Last updated on 29 June 2006
High dose vitamin and mineral supplements in the UK
Food Survey Information Sheet 12/06
Full title of survey
Survey to assess the market for high dose vitamin and mineral supplements in the UK and to determine the use of voluntary advisory statements.
The EC Food Supplements Directive (2002/46) makes provisions for setting maximum levels of vitamins and minerals for use in food supplements. The European Commission published a discussion paper regarding setting levels on 6 June 2006, and plans to put forward proposed levels for agreement by Member States in the Standing Committee on the Food Chain within two years.
In the UK, independent scientific experts who advise Government have already considered this issue. The UK Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals (EVM) published its report in 2003 recommending maximum safe levels of intake of vitamin and minerals. This provides an evidence-based risk assessment to underpin the FSA�s current approach to high dose vitamins and minerals and will also underpin the FSA�s consideration of forthcoming Commission proposals.
At the time of publication of the EVM report, industry advised that there were a number of products on the UK market that exceeded the levels recommended by the EVM. A voluntary agreement with UK manufacturers� associations was reached in May 2004, that certain vitamin and mineral supplements products should carry an advisory statement concerning the possible adverse effects of consuming such products. As a follow up to this, the FSA wanted to establish the extent to which advisory statements have been adopted by the supplements industry and are available to inform consumer choice.
In advance of receiving proposals from the Commission, the FSA Board has discussed options for the UK strategy on maximum permitted levels of vitamins and minerals in food supplements in September 2005. The Board supported an option to establish common maximum safe levels for individual vitamins and mineral supplement ingredients across the European Union, for the purposes of intra community trade, based on the European Food Safety Authority�s recommendations. In addition, a second tier of national guidance levels could be allowed in individual Member States, where there was evidence that dietary intake levels at a national level were lower than the figure for those used in setting the EU level, or a national expert opinion supported safe supplemental intakes. Supplements that exceeded the national guidance level would be permitted for sale at the discretion of national governments, provided that they carried warning labels 2004 (advisory statements) as agreed with the industry in 2004.
During its discussions, the FSA Board requested additional information on the size of the UK market for higher dose products and the number of people consuming these products. The aim of this survey was to address these points and to report the outcome of the survey to the Board. Information from the survey will then be used to inform future discussions on setting maximum levels of vitamins and minerals in food supplements.
This survey has involved carrying out market interviews to determine the market value of higher dose vitamin and mineral products. An industry survey was used to identify products that would qualify for an advisory statement. Information regarding consumer consumption of higher dose products was collated separately via a face to face omnibus survey. The survey was also used to determine the extent to which advisory statements have been adopted by the supplements industry.
The survey provides a partial snapshot of the UK supplements industry and demonstrates the complexity of this market with products available to UK consumers from overseas, Internet sales, sales via the post and from the retail sector.
It was disappointing that only a relatively small proportion of the industry took part in the survey. The FSA will therefore undertake further work to establish more fully the uptake of advisory statements.
Advisory statements are beginning to appear on products available to consumers. Nevertheless, to ensure consumers are fully aware of potential risks of consuming certain products, there is a need for the industry to be fully committed to this agreement. If the use of advisory statements are not achievable under a voluntary basis, then it may be difficult to demonstrate the feasibility of this option in discussions at an EU level, and other options may need to be considered to ensure that public health is protected, as well as consumer choice maintained.
Summary of results
Results from the Mintel market survey indicate that interviewees value the market for higher dose (at or above EVM upper levels) vitamin and mineral supplement products is 12-15% (£25-33 million per annum) of the total vitamin and mineral supplement market. A total of 31 companies have been identified that produce 744 products containing vitamin and mineral substances at or above the EVM safe upper or guidance levels, although this is not yet a full picture.
Of the UK-based manufacturers and suppliers that were contacted during the interview stage of the survey, most reported that they are either in the process of or already have added the advisory statements to packaging. However, products showing the advisory statements have only begun to appear on the shelves of retail outlets during the past few months.
Consumer consumption of higher dose vitamin and mineral supplements was investigated using the RSGBTM face-to-face adult omnibus survey carried out by TNSTM market research.
Results from the TNSTM consumer survey indicate that 43% of the adult population have taken vitamin or mineral supplements within the past 12 months, with the most popular supplements being cod liver oil and multivitamins (both at 23% of adult consumers). Two per cent of adults consume vitamin and mineral supplements that they consider to be higher dose products.