Supplements may not be the darling of the media they once were, but the importance of vitamins and minerals and herbal and specialty supplements (VMHS) to consumers' health and wellness lifestyles should not be overlooked nor their role diminished.
Because of increasing consumer health consciousness (due in no small part to an aging population), the rise of "self-care" and "self-treatment", media attention and product proliferation, the supplement category continues to change and evolve - and remains complex.
Even the most advanced wellness consumers, who one might expect to shun any and all elements of the modern medical establishment, are still buying the one thing that symbolizes allopathic medicine to most of us: pills.
Past Hartman Group research has shown that consumers' movement from periphery to core along the wellness continuum increases their likelihood of using dietary supplements. Some of the triggers that get people started may include nutritional needs, health conditions (such as high cholesterol or arthritis) and aging. The lack of knowledge people have about supplements initially inhibit some consumers from buying supplements. Additional inhibitors include price and the perceived lack of scientific proof of the efficacy of these products.
Consumers continue to purchase and use nutritional supplements, but with less intensity and exploratory nature than what we saw in 2000. Today, mid-level and core consumers appear to have identified key supplements that they use with some regulatory (ranging from three times per week to daily) and have decreased their exploratory shopping for new supplements. We also find new interest in key supplements such as green tea, probiotics and Omegas.
Consumers have dramatically increased the number of phrases and behaviors that define "wellness" to them from 2000 to 2005. Particularly notable is "taking supplements," which is now seen as the path of wellness by 43% of consumers, nearly double the number in 2000 (23%).
The following language map illustrates the most predominate ways in which consumers think and talk about health and wellness. The map progresses from bottom to top, with the bottom representing consumers who are less involved in health and wellness (periphery wellness consumers) and the top representing those who are most involved in health and wellness (core wellness consumers). This map depicts several interesting shifts and changes from 2000. We find that wellness consumers still begin the journey with the desire to eat well, but with more intention towards living a healthier lifestyle.
The predominant themes of the language being used from periphery to core are represented by the black areas. The grayed "bubbles" represent secondary themes that run throughout the language analysis and support the primary themes. Supporting quotes, thoughts, tactics, activities, examples, etc. to what the primary themes mean to consumers are the white areas.
At the bottom, periphery wellness consumers have little or no brand recognition of supplements and knowledge is very limited. Moving up the ladder, brand awareness and knowledge increases among mid-level wellness consumers, but only moderately. At the top, brand awareness and supplement knowledge is at its zenith among core wellness consumers.
In general, except for the use of vitamins and minerals on an occasional basis, periphery wellness consumers have a much lower involvement with products outside of the traditional food groups.
As one moves towards the core, or top on the language map, the importance of specialty supplements to consumers increases more, relative to the other supplement categories, than the frequency in which consumers use the products. In practical terms this means that consumers use of specialty supplements lags behind vitamins and minerals, and herbal and specialty supplements.
Cultural Preferences to Health Products
Most American consumers address general health concerns (e.g., staying in shape, eating well, eating balanced meals, etc.) with daily, lifestyle routines and practices rather than targeted, acute responses (e.g., taking medication). At this level, most Americans use a vague "watching behavior (e.g., "I watch my sugar intake") or, if they are more evolved wellness consumers, they incorporate lots of fresh foods into their diet to address current and long-term general health. What they tend not to use is a specific plan of action requiring health products that target a specific health condition.
When consumers are experiencing chronic or acute health problems (allergies, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, osteoporosis, etc.), we find that they definitely shift from more general watching behaviors and high level dietary overhauls (with the requisite focus on avoiding "bad things") to more proactive and targeted health behaviors. In the case of this proactive set, those with diagnosed chronic conditions generally take medications and, if pushed, also alter their overall diet to avoid ingredients that might exacerbate their condition.
However, most consumers with chronic health conditions, we find, will end up turning to alternative medicine - to different pills. The chart below illustrates consumers' preferred delivery of functional ingredients when asked which format they preferred vitamins, minerals and nutrients delivered in. Overwhelmingly, respondents chose pills (72%) compared to the next most popular format beverages (26%).
Consumers view dietary supplements as a key symbolic component that they use in their lives to challenge the hold that they view pharmaceutical companies have over them. The most successful dietary supplement products are those that focus on offering up modes of control, including prevention, for which modern medicine offers either poor solutions, last-minute solutions, or no solutions at all. This fits well with what consumers report as the most commonly used supplements including vitamin C, calcium, fiber and vitamins B, E and D. These supplements use levels reflects consumer concerns about and increasing roles for products that offer antioxidants, bone and digestive health, as well as an overall perceived "increase in wellness."