Dupont Nutrition Breaks Down the Pandemic-Induced Probiotics Spike

By By Mike Montemarano, Associate Editor | 08.26.20

Not only is usage higher than ever before, but compliance is also at an all-time high across the three countries surveyed: the U.S., China, and Italy.

In a recent webinar hosted by DuPont Nutrition, three experts discussed where they view the global market for this category of products headed next. Megan Destefano, marketing director for DuPont, Matthew Oster, head of consumer health market research at Euromonitor International, and Lori Lathrop Stern, PhD, RD, science liaison for DuPont, shared their insights through an overview of recent market research and product trends.
Not only is usage higher than ever before, but compliance (taking supplements according to the daily dosage recommendations per week) is also at an all-time high across the three countries surveyed: the U.S., China, and Italy. According to a survey conducted in May this year, U.S. consumers have increased probiotics usage by 66%, signifying that 25% of all consumers surveyed are now taking them, compared to 15% pre-pandemic. Additionally, the average daily use increased from 37-61%, where consumers in the U.S. now take probiotics 5.35 times per week on average compared to 3.57 times per week. It is projected that, in six months, 22% of U.S. consumers will still be taking probiotics.
Probiotics use in Italy increased a staggering 188% over the course of the pandemic, with Italian consumers taking probiotics supplements at an average of 4.42 days per week. It’s projected that, in six months, consumer probiotics use will still be double what it was at the pre-pandemic baseline, DeStefano reports.
China was considered to have the highest level of compliance and use in the pre-pandemic marketplace, though, despite this, the country saw a 108% increase in total usage by May. However, DuPont projects that probiotics use in China will fall back to baseline within a few months.

Immune Support  

Immune health is becoming a much more sought-after reason for using probiotics than in years past, as more research and product development continues to skew towards the potential that probiotics have in interacting with immune cells, 70% of which exist within the digestive tract. According to Oster, many other market segments, including general wellness, sports nutrition, over-the-counter drugs, and other markets have experienced downward trends throughout the course of the pandemic if the products fail to provide immune health benefits.
“The rest of the consumer health marketplace is suffering considerably,” Oster said. “There’s no need for on-the-go products, and it appears that consumers are moving toward food-based nutrition in the sports category.” This is further exacerbated by changes to lifestyles, social distancing measures, and a prevention-based mindset across the overall consumer health market.
While probiotics are leaders in the immune health products surge seen as a result of the pandemic, it is interesting to note that immune support is often not top of mind when supplement consumers think about probiotics applications – it is the third highest reason (40%) that consumers were taking probiotics, behind both general wellness and digestive health, in a survey conducted by Euromonitor before the pandemic hit, Oster said. However, it is likely that taking probiotics for immune support has grown since the pandemic hit.
Two major purchase drivers as of late in the probiotics market, on a global level, have been support from health care practitioners, and e-commerce. One in three probiotics users state that their healthcare practitioner is their top source of probiotics information in the U.S., and, further, 42% indicate that their physician recommended the probiotics they use to them.
While there was already a trend in the probiotics market shifting from brick-and-mortar to e-commerce, as of April, a whopping 40% of probiotics purchased were done so online in the U.S., DeStefano reports.
One significant difference in the European market is that they are more predisposed than any other region to prioritize buying probiotics at the pharmacy instead of online, though it appears that e-commerce is gaining steady ground.
Additionally, in China, most of the general awareness surrounding probiotics and their health benefits comes from TV and word of mouth, however, healthcare practitioners remain critical to sway consumers from an awareness to a willingness to purchase them.

Looking Ahead 
DeStefano believes that, moving forward, it will be useful to categorize probiotics users into two distinct categories – the symptom consumer and the wellness consumer. Symptom consumers once made up the greatest proportion of probiotics users, and still stand at around 25% of the consumer base globally, motivated to purchase probiotics in order to manage chronic conditions. They are more disposed to comply with a probiotics routine, and seek out products with the greatest scientific backing at a market price. They are more influenced by healthcare practitioners, and tend to prefer traditional delivery formats, mainly capsules.
On the other hand, there is a rising tide (about 38% of users) of wellness consumers. “These consumers are focused on the latest health and wellness trends, and are really able to fuel category growth,” DeStefano said. “However, they’re more likely to bounce around to new trends and products. They use probiotics for many of. The new health benefit areas, such as beauty, stress, oral health, and are more likely to prefer food formats, like kombucha, bars, cheeses, and more.”  
Common challenges that arise as a result of the fact that probiotics are live microorganisms will continue to be a determining factor in the rise and fall of certain products, Lathrop Stern said.
Probiotics are live organisms, vulnerable to many storage and processing conditions, including water activity, pH, temperature, and environmental aspects of the delivery format. Additionally, consumers and companies alike must become more discerning and forthright about the differences between strains, identifying them by full names which go beyond genus and species but specifically identify strain by number. Genetic safety assurance and verification of stability remain centerfold to product formulation for the DuPont probiotics with which Lathrop Stern works with, she said.

With the onset of winter, Oster believes that a second COVID-19 wave, the potential for supply shortages, and the typical seasonality are among some of the variables to keep an eye on in order to anticipate whether immune support will continue to sustain probiotics products.