It’s hard to believe that just over a year ago the overall U.S. death toll from COVID-19 was nearing 180,000 and the world was struggling to reckon with one of the most challenging health crises in our lifetime. While the situation was dire then, it remains precarious. As I reflect on the challenges of this past year, I’m tremendously proud of the entire consumer health care industry and its resilience. The work of employees who kept global supply chains and manufacturing functioning to meet demand for self-care products — and retailers who courageously remained open as part of the frontline response — are testaments of incredible fortitude.
While the pandemic overwhelmed health care systems, the self-care industry went into overdrive, aiding families sheltering at home so doctors’ offices and hospitals were available for patients who needed a higher level of care. The pandemic radically reshaped consumer attitudes towards health and wellness, and we saw a shift in what consumers looked for, including how companies were treating employees and protecting customers.
With manufacturing plants deemed essential facilities, we protected employees on the production lines, allowing our industry to keep products largely on-shelf and available. Over-the-counter medicines helped individuals safely and effectively treat many of the common symptoms of COVID-19, and demand for sleep and immune support skyrocketed as consumers sought to support their health with dietary supplements. The pandemic also hastened a greater shift to e-commerce as people shopped online to quickly and safely get their health care products. Broadly speaking, COVID-19 radically changed the way we live, from our work to our social lives to our shopping experience.
Dietary supplements take center stage
Consumers have become increasingly health conscious, taking a much more proactive approach to wellness, including greater utilization of dietary supplements, with 26% sales growth over this past year. The current environment, and advances in research and innovation, have led to an expansion across supplement product categories that will continue to accelerate.
Consumers rapidly turned to immune support products and other supplements to help with sleep, stress and mood. While increased demand is a positive development, it opened the door for some bad actors, which, if left unchecked, can pose health risks and undermine consumer confidence. I’m pleased that CHPA and other industry stakeholders are working to push for modernization of the regulatory framework for supplements, to protect consumers, promote innovation, and raise the bar on quality, compliance and transparency.
Consumer medical devices and digital technology
From face masks to thermometers, pulse oximeters and more, at-home use of consumer medical devices and remote care allowed people to safely prevent, treat and monitor symptoms of illness on their own. Digital technology, like telemedicine and health apps, has also flourished during the pandemic. Consumers and our health care system have embraced the important role that digital health can play to enhance access, promote efficiencies and reduce the costs of health care. Wearable devices, mobile apps and other tools will make health care delivery more accessible and more personalized for consumers. It is our role, as an industry, to continue to help ensure fair and equal access as self-care advances.
Transitioning to a “new normal”
There’s no returning to the old way of doing business, and the role of self-care will only continue to accelerate. During this truly pivotal time in health care, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to serve as CHPA’s new chair and to build on the work of my predecessor, former chair Paul Gama, president of Personal Healthcare at Procter & Gamble. There’s more work ahead, and, with the important lessons we’ve learned, there’s no doubt in my mind that consumers will reap significant, long-term benefits as we shape the future of wellness.
Michelle Wang Goodridge is president of U.S. Self Care at Johnson & Johnson Consumer, and the newly elected board chair of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.