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Paging Dr. Nature: Vitamin and Supplement Sales Boom Amid Coronavirus

Vitamins, supplements and even homeopathic remedies are experiencing unprecedented levels of demand during the coronavirus pandemic.

Vitamins and supplements have never been more relevant.

In the weeks leading up to the coronavirus crisis in the U.S., sales of immune-boosting, stress-relieving and general wellness-promoting ingestibles surged exponentially, charting record growth and astounding even the experts who track the market.

Amid a global pandemic and near nationwide coronavirus lockdown, wellness is thriving. Sales of vitamins and supplements are up not only online, where many consumers have started to shop, but in the essential food, drug and mass stores that are permitted to remain open.

The $1.6 billion multivitamin market, for instance, grew 23 percent in just one week in March, according to data from IRI, which tracks store sales in food, drug and grocery. Melatonin, a $639 million market, grew 38 percent in one week.

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A halo effect has spread from immunity-boosting supplements to anything that even vaguely promises to boost mental or physical health in any way.

Other categories that tracked, double, triple, and in a few cases, quadruple-digit growth include vitamins C and D, elderberry, zinc, echinacea, turmeric, ginger, CBD, horsetail, magnesium, amino acids like taurine, and adaptogens such as ashwaganda and rhodiola.

The numbers from March are “just crazy,” says Joan Driggs, an analyst at IRI, fueled by panic shopping and stockpiling as the virus spread and consumers raced to prepare for the pandemic.

“The economy is tanking, COVID-19 is running rampant, people are either out of a job or working from home in a really unsettling time,” says Driggs. “A lot of the daily control is gone, but personal care is still there—you can control how much sleep you are getting and what you’re eating. This market is considered part of [the consumer’s] war chest. ‘This is what I can do to arm myself at this time.’”

Walmart and Costco may be the two biggest channels for vitamins and supplements, but even small retailers catering to niche audiences are seeing unprecedented levels of growth. StandardDose, a wellness boutique that sells CBD and plant-based nutrition and beauty supplements in its NoMad storefront and on its web site, has seen a sharp rise in sales, particularly for products that specialize in sleep and stress.

With nonessential services and retailers in New York on coronavirus lockdown, founder and chief executive officer Anthony Saniger was initially concerned he’d lose business, but sales quadrupled month-over-month in March as his regular customers began to shop online. Since the store opened a little over a year ago, sales have grown about 60 percent per quarter.

“Specifically the supplements in our immunity category blew out,” says Saniger. “Right now we’re looking at 950 percent month-over-month growth in that category. It was a really small category for us—never really on our radar before.”

Vitamins and supplements that claim immune-boosting benefits are having a real moment, a moment that is positioned to continue as the pandemic eases, but anxieties linger.

Saniger is “already in conversations” with other brands to bring on products that promise to boost immunity or help ward off potential illness.

One brand that Standard Dose just launched is Hilma, which is billed as “natural remedies that are alternatives to what’s in your medicine cabinet,” according to cofounder Nina Mullen.

The brand’s assortment consists of three products, including one for prevention and two for relief: Immune Support, $20; Upset Stomach, $17, and Tension Relief, $15, all formulated with natural ingredients.

Hilma Immune support is a drink-mix powder in the style of Emergin-C, formulated with zinc, vitamin C, echinacea and ginger and turmeric.

“[The food and beauty industries] are shifting from conventional to better-for-you. It really felt like the medicine cabinet was stuck in the past,” says Mullen, who says she came up for the idea of Hilma when her friend asked her if she had an immune support drink mix on hand. “It was a really bizarre moment that I even had it—I limit sugar and dyes. There was this gap in the market for better-for-you medicine.”

Coronavirus Supplements, Vitamins, Homeopathic Remedies
The latest entrants to the vitamins and supplements market

Hilma launched in Januaury, and is seeing strong sales, says Mullen.

High demand of vitamins and supplements is causing a halo effect for all types of natural remedies, including homeopathic products, a trend that is likely to continue says Wendy Liebmann, chief shopper at WSL Strategic Retail. 

“It’s a growth category,” says Liebmann of homeopathy. “The traditional products in the category are working really hard to stay in stock. People are looking for new old world remedies, any alternative way of healing.”

Sharon Leite, ceo of The Vitamin Shoppe, listed Boiron Oscilliococcinum, a homeopathic remedy for flu-like symptoms, as one of the retailer’s sell-out products, along with supplements Vitamin C, Zinc and Elderberry, in the weeks leading up to the pandemic.

Despite the initial rush to snap up wellness products, experts agree that much of the growth of vitamins and supplements during this time could be sustainable even after the pandemic.

“We’ll continue to see heightened use,” says Liebmann. “There was an underlying trend of health and wellness driving it before the virus, and now people are really wanting to do everything to take care of their health and wellbeing. The global risk is substantial and [consumers know] the need to be doing more on a day-to-day basis.

The category is primed to experience “even more growth in the new normal,” says William Hood, managing director of William Hood and Company, an investment bank focused on transactions in the vitamin and supplement space. “The current level of high demand for vitamins will be there as long as COVID-19 is in the psyche — we’ll continue see growth numbers as long as consumers think [the virus] can still be there.”

Categories may not be experiencing 415 percent growth in one week, as vitamin C did in one week in March according to IRI, but there will still be growth says Hood, along with fear of the coronavirus and other potential health threats. “Consumers [will now know] that a virus…can spread in a matter of weeks, and will all believe that having good health and hygiene are weapons. People who were dismissive of vitamins before will be converted in permanent users.”

Private and equity firms and global strategics have been snapping up vitamin and supplement brands for the past decade. Last year, for instance, Unilever acquired gummy vitamin maker Olly Nutrition. In August, Nestlé acquired Persona, a personalized nutritional supplement business. 

While mergers and acquisitions activity overall may slow in the short term, Hood’s long-term view is that once it begins to ramp back up, vitamins and supplements will be a hot target.

“Long-term strategic interest in the category was at a record high before the pandemic…we were seeing high strategic valuations similar to what you were seeing in beauty,” says Hood. We’ve spoken to supplement brands [this month] and they’re experiencing record sales and consumer demands. The appetite will only be higher.”

The Boost Brigade

The newest vitamins, supplements and alternative remedies.

Hilma Immune Support, $20

Launched in January, a new direct-to-consumer brand promising to “upgrade the medicine cabinet” with natural formulas.

Tomen Immunity, $60

Plant-based concentrates from a publishing exec turned juice bar founder.

Objective Wellness Immune+, $25

A new direct-to-consumer brand from Clorox, targeted at Gen X and run by a former exec.

The Nue Co One Daily, $45 each

Launching this month, seven targeted formulas that challenge the concept of a one-size-fits all multivitamin from The Nue Co.

Anser Women’s Multi, $29

Another new direct-to-consumer brand targeted at Millennial moms and backed by Tia Mowery and supplement company BioSchwartz, launched in January.