Consumer surveys show growing interest in vitamins and supplements across age groups but, most strikingly, among millennial consumers, GlobalData Consumer reports.

Covid-19 has prioritised health in the minds of consumers worldwide and is proving a factor in the growing interest in vitamins – especially among relatively young consumers.

Millennials are over twice as likely to buy more vitamins as a result of the pandemic than their baby-boomer parents. New research by GlobalData suggests this is down to a difference in perception when it comes to health, wellbeing and the pandemic itself. 

Covid-19 has fundamentally affected consumer concerns around health. According to a recent consumer survey from GlobalData, approximately 25% described themselves as extremely concerned about their health. Within that, around 30% of millennials described themselves as extremely concerned. 

Many consumers will attempt to bolster their immune health with supplementation but what’s interesting is it’s younger consumers who are both most concerned about their health and buying more of these products, despite being in a lower-risk demographic.

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This response seems to confirm the stereotype of the millennial as psychologically stressed, perhaps sensitive, and evidence suggests millennials seek psychotherapy more frequently than Gen Xers and other earlier generations.

Psychological explanations for this higher generational stress level vary but mainly focus on financial issues, such as a difficulty in finding jobs, low job security, wages not rising with costs of living and expensive housing.

During the pandemic, these concerns have been compounded and appear to be playing a role in the increased focus on health. In the face of a novel disease, consumers are seeking products they believe are beneficial to health in order to prevent infection and bolster their immunity. GlobalData can reveal the heightened global concern over health and wellbeing correlates with increased vitamin purchasing during the pandemic, with millennials leading the trend.

This week, Unilever moved again to bolster its product range in this area, with the acquisition of US-based SmartyPants Vitamins. A year ago, the Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream owner snapped up another vitamins business in the US, Olly Nutrition. And, looking at the broader area of nutrition, Unilever has also, through a deal that closed in April this year, recently snapped up the food-and-beverage brand Horlicks and other consumer healthcare nutrition products from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in India.

Speaking last month, Hanneke Faber, the head of Unilever’s food division, said “functional nutrition”, as well as plant-based meat, were areas of interest to the group. “Before the pandemic, those would be great growth spaces for us. They continue to be great growth spaces during the pandemic,” she noted.

In September, Nestlé chief executive Mark Schneider said the world’s largest food maker expects to double the monetary value of its health and nutrition business, Nestlé Health Science, by next year.

“Our Nestlé Health Science unit has been on a tear even before the pandemic. A few years back, this was a CHF2bn (US$2.2bn) business. We expect to double this to about CHF4bn by the end of next year. Very strong organic growth, especially in vitamins, minerals and supplements,” Schneider said, talking in the wake of the Swiss giant’s acquisition of Aimmune Therapeutics, an allergy-treatment firm based in the US.

Nestlé Health Science markets a range of products aimed at a variety of health conditions and, housed within the unit, is Canada-based vitamins and supplements group Atrium Innovations, which the company acquired three years ago.

The movements of some of the largest names in packaged foods towards health-positioned products show the powerful and lasting presence of concerns over health and wellness, which have been brought into sharp focus by the pandemic.

Markets should expect to see a surge in products with Vitamin D in particular, as Vitamin D deficiency is associated with more severe Covid-19 cases in the medical literature. This will become especially pertinent during the autumn and winter months in the northern hemisphere, as sunlight, key to Vitamin D production, is on the wane. 

The pandemic has had a series of impacts upon health concerns. Globally, millennials seem to be taking the issue most to heart, meaning that companies that make supplements, health-positioned or fortified products should consider tailoring products and marketing more towards this target group and their health concerns specific to the pandemic.