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Inflation may exacerbate consumer interest in self-care as consumers seek to avoid the cost of doctor visits.

Self-care drives sales in HBC aisles

Diet products, immunity, respiratory treatments among top gainers

Consumers’ increased focus on self-care since the start of the pandemic has helped buoy supermarket sales of health and beauty care (HBC) items such as internal analgesics, weight control products, vitamins and upper respiratory treatments.

“Consumers are looking for benefits that are going to really assist them with their quest to stay healthy,” according to Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice president and practice leader of client insights at IRI.

Inflation may also exacerbate consumer interest in self-care, Lyons Wyatt said, as consumers seek to avoid the cost of doctor visits.

Since the onset of COVID-19, shoppers have stepped up their consumption of vitamins and products that support immunity, said Bennett Morgan, senior vice president and chief merchandising officer at SpartanNash.

More than ever before, customers value products that address specific need states, Morgan noted.

“To support this trend, we’ve prioritized merchandising shelves by both need state and brand so that our shoppers can easily find the product they need,” he explained. “Supporting our customers’ personal vitamin regimen and providing wellness care for when they are sick is a vital part of delivering the ingredients for a better and healthier life.”

Morgan said that Grand Rapids, Mich.-based SpartanNash saw vitamin purchases rise 20.8% in 2020 and then another 8.5% in 2021.

The sharper focus on health has driven a behavioral shift in the cough and cold category as well, he added. As a result, SpartanNash has prioritized providing holistic cold solutions for both the prevention and the treatment of symptoms.

In addition, because brand awareness is a key driver for purchases in this category, SpartanNash aims to make it easier for customers to shop the category by displaying products organized by symptom and brand.

Customers have also increasingly purchased cold medicine in combo packs and large sizes, Morgan said.

Pandemic stock-up categories see declines

Meanwhile, some nonfoods categories that experienced booming sales during the frenzied consumer stock-up phase earlier in the pandemic — such as paper towels, bathroom tissue and cleaning supplies — have since seen sales drop in year-over-year comparisons.

For example, supermarket sales of paper towels were down 10.7% for the 52 weeks through April 17, and toilet tissue sales fell 9.4%.

Sales of household cleaners fell 15% in supermarkets as well. But IRI’s Lyons Wyatt  noted that some research indicates that consumers might be gravitating toward premium items in that category, because many consumers are still spending more time at home than they were before the pandemic.

“When consumers are buying premium, they’re opting for a little better ingredient that's going to provide them with this feeling as if they’re rewarded or are spending a little bit more because they’re worth it,” she said. “When it comes to cleaning your home, and making sure that your kids have a safe place to play, then you may want to send a bit more on those items in order to feel like you did your best.”

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