With the U.S. economy growing at an anemic 2 percent, there's one industry that does not have iron poor blood. Niche markets within the larger vitamin and supplement industry are on fire, with some reaching double-digit growth. Although the overall supplements market has been affected by the sluggish economy and occasional regulation issues, it continues to outpace the economy, with hot offerings such as antioxidants and fish oil getting major boosts every time a news story or afternoon doctors' show gives them a thumbs-up.
Right now there are no companies with a dominating position in this industry, making it something of a wild-west for investors, a little like the computer software industry twenty years ago. Any time a new company comes along with a new approach, it can grab market share by the fistfuls.
As usual, one of the big factors in the growth of any industry is its relation to the still massive boomer generation, an aging market of over 60 million people who are taking health more seriously than they ever did before. The nutritional supplements market will have this steady fire under it for at least another twenty years. But a growing health consciousness, fueled by increasing research and mass communication, has opened the door to every age level, and has helped nutritional supplements shoot well pass the $10 billion mark.
But there's another reason this is an industry important to consider, and it has nothing to do with good health. The fact is that Big Pharma is rapidly coming to a so-called "patent-cliff," as a record number of patents begin to expire and generic drug producers are allowed in to crash the party. Regulations and the cost of development have put the squeeze on new drug development as never before, and drug developers are looking for new opportunities.
Food and drug companies are beginning to buy up dietary supplement companies, partly for the revenue and partly to get rid of the competition. Indeed the clout of the pharmaceutical industry in Washington has played a role in a wave of new restrictions on supplements, limiting what can be claimed about them. Nonetheless, these fast-growing companies are being increasingly viewed as tasty takeover targets, which, in the case of publicly traded companies, would represent a windfall for well-positioned investors.
Pittsburgh-based GNC Holdings Inc. (NYSE:GNC), formerly known as General Nutrition, is dedicated to helping consumers 'Live Well'. GNC sells its product line including vitamins, minerals, herbal supplements, diet products and sports nutrition products under its proprietary GNC brands. The company's well-known brands include Mega Men, Ultra Mega, GNC Total Lean, Pro Performance, and Pro Performance AMP, as well as under nationally recognized third-party brands.
The company sells many of its nutritional products through its more 5,900 retail locations in the United States in addition to more than 2,100 store-within-a-store locations at Rite Aid pharmacies. It also has distribution and franchise locations in 56 countries around the globe.
Schiff Nutrition International Inc. (SHF) is involved in all stages from development to sales of vitamins, nutritional supplements and nutrition bars (Tiger's Milk brand) globally.
The company's Schiff brand products include vitamin products including multivitamins, and individual vitamins such as Vitamin C along with minerals such as iron and calcium. Schiff's product line also includes specialty supplements for joint care marketed under the Schiff Move Free brand and probiotic products under the Sustenex and Digestive Advantage brands.
Schiff also offers quite a number of other specialty supplements under the MegaRed label. These include omega-3 products such as fish oil, supplements for prostate health in men and folic acid for women, and others such as niacin, melatonin ultra and acidophilus.
USANA Health Sciences Inc. (NYSE:USNA) offers the USANA Nutritionals product line which consists of essentials including vitamin and mineral supplements. These supplements provide a foundation of nutrition for various age groups including baby boomers. The company also offers targeted supplements supporting needs such as cardiovascular health, skeletal, muscular and tissue health, and digestive health.
USANA also has a healthy food product line comprising of low-glycemic meal replacement shakes, snack bars, and other related products that offer consumers macro-nutrition.
Cardium Therapeutics Inc. (NYSEMKT:CXM) is unique in that the company not only offers a growing nutraceutical product line focused on the millennial consumer, but is also developing regenerative medicine products, making it attractive from multiple directions. Cardium's MedPodium Neo-Energy, Neo-Carb-Bloc and Neo-Chill Nutra-Apps provide premium science-based ingredients that have been characterized scientifically and shown to support an active lifestyle by enhancing energy, weight management, and relaxation.
These Nutra-Apps are small pharmaceutically-sealed, tasteless, easy-use capsules that come in pocket-sized "one-and-done" servings. The products are designed to be impulse purchase items and the products are to be marketed to convenience stores with plans to later broaden into the food, drug and mass marketplace.
The usual caveat for this stock. Even though the stock trades on the AMEX, it is currently below $1 per share and therefore is more risky and volatile than other stocks. Investors' due diligence is required.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.