NBJ: How vitamin C demonstrates the law(s) of gravity for the US supplement industry

28 Jun 2023

US sales of vitamin C and botanical supplements saw the biggest growth during the Covid-19 pandemic but have since declined, according to the latest Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ) Supplement Business Report, demonstrating how fast and how far fortunes have changed for ingredients and channels in the post-pandemic era.

The reason why “what goes up, must come down” is such a commonly used adage is because it is so universally true – but that doesn’t make it any easier for brands in the supplement industry to watch the big winners of the pandemic boom come down to earth, dramatically in some cases. At the same time, NBJ is also seeing categories and channels left out of the pandemic boom, finding strength as the pandemic slips into the rearview mirror.

NBJ: How vitamin C demonstrates the law(s) of gravity for the US supplement industry
© AdobeStock/Angelica Parisi

The fact that both gravity and pent-up demand can exist in the same market in the same year is among the lessons in the newly published 2023 NBJ Supplement Business Report.

The ups and downs of vitamin C and botanicals

Ingredients and categories that saw the biggest bounce in the 2020 boom include vitamin C, which saw a 58.1% spike, and herbs and botanicals, which built on what was already best-in-the-industry category growth, to hit 17.6%.

In the new report, however, both are down for 2022, with vitamin C declining 7.6% and herbs and botanicals down by 1.9%. The overall vitamins category that added $3.2 billion in sales for 2020 saw its US market size shrink by $466 million in 2022.

Such declines are what dragged the overall supplement industry to its slowest growth since NBJ began tracking sales, but declines are not all of the story. Gravity exerted its greatest grip on products that flew high in 2020. Call it pent-up demand or a side effect of the business cycle, but channels and categories that got trapped closer to earth during the pandemic fared much better last year.

Sports nutrition is back in the sprinter block

Sports nutrition had routinely been the fastest-growing category in the US industry through 2015 and was consistently not far behind herbs and botanicals since then. But in 2020, sports nutrition got left in the dust; even the typically sleepy minerals category did better, a lot better. When the world awoke from its pandemic slumber, however, sports was already in the sprinters blocks and clocked 9.2% growth for 2021, bettering that in 2022 with 9.7% growth, making it the fastest-growing category last year by far.

Similarly, the practitioner channel was left out of the equation in 2020 when health practitioners couldn’t see patients and gyms closed (gyms are part of the practitioner channel in NBJ’s model). Growth fell by nearly half that year. Now, however, NBJ tracking reveals practitioner as the fastest-growing channel, easily outpacing even e-commerce.

So perhaps just as “what goes up, must come down,” it holds that “what was held back, has a chance to shine.”

Learn more about the 2023 Nutrition Business Journal Supplement Business Report at the NBJ store.

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