Recent news is certainly good for the vitamins and supplements market – the category has shown growth of 1.8 per cent in the past year to more than £360 million, according to figures released in June. The Kantar Worldpanel figures show that sales of vitamins and minerals were up by 5.9 per cent to £431.4 million. Multiples, in particular, have had a large increase in sales, the figures suggest – with Boots leading the way with an almost 10 per cent increase.
The category attracted attention when the data was released, as sales of supplements had overtaken analgesics sales for the first time.
This points to an opportunity for individual community pharmacies to grow the category. An ageing population could well be leading the way in this vitamin boom.
A report, Hidden Health Challenges, which was commissioned by the Health Supplements Information Service and the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB), recently revealed that shortfalls of omega-3 fatty acids are widespread and that nine out of 10 older people have inadequate vitamin D intake. The lack of this nutrient is partly due to the fact that our ability to synthesise vitamin D from sunshine decreases with age.
In addition, 15 per cent of over-60s are thought to be deficient in vitamin B12. Dr Carrie Ruxton from the Health Supplements Information Service concludes that supplements, for example a daily multivitamin, can help maintain health, plug nutrient gaps and address the nutritional challenges associated with ageing.
Within the category, Britain’s ageing population is also helping to fuel increased sales of supplements designed to help alleviate or prevent joint and muscle strains.
GOPO Joint Health brand manager Miriam Luff notes the trend. Referencing a study published by the BMJ, which showed that between one-third and one-half of adults in the UK suffer with chronic pain from conditions such as back pain and osteoarthritis, she comments, “Nutritional supplements that are able to be taken long-term are a popular option for those with joint pain, and pharmacists, who are increasingly likely to be called upon to advise on long-term joint-pain management, should be aware of the clinical data concerning the supplements they stock as this forms an important part of the basis of customer recommendation.”
Guidance for healthcare professionals on the management of osteoarthritis pain, including the use of analgesics, other OTC medications and nutritional supplements, is available at patient.info/jointpainhub/hcp. This evidence-led review was led by Dr Rod Hughes, consultant rheumatologist at Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
Many people start thinking about taking supplements to boost their memory as they age, and some experts advise recommending supplements that contain omega oils to customers who are looking for products that may help to support and even improve cognitive function.
“It’s hardly surprising that omega-3 appears to be so important for cognition because up to 40 per cent of the grey matter in the human brain is fat, and about half of it is the long-chain omega-3 DHA,” says Philip Calder, professor of nutritional immunology at the University of Southampton and advisor to Equazen. “DHA is essential for normal brain function, while another long-chain omega-3, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), has been shown to influence mood and behaviour”.
He reinforces the findings of the Hidden Health Challenges report, saying that it’s not just vitamins and minerals that many older people could benefit from supplementing.
“Seniors are falling short of EPA and DHA as well as other nutrients that support the brain, such as B vitamins, zinc and magnesium,” he says. “Up to the age of 64, adults manage with just 300mg, well below the recommended intake of 450mg, while over-65s do slightly better with an average of 400mg a week. However, some authorities recommend much higher amounts of EPA and DHA – up to 1,000mg per day – to support heart health in older people.”
Public health nutritionist Dr Emma Derbyshire comments: “For customers over the age of 50, taking a brain-boosting supplement such as Equazen is a sensible strategy. Equazen Mind 50+ is specifically developed for adults and includes a combination of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, B vitamins, zinc and magnesium.”
It’s hardly surprising that many people are feeling stressed and uncertain these days, and products such as Kalms are helping to support people who are dealing with anxiety and stress. Kalms Lavender One-A-Day Capsules is now available for the relief of symptoms of mild anxiety. “Anxiety is a growing issue, with one in five people now reporting feeling anxious a lot or all of the time,” says brand manager Elizabeth Hughes-Gapper. “A recent study by Cambridge University has also highlighted that both women and the under-35s are most likely to be affected.”
The launch is the first lavender oil capsule available in the UK and contains a uniquely prepared, pharmaceutical-quality active ingredient, says the brand. “Kalms Lavender One-A-Day Capsules offer a brand new option for pharmacists,” says Ms Hughes-Gapper.
Turmeric has been reputed to have anti-inflammatory properties for some years, and work began on developing an anti-inflammatory drug based on compounds derived from the spice last year. Researchers at Washington State University’s Institute of Biological Chemistry are studying a newly identified active component, TAI-LCx, to find ways of isolating it from plant tissue.
“Consumer understanding of diet and nutrition is increasing and, with it, confidence in food supplements,” says Tristan Allen, of supplement company ProfBiotics. “It is important for pharmacists to be aware of this trend and stock reputable brands which contain sufficient quantities of the active nutrients.” ProfBiotics offers a turmeric-based product, ProfBiotics Bowel, which contains the equivalent of six teaspoons of turmeric.
“Turmeric is hot news at the moment, thanks to one of its key compounds, curcumin,” says Professor Calder. “Recent research has shown that curcumin may help support bowel wellbeing if taken in sufficient quantity. Such quantities can be difficult to consume through diet alone.”
He highlights the opportunity for pharmacists to recommend vitamins, minerals and supplements for nutritional support targeting specific areas of the body to match an individual’s requirement. There is clear evidence for supplements pinpointing particular areas of concern and helping to build long-term wellbeing.”
As the category is in growth this could be a good time to encourage more members of the pharmacy team to improve their vitamins and supplements knowledge. This will allow the pharmacy to maximise the potential of the category for their business. Ask customers if they would be interested in more advice on good nutrition and supplementation – there may be a market that you haven’t yet explored.
When pharmacy staff are advising customers about the best product for them, establish their age group in order to recommend the right product. Check, too, that they don’t have any fish allergies and aren’t pregnant.
Good nutrition is important at any time, but people’s needs do begin to change in their 50s and onwards:
Source: HSIS, 2016
Nemesh Patel, Day Lewis Pharmacy, Chelmsford ‘We have an extensive space dedicated to the vitamins, minerals and supplements category. There is a huge range on offer to our customers, and typically sales mirror seasonal trends. We are about to embark on our flu vaccination season, and are promoting vitamin C and zinc products to boost the immune system – this can be a great way for teams to link sell. Multivitamin, ‘pick-me-up’ supplements and glucosamine products are traditionally in demand all year round, and we have noticed a big increase in vitamin D sales over the past 12 months. Customers are influenced by price and promotions in this category and it is important to remain competitive. But advice is the main reason that customers come to the pharmacy in this category, so while price is a factor, recommendations and insight into these products from healthcare professionals are a key driver for our sales.’
Rena Dadra, Village Pharmacy, London ‘Vitamins are very big in this area and I think that people are increasingly concerned about healthy living. In fact, we have increased the vitamins section and moved it to the front of the pharmacy. We find that Wellwoman and Wellman are very popular in the range, and we also stock a lot of Seven Seas products. I think that the most critical thing in this category is asking the right questions. For example, some people might not want a multivitamin; they may have had a blood test result that shows they are deficient in vitamin D or iron. You have to make sure they get the specific supplement they need by getting the right information from the patient.’
Shaheen Bhatia, P&S Chemist, Ilford ‘We get a lot of interest in vitamin and supplement products for specific groups of people, such as women’s and men’s multivitamins. Most of the interest is definitely driven by marketing to consumers from the brands and people do notice what is being widely advertised at the moment. One of the biggest changes in recent years in this category is that prescriptions for vitamins aren’t as common – so people are now more likely to take things into their own hands and seek advice to purchase their own vitamin products.’