Immunity booms in VMS as manufacturers continue to innovate

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Immunity booms in VMS as manufacturers continue to innovate

By Nora Caley - 05/05/2020

Vitamins, minerals and supplements are flying off retail shelves, giving retailers and suppliers a moment to cheer, while they collectively scratch their heads and try to keep up with demand. 

As weary and concerned consumers continue to look for products to help them boost their immune systems due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, retailers and suppliers report that they are having a hard time keeping up with demand in the VMS category, especially with any product that can give consumers a better piece of mind. 

“Our immunity products are flying off the shelves,” said Chuck Tacl, vice president of sales and business development at Miami Lakes, Fla.-based Mason Vitamins. “Whether it’s vitamin C or echinacea or zinc tablets, it has really increased overall sales and demand. Retailers are replenishing at a far heavier level.” 

Suppliers are doing their part to push demand, as well as make it easier for retailers to sell product. For example, Mason Vitamins has developed a “Prepare Prevent Protect” theme for its merchandising, with a focus on boosting immunity. These immunity health displays are similar to end caps set up at retailers in August and September, leading up to cough and cold season. The challenge now is to also have the products available for retailers and consumers. 

“You don’t want to scare people and create anxiety and exploit the opportunity,” Tacl said. “You want to support the retailer and the consumer, and supply what they’re looking for right now. That’s what’s happening with immunity products with coronavirus.” 

Other segments, including sleep, also are performing well, Tacl said. Digestive health is gaining momentum as more consumers learn about the microbiome and gut health. Another trend, he said, is that not only are retailers devoting more space to VMS than ever, but they are merchandising vitamins in other areas of the stores, including in beauty and eye and ear care.

Looking for Support 
Others agree that during uncertain times, consumers are turning to the VMS category. “There is increased consumer demand across the board in the vitamins, minerals and supplements category, particularly for immune support products containing vitamin C, elderberry, vitamin D and zinc,” said Bryan Donaldson, executive vice president of sales at West Hills, Calif.-based Pharmavite. “The Pharmavite team is doing everything possible to safely meet that demand so that we can live up to our company values and be there for our consumers through this tough time.”

Donaldson said that the company also is seeing increased demand for products in the sleep category, and Pharmavite will launch products and innovations in that area in the coming months. “There is also continued demand in the areas of stress, brain health and gut health, and gummies continue to be a popular form,” he said.

Gummies are much more than popular, said Kimberly Vigliante, senior vice president of wholesale sales and marketing at Piping Rock in Bohemia, N.Y. “Gummies are continuing to fuel category growth with no sign of slowing down,” she said. “Consumers are turning to this delivery form as an enjoyable way to get the nutrients they need.” Citing Nielsen data from Feb. 22, Vigliante said that gummies are driving 62% of all dollar growth and now make up 20% of the category. Gummies have been around for years, and today’s consumers want low-sugar options to accommodate dietary restrictions, as well as vegan options for people who don’t want gelatin. 

Vigliante agreed that immunity is hot right now, as consumers take a proactive approach to their health. There has been a surge in such immune supplements as vitamins C and D, elderberry, and zinc, and the company expects the surge to continue. “While immunity is usually seen as a seasonal concern, we think that we will see a shift in consumer behavior towards more year-round total immune support,” she said. “Additionally, we suspect next year’s cough-cold season will be a strong one for supplements, as more people will likely take a proactive stance to strengthen their immune health and perhaps even start their regimens earlier and be stricter about compliance.” 

If consumers do take a proactive stance and decide to buy vitamins, minerals and supplements, retailers should be ready and do more than just have products in stock. “There has been a lot of innovation, but much of it is repetitive, giving consumers too many choices,” Vigliante said. “As manufacturers, we need to simplify solutions for consumers. We need to give them the formulations and trending ingredients they want most, and we need to make it simple so that there is less confusion at shelf.” The way to do that is by educating consumers through merchandising, shelf displays and social media, she said

While gummies have long been a fun way to consume VMS items, chocolate provides another tasty delivery system. Officials at Gresham, Ore.-based Mybite Vitamins said they are redefining the vitamin experience by combining chocolate, peanuts and caramel. “This innovative idea means consumers can not only look forward to their daily vitamin, but can also enjoy a bite of healthy bliss,” said Kate Jones, president of Mybite Vitamins. “The unique delivery method ensures that the vitamins themselves are safely enrobed in a sheet of delicious chocolatey coating, protecting them from both light and air.” 

Chocolate, or any new delivery system, can offer additional benefits. “Innovation is the key to not only surprising and delighting consumers, but also accelerating overall category growth,” Jones said. “By looking forward and tapping into new and innovative products, retailers can bring the excitement back to the vitamin aisle.”

Beyond Immunity 
While innovation is crucial for the survival of any category, the VMS world faces certain challenges as it expands to meet consumer demands for proactive health. As more products enter the arena, the section can be a confusing one for consumers. “Especially in the digital age we live in, where the latest health news is at our fingertips, it’s difficult for consumers to know what they need, whether it’s more vitamin C or biotin,” said Michelle Yoon, brand manager at Olly based in San Francisco. 

Manufacturers can help retailers by simplifying the VMS category. Olly products have names that include Sleep or Undeniable Beauty, which point to benefits and make the shopping experience easy for consumers. “Olly provides solutions based on consumer needs like better sleep or immune system support versus ingredients like melatonin or elderberry,” Yoon said.  

Simplifying the aisle and making it easy to shop might become challenging as the category continues to grow. New York-based Reports and Data’s 2019 analysis said the global dietary supplements market was valued at $140.1 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach $216.3 billion by 2026 at a compound annual growth rate of 5.5%. 

As the category grows, it’s important to maintain product safety. “The biggest challenge is ensuring the quality of dietary supplements,” said John Atwater, senior director of the verification program at U.S. Pharmacopeia. The Rockville, Md.-based organization sets quality standards for medicines, dietary supplements and food ingredients worldwide. “It’s easy for a manufacturer to market a dietary supplement, but there are a lot of risks.” 

These risks, Atwater said, include source materials, supply chain complexities with global supply, and other such factors as transportation practices like shipping a supplement overseas in conditions that are not well controlled in terms of temperature and humidity. “There are a lot of factors a consumer doesn’t readily think about when they go to the store,” he said. “The source of materials, the amount of processing, the lack of compendial standards.”

Atwater said that USP Verification Services can help build trust. “If a product is USP verified, both retailers and consumers can trust the quality of the supplement,” he said. “We do that through a multistep process, and all of these steps we do on an annual basis, not a one-time activity.” The verifications involve Good Manufacturing Practice, or GMP; facility audits; product quality control and manufacturing process evaluation; and product testing in USP laboratories. 

The USP Verified Mark can help manufacturers and retailers with customers who care about quality. “It does highlight the fact their products are high quality,” Atwater said. “It also helps with risk management.” 

According to the Washington, D.C.-based Council for Responsible Nutrition’s 20th CRN Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements, 77% of Americans said they consume dietary supplements. The 2019 survey reported the majority of both males and females aged 18 years old and older take dietary supplements, which is in line with previous surveys’ findings. Among all the age groups, adults between the ages of 35 years old and 54 years old have the highest usage of dietary supplements at 81%.

One area that garners less attention than immunity and sleep is eye care. Bausch + Lomb is working to change that with its communications efforts. “What we hear from consumers who don’t purchase vitamins and from healthcare professionals who don’t recommend vitamins for their patients is a lack of understanding regarding the benefits vitamins and supplements can provide,” said Chris Marschall, vice president and general manager of U.S. Consumer Health Care at Bausch + Lomb. “Additionally, many shoppers find the vitamin aisle to be confusing and overwhelming, and they don’t understand the differences between all of the different offerings.”

 Manufacturers can support retailers by educating consumers and healthcare professionals about the benefits vitamins can provide. Bausch + Lomb offers a multifaceted marketing approach that raises awareness and drives trial of its products. The efforts include collaborating with national lifestyle and health news outlets; launching new TV, print and social media ads; and working with eye care professionals and health associations to conduct research about the brand’s products. “As a leader in the eye vitamins category, we are committed to educating those consumers and patients who may benefit from vitamins and supplements, and driving them to the shelf,” Marschall said.