Learning how to bottle nutrition

What's causing a stir in nutritional supplements? Brain boosters and a cure for the common sunburn



More than two-thirds (68%) are eating more fruit and vegetables, and 50% are cutting down on sodium and sugar, according to “Tracking Nutrition Trends,” a report from the Canadian Foundation for Dietetic Research.

But many Canucks think their better eating habits could use some help.

Euromonitor International says Canadian sales of vitamins and dietary supplements reached $1.4 billion in 2013, up 2% from the previous year. Sales are expected to grow another $1 billion by 2018, the research firm predicts.

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Dietary supplements account for a large share of global consumer health retail sales. But it’s those targeted to brain health– zinc and biotin, for example–that are outpacing the entire category, according to Euromonitor. It’s not unexpected. After all, aging boomers and seniors don’t mind spending to keep their grey matter in tip-top shape.

Three of the hottest supplements in Canada this year are omega-3 and vitamins C and E, says the Canadian Health Food Association. But a fourth, astaxanthin, might come as a surprise. Buzz for this carotenoid is surging. Among its touted benefits: it relieves aches and pains, gives eye health a boost and reduces skin dam- age from the sun.

Probiotic supplements, meanwhile, are doing well; they grew by double digits in Canada in 2013, with $64 million in sales.

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“People are aware that probiotics added to cereal and juices are not going to have the same effect as taking a well-researched supplement,” says Nicole Fetterly, nutrition operations manager at Choices Markets in B.C. “Even the shopper who is the least focused on health is still thinking of probiotics.”

Fetterly says she’s also seeing more customers buy vitamins and minerals that are “food-based” rather than synthetically created in a lab.

“Companies like Natural Factors have their own farms where they are growing their ingredients,” she says. “Pranin is another [company] that uses whole foods, such as curry leaves, for some of its products.” Even pharmacy chain Rexall has its own line of all-natural vitamins through its private-label brand, Be Better.

Of course, it’s not all upside for vitamins and supplements. Recent studies have questioned if multi- vitamins or even vitamin D have any benefits at all since most foods–even junk food– are fortified with vitamins. Not that scientists believe the findings are going to slow down sales.

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“I think people have this natural inclination to take something. That’s probably never going to go away,” Dr. David Juurlink, a professor of clinical pharmacology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto observed not long ago.

Retailers are betting that Juurlink is right. U.S. supermarket giant Kroger recently acquired, an online seller of vitamins and supplements that stocks more than 45,000 products and delivers to Canada. Others, such as Sobeys in Halifax, have established relationships with the natural health food stores.

“We aren’t always able to carry everything a customer is looking for, so that’s where the health-food stores come into play,” says Katrina Haché, a Sobeys well-being counsellor. “I also get customers referred to me from their end because we’re all in it for the same reason–to make Canadians healthier.”