COVID-19 vitamin surge: Panic-buying of popular brands in Philippines raises inventory fears

By Tingmin Koe contact

- Last updated on GMT

Consumers and pharmacies have been hoarding vitamins since Luzon went into "enhanced community quarantine", according to an industry expert from the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP). © Getty Images
Consumers and pharmacies have been hoarding vitamins since Luzon went into "enhanced community quarantine", according to an industry expert from the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP). © Getty Images

Related tags: Philippines, Vitamin c, COVID-19

Philippines consumers and pharmacies have been hoarding vitamins, with sales of such items skyrocketing by 10 times since Luzon – the country’s most populous island and where the capital Manila sits went into a lockdown – a local industry body has said.

Popular items include multivitamins, vitamin D, and supplements containing at least 500mg of vitamin C.

This is according to Janette Jakosalem, chief executive of medical and supplement distributor Metro Drug and a trustee of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP).

The distributor of Centrum, Clusivol, Stresstabs, and C-4 Kids, Jakosalem told NutraIngredients-Asia ​that the sales of popular vitamin brands have surged by 10 times higher in the past month, which has been eating into the firm’s inventory, leading to an “artificial shortage”.

“The consumers used to buy one week’s worth of products and now they are buying one to two months’ worth at one go.

“I am not sure if we have reached the peak [on the consumers’ demand for vitamins]. What I can say is that as a distributor, the drugstores are starting to stockpile as well,” ​she said.

This is not only a situation seen in Luzon, but also in other islands, she said, because the quarantine measures have shopped domestic flights and shipping.

The country first went into an ‘enhanced community quarantine’ on March 17 which has now been extended to May 15. Public transport has stopped while food and necessities establishments are allowed to remain open.  

As of April 26, the country reported​ 7,579 COVID-19 cases, with 501 fatalities. 

For Metro Drug, the company usually keeps about 60 days’ inventory in its warehouse but due to the high demand, the stock of its best-selling products can now only last for 30 days.

Since most of the local manufacturers produce dietary supplements alongside medicines, they are considered ‘essential services’ and are still able to manufacture supplements.

However, Jakosalem said that there could be potential shortages in terms of raw materials needed to make the supplements.  

Import is not a viable option either. In China, there were still problems with logistics services and in India, she said that the exports of COVID-19 related items have been put on hold.

“We have been telling consumers to only buy what they need,”​ she said, explaining that consumers were hoarding the vitamins because they wanted to reduce their trips to the pharmacies and worries about a potential shortage.

Vitamin C is one of the hottest buys in many countries, including Singapore​ and China​, in the past few months. Firms have told us that the shortage of vitamin C will be complicated by a longer delivery time and more expensive freight costs​.

National budget

The Philippines government has also allocated budgets for the procurement of vitamins and other medical goods for distribution into the cities and municipalities.

The national finance ministry – the Department of Budget and Management – announced the PHP$6.19bn (USD$122m) worth of ‘Bayanihan Grant to Provinces’ on April 13.

The grant, which will be released to all provinces, can only be spent on COVID-19 related purchase. Vitamins have been identified as an approved purchase.

Earlier on, we also reported how the Philippines health authorities have announced the plan to supply vitamin C to school children.

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