Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements in the Middle East and Africa

Key trends and considerations for VMS brands looking to target MENA

The global vitamins, minerals and supplements (VMS) market has experienced somewhat of a surge in light of the Coronavirus pandemic. With changing consumer attitudes towards health and wellness, it’s one very lucrative business.

One region that many producers of VMS products often overlook is the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), however it presents several opportunities for brands who are willing to go the extra mile to get ahead of the competition.

In this article, we’ll present a snapshot of the VMS market landscape in MENA, summarise six popular product categories, and wrap up with some key considerations for entering the region based on our experiences. So, let’s jump right in.

The Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements Market Landscape in MENA

According to 2021 data from UNICEF, 20 countries make up the Middle East and North Africa region, although this number does vary depending on the source and is often extended to include countries in Western Africa too.

As of 2018 the combined population across MENA was 578 million, with an average growth rate of 1.56%.

In terms of the VMS market of MENA, there are five key segments: vitamins and minerals, fatty-acids, protein, probiotics, and other.

Over the last 12-months, key market drivers include increasing health consciousness amongst consumers, education and awareness of the benefits of preventative healthcare, rising aging populations, intolerances and other ailments such as diabetes, all of which have contributed to a vast number of the population choosing to adopt a heathier lifestyle.

In terms of market constraints, high price points and stringent regulations in certain countries have had a slightly negative impact on sales and brand growth.

Let’s look at some data to back this up. The wellness supplements market of the MENA region is anticipated to reach 16.61 billion USD by the end of 2021. And, thanks to an estimated CAGR of 6.24%, will reach 22.49 billion USD over the next five years.

As mentioned above, because of consumers’ willingness to add VMS products into their daily lives, through increased self-medication, the region offers several opportunities for international brands looking to enter the market. This is also helped thanks to expanding distribution networks across the region and an increasing number of chemists and pharmacies, making it easier for new brands to reach potential customers.

Market Entry for VMS Brands

Unlike in Europe and North America, vitamins, minerals and supplements are often purchased directly from chemists and pharmacies, or via a doctor’s prescription.

For brands targeting MENA, this often means reformulating their market strategy and products – more on that later – but the good news is that both local manufacturers and consumers are embracing innovation and new formats.

As you can imagine, the biggest players in the MENA VMS market are mostly recognisable names. See the list on the right. That being said, there are also plenty of smaller brands which do incredibly well in their home market. For example, in Saudi Arabia local manufacturers are favoured, and therefore local pharmacy chains Tabuk, SPIMACO, and Jamjoum now produce their own products.

This also opens up opportunities for private label solutions for international brands looking to enter the region.

Price is another important factor for VMS brands looking to reach the MENA region. There has been a trend towards more premium offerings in the VMS space, with consumers willing to pay that bit more for the good of their health.

However, brands also need to be aware of the poorer populations across the region who will be looking for something more affordable, particularly when it comes to immunity boosters, multivitamins, and fertility aids.

VMS Product Categories Presenting Opportunities across MENA

Weight management

Obesity and diabetes are particularly prevalent across the Middle East, which presents opportunities for weight management supplement brands to pedal their wares.

If we single out one country, in this case the United Arab Emirates (UAE), we see statistics such as:

  • More than 60% of Emiratis are overweight

  • 25% of men over the age of 15 are obese

  • As are 40% of women over the same age

Health experts have put this down to diet, lifestyle and lack of education when it comes to weight management. This means that the demand for weight loss supplements remains high.

In an interview with Gulf News[1], dietician Dr Safeek Ali was quoted as saying:

“Despite the economic crisis across the globe, the weight management market is still accelerating as the core targets of this market are the consumers for whom health and beauty is of higher importance than the cost. Such impulsive consumers are driving the growth of the market.

The market players are therefore formulating attractive advertisements and brand promotions to gear up their product revenues amongst the numerous other alternatives and substitutes that are available in the market.”

Something for international brands to consider if targeting the UAE.

To put this all into context, the dietary supplements market of the UAE is forecasted to surpass 139 million USD by 2023.

Skin, hair and nails

Another area that is growing across MENA is “beauty from within”. Supplements that promote healthy skin, nails and hair will continue to do well in a couple of different ways.

Dermo-cosmetic skin essentials such as supplements for anti-aging, anti-cellulite and anti-acne will grow in more affluent regions, like the UAE, as well as supplements and other wellness products enhanced with collagen.

On the other hand, supplements to prevent hair loss and promote healthy hair and scalps will be in particular demand from both male consumers and Muslim women. Brands should bear this in mind when advertising their products in MENA.

Fertility aids

Across the MENA region, family is a huge part of local culture, particularly big families.

This prompts the need to source vitamins, minerals and supplements to aid with fertility, especially for women who look to get pregnant later in life.

Pre-natal and post-natal products are in demand across the Middle East and Africa. Price point is key here and must be considered by brands looking to enter the market.

Immunity boosters

It probably comes as no surprise that the Coronavirus pandemic has had a knock-on effect on sales of vitamins, minerals and supplements that boost immunity.

In Saudi Arabia, sales of Vitamin C products in 2020 grew substantially, with many consumers stockpiling products early in the pandemic to help ward off the virus and/or speed up recovery.

Other multivitamins and Vitamin D also performed well across the MENA region, and it is likely that taking these on a daily basis will become the norm for much of the population.

This is certainly the case for African markets as disease outbreaks are more common here, and consumers are gradually incorporating preventative healthcare measures into their lifestyles.

Probiotic supplements

Probiotic supplements have seen a slight decline in sales in MENA, however, it is expected that the category will recover thanks to new and innovative formats. For example, gummies and functional food products.

According to Mordor Intelligence, the UAE and South Africa are more likely to pick up on this trend. So, this is a factor for probiotic brands to think about when looking towards the MENA region.

The significant growth of probiotics in key markets is an indication of the growing supplement market across MENA.

Eye health

As a result of national and/or local lockdown measures during the pandemic, many of us spent far too much time staring at computer, television and mobile phone screens.

This was also the case in certain parts of MENA, like the UAE that has a high penetration of smartphones and electronic devices.

Of course, this has driven the need for VMS products that promote healthy eyes, reduce eye strain, and prevent myopia.

Eye health supplements, fish oils, omega fatty-acids, and other products containing lutein are becoming more popular across MENA, with several studies finding that consumers who take such supplements experience fewer dry eye symptoms than those who don’t.

Important Considerations for the MENA Region

The Bolst Global team have been helping VMS brands branch into the Middle East and Africa for a number of years. We therefore decided to pick the brains of some of our experts to help you understand the challenges you can face when entering particular countries. It’s important to understand that each region is different and needs to be treated so.

Here are eight factors to consider…

  • Professional opinions

    As previously mentioned, supplements are not usually found on supermarket shelves across MENA. Instead, the preferred retail channel is through chemists, pharmacies, and specialist stores, after obtaining a prescription. In the case of self-medication, consumers seek the opinion of healthcare professionals.

    In order to recommend a supplement, doctors and pharmacists are looking for clinical research that can back up product claims. In MENA, both consumers and those prescribing the product, want to see evidence that the product works and is backed up with science.

    Since this isn’t the case in the UK and Europe, not many VMS brands have this in their arsenal, and often overlook the importance of clinical research in other regions.

  • Regulations

    In conjunction with the point above, many countries across MENA have strict regulations in place when it comes to VMS products, often treating them the same as pharmaceuticals and other drugs.

    This results in lots of paperwork and documents even for simple VMS lines, which can be a laborious process that can put brands off.

    There are different accepted levels of certification depending on the target market too. This includes Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP), which, although a standard requirement for supplements, for certain MENA countries you’ll be expected to provide evidence of a medical grade GMP such as the MHRA GMP from the UK, which is a much higher level of quality assurance and not something that all VMS producers can or are able to obtain. It can cause therefore a market entry Issue for some companies In this regard.

  • Egypt and Iran

    We briefly touched upon this earlier, but there are several regions in MENA that favour local manufacturers over imported goods. Egypt and Iran are two such countries.

    In order for VMS brands to do well in these markets, they must be willing to work with local manufacturers. This usually entails some kind of licensing agreement or bulk shipments in order for it to be worth any potential risk for both parties.

    This approach isn’t for everyone so think long and hard about whether you would be happy to agree to such terms or not. There are some benefits though, such as using local knowledge and relationships to help navigate the rules and regulations of that market plus create products at a cost basis that may be more In tune with the local market.

  • KSA

    In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), liquid and powder formats do better than the more traditional forms. The reason for this is because of the rigorous regulatory conditions imposed by the Saudi Food Drug Authority (SFDA), which Is the regulatory authorities for the country.

    Hard form capsules and tablets are considered as pharmaceutical products and need to be recognised as so by the SFDA in order to be sold in the KSA.

    Powders and liquids are not subject to these conditions and can help brands to get to market faster as they don’t need to jump through as many hoops and the products can often be classified as foodstuff (this will also depend on the claims made on the pack and the composition of the products)

    Should you be looking at the KSA as a potential market for your brand, you may need to adapt your product to a format that doesn’t meet the strict requirements. If you’re not willing or able to do so this region might not be the one for you.

    Read more about the health and wellness market of Saudi Arabia here.

  • Iraq

    It used to be relatively straight forward for supplement brands to enter Iraq as there weren’t strict regulations in place. Especially In the Northern part of the country.

    However, there has been some recent changes brough in by the KMCA regulatory body that require supplements to go through a formal registration process.

    Iraq is probably not the first place you would think to export supplements to, but lots have brands have seen success in the market, and this is still the case if you’re willing to put a bit of extra work in to correctly register your products.

  • Kuwait

    Kuwait has also seen recent changes in product classification, brought in by the Ministry of Health (MOH).

    Some supplements used to be considered as “unclassified” and as such brands and distributers could decide how to price their products in the market. Now, depending on the ingredients and/or levels of actives, like Vitamin C, supplements have been reclassified and the price is now dictated by the MOH.

    This has meant that supplement brands experience more restrictions when entering Kuwait and from a pricing perspective it may be more challenging to enter the market at a price point that will work for all the parties involved.

    Having said that It does remain a great place to supply Into with the right product at the right price.

    Read more about the health and wellness market of Kuwait here.

  • UAE

    We’ve already seen that the UAE is a great market for VMS brands, however, it isn’t without its challenges and considerations.

    There are two different routes for product registration. The Dubai Municipality, which food registration also goes though or the Ministry of Health (MOH)

    As you can probably guess, the MOH has a much more rigorous registration process, with much more paperwork and a higher GMP level required. However, it does provide brands with wider access to the market, Including entering hospital tenders and Doctor prescriptions.

    If you’re not able to meet the requirements of the MOH, then you will have to register with the Dubai Municipality, which does limit you in terms of distribution channels and market reach. But If the retail pharmacies are your only target audience anyway then this wont necessarily cause any Issues.

    Read more about the health and wellness market of the United Arab Emirates here.

The final consideration when targeting the vitamins, minerals and supplements market of the Middle East and Africa, is not underestimating the need to find the right partners for your brand.

As we’ve seen, unlike European and North American markets, VMS products are often considered as being pharmaceutical goods. This means that you will have to find distributers who specialise in more medical channels in order to reach the right customers.

The MENA region is different to others, and you will have to go outside of your normal avenues and ways of working to identify local partners and routes to market.

The good news is the Bolst Global team can support you with this. We’ve helped several supplement brands branch into MENA over the years and have access to some great local networks across the region. So, if you’re in need of some assistance navigating the individual markets then get in touch today. We can’t wait to hear from you!

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