There are already signs that the trend for healthy lifestyles, long evident in west European markets, is gaining pace in two of the recent accession countries - the Czech Republic and Poland.
In the Czech Republic for example, vitamins and dietary supplements were the largest product group in the whole OTC healthcare segment, accounting for 29 per cent of all OTC sales during 2003, according to new data from Euromonitor.
Sales of vitamins and dietary supplements reached CK1.9 billion (€0.06bn) in 2003, up by 6 per cent from the previous year, while in Poland sales grew by 9 per cent to PLN746 million (€168m).
Signs that healthy lifestyles are becoming fashionable in the Czech Republic can also be seen in the increasing habit of giving vitamins and dietary supplements as Christmas presents.
This growing interest in healthy living is being supported by new product development and more sophisticated promotion, in consumer magazines, on television and on radio, helping to boost sales of some of the more expensive products.
Child specific vitamins and dietary supplements for example have seen the fastest growth in the Czech Republic. Once underdeveloped, child specific vitamins recorded sales of CK460 million in 2003, growing 6 per cent since 2002 driven by competition from multinationals, like Wyeth and Ferrosan, which have expanded their ranges. In turn domestic producer Walmark kept pace with the multinationals and also widened its range of child specific vitamins.
The category is also booming in Poland, growing 8 per cent in constant value terms in 2003, to PLN80 million, reveal the new Euromonitor OTC reports.
Dietary supplements are forecast to grow fastest in the Czech vitamin and supplements sector, as they are increasingly perceived as necessary to counter the stresses of modern life and lack of time to eat properly.
Mineral supplements dominated the dietary supplement sales in 2003 accounting for 69 per cent of total segment sales. Consumer interest is also high in calcium supplements and fish oil.
Other dietary supplements are at a nascent stage but products are being imported and promoted more rapidly than they were inprevious years. There is now a range of garlic preparations, ginseng, ginkgo biloba, echinacea and Coenzyme Q10 products on offer, while currently non-existent products such as St.John's wort, Evening primrose oil, and protein powder, are likely to appear, predicts Euromonitor.
In Poland, supplements such as royal jelly, probiotic supplements, co-enzyme Q10 or glucosamine achieved an average growth of about 15 per cent in constant value terms in 2003. Their relatively high price limits the number of customers that are willing to purchase them regularly but these products are expected to form a profitable niche.
Consumers are also beginning to buy more expensive vitamins, according to Euromonitor, and in the Czech Republic multivitamins make up more than half of all vitamin sales, having grown 6 per cent to CK349 million in 2003.
The recent explosion of modern retailing in the Czech republic has had a further benefit on sales of vitamins and dietary supplements. The rapid growth of supermarkets and hypermarkets and their efforts to enlarge their non - food assortment, including vitamins and dietarysupplements, caused a decline in the share of the traditional distribution channel, chemists and pharmacies.
In 2002, 66 per cent of total vitamins and dietary supplements sales were realised via chemists/pharmacists but this dropped to 61 per cent in 2003. Multiple stores increased their share from 7 per cent in 2002 to 9 per cent in 2003, reveals Euromonitor.
Meanwhile in Poland, the liberalisation of the laws on OTC healthcare products increased access to and visibility of products.
Internet sales are also gradually gaining share as increasing numbers of people have access to computers and more virtual shops offer vitamins and dietary supplements.
Entry to the European Union is expected to further increase sales by improving disposable incomes and aiding new investment in the sector. But while people may be more likely to purchase more expensive products, Euromonitor warns that spending power is still low in comparison to other European markets, and purchasing decisions "will be based on price rather than effectiveness".
Sales of vitamins and dietary supplements in the Czech republic are expected to reach CK2.4 billion by 2008.