Antioxidants, Beyond the Package Hype

Articles
January 14, 2010

Antioxidants, Beyond the Package Hype

For all of the positive buzz about antioxidants, there are just three food and beverage segments in U.S. food stores (excluding supercenters) that exceed $100 million in annual dollar sales - and only two of them grew during the latest 52 weeks ended November 28, 2009.

For all of the positive buzz about antioxidants, there are just three food and beverage segments in U.S. food stores (excluding supercenters) that exceed $100 million in annual dollar sales - and only two of them grew during the latest 52 weeks ended November 28, 2009.

Another 29 segments that bear antioxidant claims posted sales in excess of $10 million during this period, and just 20 of those were up, according to Nielsen measures of prepackaged, UPC-coded products only.

The list's concentration reflects how today's American consumer discerns whether it makes sense - or not - to spend on products carrying health claims, even a credible one such as this. They feel there is a point when the presence of an antioxidant claim isn't enough to trigger a purchase if they perceive that the rest of a product's nutritional profile doesn't measure up to a good-for-you standard. The mixed bag of sales results - even among antioxidant sales leaders - shows the rigor of today's shopping behavior when limited budgets leave little room for fluff in the shopping cart.

People are piercing the marketing hype and trying to assess how beneficial products really could be for their families. Since package labels often confuse, a shopper's doubt could leave a product on the shelf - unbought. Nevertheless, the inherent strength of the antioxidant claim has led to its presence in nearly 200 segments across the selling floor.

These segments have been on a collective growth streak. Dollar sales have jumped in four successive years, by 32.6% in 2006, 28.6% in 2007, 13.1% in 2008, and 13.3% in the latest 52 weeks, to bring antioxidant food-and-beverage sales from $888.5 million in the 2005 period to $1.94 billion in the latest period. On an equivalized unit volume basis, the growth follows a similar yet less vibrant pattern - up in the four straight years by 22.3%, 19.8%, 4.4% and 7.6%, the Nielsen data show.

While much of this growth is due to the emergence of newer antioxidant-bearing segments, much is also due to performance of the leaders. For instance, the #1 antioxidant segment is liquid tea, which has nearly quadrupled in dollar sales the past four years to reach $408.6 million. As its sales base grew, its percentage growth also plateaued: up 109.8% in 2006, 68.1% in 2007, 7.1% in 2008, and 4.0% in the latest 52 weeks, according to Nielsen. 

Yet its dollar sales more than doubled that of the #2 segment: enhanced, still, non-carbonated bottled water, which has grown to nearly seven times its size of four years ago.  Compared with $58.0 million posted in the 2005 period, it rang up $203.3 million in the latest 52 weeks, on the strength of successive annual dollar sales gains of 26.0%, 46.6%, 57.0% and 20.8%, the Nielsen data state. This makes waters with antioxidants a bright spot within the parched bottled-water category.

By contrast, the #3 antioxidant-bearing segment, vegetable juices and drinks, hit a sales wall in the latest 52 weeks following three years of impressive gains. On a 13.2% EUV decline, dollar sales fell 14.3% to $134.7 million, said Nielsen. Still, sales were triple the $44.2 million posted in the 2005 period.