I have been a big believer and consumer of supplements to support my health, and at times, to address certain issues like sleep or digestion. Our work on supplements has shown us that the primary reason that people take supplements in the U.S. is general health, followed by heart health and healthy aging. And in the age of self-care, we are also seeing supplements for mental health (think anxiety and depression) as a driver among younger consumers.

During 2020, more people turned to supplements than ever before as the pandemic brought health concerns to the forefront.

In fact, Multivitamins alone saw double-digit growth: children’s multivitamins grew +37.2%, women’s multis +19.6%, and Men’s +33.7% . In 2020, the Olly supplements brand grew by +70%. Many studies have shown the relationship between testing positive for COVID and vitamin D levels. One study found that among those with higher levels of Vitamin D, the COVID positivity rate was almost 50% lower than among a group of people with low levels of vitamin D.

One size does not fit all

To help consumers respond to individual situations like this, new supplement brands and established ones have turned to personalization, which is prevalent in many other categories like skin care and hair care.  

Supplement start-ups like Baze offer an at-home blood test. The online results from the blood test are used in combination with a survey you complete to tell you what supplements (and food) you should take.  New brand Honed asks for a tablespoon of your hair to assess your cellular health, metabolic activity, nutrient levels, and toxic metal exposure to suggest the right supplements to address your nutritional imbalances and deficiencies.

In supplements, people will pay a lot more for a brand they trust

These are companies you’ve likely never heard of, and with consumer trust of brands lagging, and 59% of people reporting that they’ll gladly pay more for a brand they trust,  it’s not surprising to see big supplement brands also playing in personalization.

Trust is a particular problem in supplements because they do not require FDA approval, and product quality, dosing, and efficacy can be inconsistent.  Claims are often made that can’t be supported.  Thirty year-old Nature Made launched its Nurish brand in 2020 with hopes to bring a trusted name to the DTC supplements market.  The “#1 pharmacist-recommended vitamin and supplement brand” delivers a 30-day supply of personalized vitamins to your door.

Not your grandma's supplement pills

Consumer expectations are changing everywhere, and new supplement brands are popping up to deliver the benefits of traditional supplements but with a much better experience.  Many are in new forms. itSpray introduced BOOSTit, an oral vitamin spritz that you spray in your mouth that claims to act faster than gummies, powders, and pills.  The Care/of brand offers pixie-like powdersticks to deliver benefits like energy and stress relief on-the-go.  

New supplement brands are popping up to deliver the benefits of traditional supplements but with a better experience

Other forms move supplements into the functional food space, like So Good So You pressed juice shots that promise a variety of benefits from immunity to beauty.  Golde offers a CacaoTurmeric superfood latte blend powder to mix with coffee or milk with 7 essential superfoods to support skin glow, debloating, and stress balance.

The movement to provide nutritional supplement benefits through plant-based forms like adaptogenic mushrooms is on the rise. Mushroom-based supplements grew in sales by +46% in 2020. FourSigmatic offers mushroom ground coffee with gut and immune-supporting Chaga and Turkey Tail mushrooms, prebiotics, and probiotics.

The 80 year-old vitamins and supplements category will continue to be redefined, as consumers take more responsibility for their own health and wellness and seek cleaner, healthier solutions that fit their lifestyle.  Competition will continue to intensify.

Entrants to the vitamins and supplements market should keep a few things in mind

Ingredients alone aren't enough

In many categories, including vitamins and supplements, we see a race to the bottom when brands define themselves around an ingredient, whether that be mushrooms, collagen, or ashwagandha. For a brand to be successful long-term, it must stand for something unique and relevant that reflects a deep understanding of consumer needs and attitudes. It should deliver a benefit that solves a real problem - both functional and emotional - for consumers.

Trust is a critical success factor

We’ve seen that trust in brands has been eroding over time, and brand trust is a key driver of purchase and loyalty. Trust takes time to build, so it’s important to make sure each building block of a brand builds up your trust quotient. Avoid making claims that may be compelling but can’t be supported by real science, especially in a category like supplements that is ingested and impacts human health.

Innovation really matters

Even in this digital age where brand and product launches can happen faster than ever, innovation that is meaningful and adds real value to consumer lives is still necessary to have a sustainable brand longer term. Especially for new brands, simply copying an existing solution in innovative packaging does not necessarily lead to a brand that will be around for the next generation.

Lynda Ferrari

Lynda is a consumer marketing expert with a track record of successful U.S. and global product launches. She has created new product innovations across consumer wellness, from personal care to digital health. She is a founding partner of Compass Marketing.

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