The pandemic made parents more mindful than usual of their children’s health and more educated about immune supplements’ purported benefits. Now that COVID-19 has subsided, that education has generated ongoing interest in kids’ immune supplements. Products include labels specifically marketed for children and general market formulations that are safe for kids.
“The pandemic raised awareness of maintaining health,” said Geolyn Gonzalez, VP of sales and marketing, Total Resources International. “People, especially parents, now understand the importance of supplementing children.”
The cough/cold segment of children’s supplements did particularly well. Sales increased 4.9% to about $203 million, said SPINS. But parents are also concerned with more serious infections like influenza, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and Strep A [see sidebar], which have been on the rise. “While it’s normal for respiratory tract infections to spike in the colder months, levels and numbers of children’s hospitalizations last winter appeared unusual,” said Hannah Braye, head of technical advice at U.K.-based ADM Protexin.
According to Kimberly Vigliante, SVP of wholesale and marketing, Piping Rock, vitamins C and D, immunity herb products, sleep aids and products for “gut health” are also popular for use by kids. While adults embrace them as well, potencies and recommended dosages are different. Adults may take 5 mg of melatonin, for example, but children often need just 1 mg, she added. Piping Rock offers melatonin gummies under its Just 4 Kidz line, part of its Nature’s Truth brand.
Braye said sleep issues can be symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression, which are rising among children. “American children are said by some to be in the midst of a mental health crisis,” she added.
Childlife Essentials offers Sleep Essentials, a melatonin-free alternative. L-theanine, a simple amino acid derived from tea (but without caffeine) and some mushrooms, is the key ingredient in this berry flavored herbal sleep aid.. Jamie Allen, marketing manager, also cited strength in zinc for kids.
Children’s digestive health supplements are growing, too, as more consumers recognize that strong immunity starts in the gut, where over 70% of immune cells reside, said Braye. Having the optimum balance of microflora is especially important in infants and children. “Research is indicating there’s a ’critical window’ in the first 1,000 days of life that can significantly affect immune system development,” she added. Braye also pointed to studies indicating that probiotics may reduce a child’s number of respiratory infections by almost half.
Suitable for babies, toddlers and young children, ADM’s Bio-Kult Infantis contains seven strains of beneficial bacteria as well as D3, omega-3 fatty acids and Preplex prebiotics.
Products to help children concentrate and focus are trending, too. Nordic Naturals is emphasizing supplements containing docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). This omega-3 fatty acid is a primary structural component of the human brain, cerebral cortex, skin and retina. “There’s been so much emphasis on Vitamin C and elderberry,” said Brian Terry, director of sales. “Now, different categories are emerging.”
While some suppliers indicated ongoing strength in gummies, SPINS cited an 8.2% decline in overall children’s gummy sales for the 52 weeks ended March 26, 2023. In addition to being saturated with gummies, the market is diversifying. Sales of liquid supplements, for example, increased 5.7%; powders grew 9.7%.
“People are trying new things,” said Terry. “While gummies are big, we’re seeing other formats.” Nordic’s clean label children’s DHA comes in gummy, chewable soft gels (strawberry flavored) and liquid (for both children and babies) formulations. Children’s and babies’ DHA is also available in vegetarian versions.
Childlife, which has mainly supplied natural food stores, believes there are more opportunities for its bottled, liquid formats in food, drug and mass. It has developed cardboard packaging for some of its bottles (including elderberry), making them more amenable to these channels. It also offers soft chews.
“Our liquids are growing at the expense of gummies,” said David Levy, director of sales, who was hired two years ago to target these retailers. “People don’t want to give kids `candy.’ These sugar-free alternatives are easy to consume.”
Piping Rock’s Just 4 Kidz focuses heavily on gummies. In addition to melatonin, it includes multivitamins/probiotics, black elderberry and vitamin C. It also has a chewable probiotic. “In kids’ vitamins, taste is everything,” said Vigliante.
While the market is unlikely to rebound to pandemic level sales, experts believe better performance is on the horizon once inflation ends and the market recovers from Covid-driven product saturation. “We don’t believe what’s happening now is a long-time trend,” said Tacl.