New Priorities: How the Coronavirus Pandemic Made "Wellness Culture" Mainstream

Aimee Bellah

Aimee Bellah

July 19, 2021

In an annual list of consumer types for 2020, Euromonitor pointed out an emerging type: the “self-care aficionado”. These consumers make it priority to eat a balanced diet, exercise and use vitamins and supplements—with preventive healthcare as a primary goal. At the time of the survey in January and February of 2020, they made up just 5% of the world’s population.

Given that the world has lived through a particularly traumatic pandemic, I wonder if the population share of this “self-care” crowd has grown from 5% since February 2020.

New Priorities

Early in the coronavirus pandemic, consumers’ attitudes toward their health were already showing signs of shifting.

For example, a July 2020 survey across Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK found 65% of consumers are now more likely to consider their health in daily decision-making. The vast majority of consumers also said they want to take more responsibility for their health to avoid putting pressure on their healthcare systems.

That mentality seems to have solidified on a broad scale as we entered 2021. In April, consulting firm McKinsey & Co. published a global survey painting a picture of a wellness market that is estimated at US$1.5 trillion.

A significant 79% of consumers now say wellness is important, while an impressive 42% call it “top priority”—an attitude that has been gaining ground over the past two to three years.

Despite some stagnation or a decrease in actual spending on personal wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, according to the survey, rising consumer interest is prepping the market for a rebound.

What does “Wellness” mean?

The coronavirus pandemic has given staying power to this apparent “wellness culture”—that much seems certain.  But the meaning of “wellness” is a little tougher to pin down—and varies by consumer and by region.

According to the McKinsey & CO. survey, wellness spans multiple categories, including overall health, fitness, nutrition, appearance, better sleep and mindfulness. But we can probably agree that the most obvious to start with are health and nutrition.

Vitamins and Supplements

Once people became wary of taking health risks, the first step appears to be any form of preventive care within their power. Part of that involves vitamins and supplements to promote physical health. And this behavior can be seen across the globe.

According to a recent survey, 34% of nutritional product users in the US have increased their use of vitamins and supplements since the pandemic began. In Canada, 27% consumers increased their intake.

In the States, consumers cited several reasons for their greater intake of vitamins and supplements, led by a desire for improved immunity among 52% of consumers. Another 48% want to balance their daily nutrition and 32% want to prevent new health conditions.

Among Canadian consumers, the reasoning is similar: 55% want to support their immunity, 43% aim to balance daily nutrition and 32% want to prevent new health conditions.

Based on the same survey across Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, Italians appear the most partial to using vitamins and supplements—favored by about half of consumers.

In India, 37.3% of consumers say additional vitamins and supplements are part of their new health habits that they adopted during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Over-the-Counter Drugs

While supplements appear to be the tool of choice for health maintenance, nearly half of supplement users in the US said over-the-counter medicines are option number one when they actually get sick, according to a December 2020 survey.

In contrast, just 14% of consumers said supplements were their go-to when they become sick.

Overseas, 34% of UK consumers said they would be stocking up on over-the-counter medicines as a precaution in the early months of the pandemic. And a survey of retailers and pharmacies confirms this: in March 2020, sales of OTC pain medicines such as ibuprofen and aspirin increased by as much as 30%.

Americans followed suit. When consumers rushed in March to stockpile supplies in preparation for lockdowns, 47% reported purchasing medications or vitamins.

The demand came in such a rush, in fact, that Kroger and its Harris Teeter chain placed limits on purchases of certain products in early March of 2020—including cold and flu products.

New Values

After reading myriad surveys of consumers and their spending on “healthy” new products, I arrived at another question: if nutritional supplementation doesn’t prevent one from actually becoming sick, will the trend die out?

My guess is no. The trends I’m seeing are about more than just product sales; they highlight what appears to be a set of values that are permeating cultures across the globe—values that uphold caring for one’s wellness in any form—be it health, nutrition, food or fitness.

But it isn’t just the obvious health-related markets that will be affected.

Consumers seem to be dedicated now to preventive care and avoidance of health risks—and it may very well dictate their decision making for nearly any product they purchase.


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