From the editor's desk

Reason for optimism in supplements market

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

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Related tags Sales Sales growth Dietary supplements industry Dietary supplements botanicals

As the dietary supplement industry enters the century’s third decade there is significant reason to be optimistic about the decade ahead.

One criticism often leveled at news outlets is that we tend to focus on the negative.  One reason this is so the perception of what’s ‘newsy,’ that being that positive conditions represent things as they should be and so are inherently less interesting.  This could hearken back to frames of mind built into humans during evolution.  Who’s more likely to survive: The individual vigilant of the big cat hiding in the bush or the one who blithely assumes all is well?

So the idea became making the public aware of problems and threats is the best way to inform readers to help them lead successful lives.  But while I believe that is fundamentally true, I think it also carries within it the danger that one can turn a blind eye to the good things that are happening.

Continued criticisms

Take the state of the supplement industry.  There are plenty of threats I could focus on.  Just within the industry, high profile critics like Pieter Cohen, MD, continue to raise pointed criticisms that are difficult to refute.  The industry seems to have turned a corner on the use by mainstream outlets of the term ‘unregulated’ in connection with the dietary supplement industry.  But Dr Cohen’s continued critiques show that many intelligent observers don’t agree that the industry is appropriately regulated​. 

International tension, health care crisis

And there are wider threats to the industry’s continued prosperity.  Increasing tension on the international stage could eventually have ramifications in consumer confidence.  As dietary supplements sit somewhere on the fence between necessity and discretionary purchase, any restriction in spending habits could reverberate in the marketplace.

Ditto for the health care costs picture.  Late last year a federal appeals court struck down a key provision of the Affordable Care Act​. It remains to be seen what the long term implications of this decision will be but one thing is certain: It won’t mean that health care will be less expensive or health insurance premiums will go down in 2020. Dollars spent on doctors’ bills don’t go toward supplements.

Strong stock market, soaring sales

But there are plenty of positive signs for supplements. The Wall Street Journal​ reported recently that in 2019 the stock markets had their best year since 2013.​  While good market numbers no longer seem to have the same power to infuse consumers with confidence as they once did, surely this is a positive note for any business.

And dietary supplementation is becoming an ever more standard part of American life.  The Council for Responsible Nutrition conducts an annual survey and the 2019 edition confirmed a trend it has observed for a number of years.  More Americans are using supplements than ever before​.  The most recent survey found that 79% of women and 74% of men use the products.

Sales figures bear this out.  The American Botanical Council reported in September that sales of botanical products topped $8 billion in 2017​, and grew at an 8.5% clip.  It was the best performance for the sector since the 2008/2009 financial crash.  Sales for supplements grew then, too, but a more muted pace.  

An $85 billion market?

So here’s my prediction for the coming decade: A recession or business slowdown of some sort is a distinct possibility, which could depress results somewhat when the decade is taken as a whole. Nevertheless, if we assume the dietary supplement industry stands at about $40 billion today, that means by January 2030 it could hit $70 billion (a 5.8% growth rate) and could be worth as much as $85 billion (7.8% CAGR).

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