“With so much concern around the spread of the virus, there has been an upsurge of interest in specific health priorities as a result,” Matthew Oster, head of consumer health for Euromonitor, said. “A focus around health outcomes has really caused people to reconceptualize and reprioritize their health, especially for undertreated considerations like mental health, through a lens in which these are long-disparate conditions. Stress relief, overall nutrition, energy, sleep, and other concepts are taking the lead, and leading companies are prioritizing and reinvesting in their core brands during this period of ongoing uncertainty and insecurity, with divestments and brand rationalization.”
Supplements Trounce OTC Sales
Of interest to the dietary supplements community at large is the fact that, in sales growth, dietary supplements trounced OTC (over-the-counter medications) in 2020. With increased vaccinations in many advanced economies, a return in consumption to historic averages, continued fiscal stimulus, and more, it is expected that global GDP growth overall will have a significant bounce-back by Q3 2021, Oster said.
With these considerations, he believes there are many factors which will continue to solidify a global consumer shift from OTCs to vitamins and dietary supplements, which are centered more predominantly around preventive health benefits, holistic wellness, and overall resiliency. According to survey data, Oster said that through 2021, 60% of consumers anticipate returning to pre-COVID buying habits when vaccines become widely available, along with 30% of consumers expressing an increased demand for consumer health products. Euromonitor anticipates that the shift away from OTCs in 2020 toward natural health products will solidify in 2021, and if it does, the industry should expect this shift to be permanent.
“I think this expectation is intuitive and I think OTC companies should take note. We’ve seen an incomparable impression on consumer behavior and while these tendencies are short-term at least, the longer a focus on prevention and immunity-oriented products lasts, the more likely this change in consumer behavior will last into the forecast period,” Oster said.
According to a survey, the proportion of global consumers who use dietary supplements daily or almost every day jumped to 31%, compared to 26% in pre-COVID 2020, and 24% in 2019. Among the biggest spikes in daily use were the U.K. and the U.S.
“Consumers will continue to prioritize supplementation as a component of healthy lifestyles and disease prevention in 2021,” Oster said. “Compare that with the fact that there was no change in self-medication with OTC products among consumers. However, we recognize that occasions of falling ill have reduced due to lockdown measures and reductions in socialization.”
Where Does Consumer Trust Lie?
According to Euromonitor’s surveys, there have been shifts in the health-related information sources consumers rank as most and least trustworthy. With virtual visits with healthcare practitioners having been introduced into the lives of many whose options were limited at the height of the pandemic, consumers have placed a great deal more trust in doctors who give them medical advice remotely.
Likewise, social distancing measures and fear of viral spread caused consumers to look for alternative sources of health advice. They often sourced advice from websites run by healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, which rose among the ranks in trustworthiness in 2021, especially due to such a large expansion of telehealth services done by pharmacies, healthcare practitioners, and consumers health companies. Notably, 42% of global respondents said they were “extremely” comfortable consulting with a therapist online or through an app, Janaki Padmanabhan, senior research manager of Euromonitor, said.
“We observed a much higher rate of comfort in using information on the internet to self-diagnose, or to use online healthcare providers,” she continued, noting that this was especially true in countries such as China, the U.S. and the U.K. Among the information sources people use to get health advice, friends and family, fitness trainers, and coaches all declined in consumer perceptions of trustworthiness, mostly attributable to a lack of in-person interaction which was seen through respective lockdown periods across the globe.
Chronic Health Issues Receive Renewed Attention
Because so many consumers have felt the urge to focus on their health over the past year, they’ve become more attuned to chronic issues affecting them, and are more worried about these issues. Health issues with the sharpest rises over the lockdown period included eye and vision issues, stress, anxiety, sleeping problems, upper digestive issues, joint and muscle pain, headaches, lower digestive issues, obesity, and seasonal allergies.
“Many of these changes are due to a combination of new, home-bound lifestyles, and a jump in worry surrounding health,” Oster said. “The pandemic has scrambled how consumers think about and how they manage chronic conditions.”
Stress has been heavily embedded in this newfound worry, and is manifesting in symptoms reported in surveys which imply “acute anxiety and depression at a pandemic proportion,” Oster said. 57% of global respondents now report “moderate stress,” which includes symptoms of anxiety, while 14% of global consumers report that they are constantly experiencing “extreme stress.”
“People are dissatisfied with current treatment approaches to stress management, and there’s no adequate pressure release valve,” he added.
Exercise, a Cure and Prevention
In light of a rise in stress, and a heightened awareness or full-on worry regarding chronic health conditions, people now approach exercise with the mindset that it is a tool which is part and parcel to disease prevention.
“Self-reported rates of exercise have jumped across the board in our most recent survey,” Oster said. “Interestingly, rates have jumped the most among consumers who already had the highest frequency levels, those who were working out 1-2 times per week, daily, or almost daily. One might think this was the result of reporting bias, but these rates didn’t materially change between 2019 and 2020 pre-pandemic. There does seem to be some influence of the circumstances of COVID that are forcing consumers to at least consider a need for frequent exercise, either as a stress reducer or as a way to break up the monotony of the day. But I’m partial to the idea that the reported higher rates of exercise are part and parcel of this expanded consideration of healthy living as a means of disease prevention.”
Oster identified several over-arching themes regarding consumer sentiment that dominated 2020, which will be extended through 2021.
A resulting component of the move toward nutrition and preventive health has been a skew toward products with natural ingredients. “There is a strident demand for transparency and trust in ingredients,” Oster said. “This is most fortunately the case for natural options. I want to call out the relatively new movement toward free-from alternatives in the marketplace.”
Furthermore, a rising tide of companies opting for digital engagement with consumers is likely to reap them rewards as they continue consumer education and marketing campaigns online, Oster said.
Customers continually want to experience the feeling of ownership over their own health, Oster said. “Especially after a year when many have been unnaturally separated from their GPs and doctors. Companies should take note and act as guiding agents in this process,” Oster said, adding that personalized plans and progress tracking could be beneficial.
Lastly, companies should take note of the successes seen in products which account for more home-bound activity levels, and augmented versions of active lifestyles.
“The movement to the home is an area that lets consumers know you’re still a partner in their new and evolving lives,” Oster said. “We’re seeing the evolution of working out as well in front of our eyes—away from the gym, more at home, and more in nature, as supported by increasing rates in working out despite the cutoff from traditional workout venues.”