product labelling data (including format, dosages and health claims), Lumina supports companies in delivering a winning NPD strategy by identifying the niche areas to succeed and by providing data for an e-commerce strategy.

The service is part of William Reed, publisher of food and drink news sites including Nutraingredients and FoodNavigator.

Source: Lumina Intelligence​ - Strategic Fact Sheets
“USA: Probiotic supplements in e-commerce”
Authors: E. Hudson & S. Daniells

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