What’s a Fair Price for Nutritional Supplements?
Confession time – I rely mostly on others to help me stay fit. I play soccer with friends, my wife keeps me fed with healthy meals, and even my co-workers talk about fitness a lot. Sticking to a healthy regimen can be difficult and frustrating, so all that surrounding energy is very helpful. With that spirit in mind, I thought I’d pay it forward by using data to help some of you make better financial decisions around getting healthy.
Specifically, I’m going to use data on nutritional supplements to determine what’s a fair price for each one. This is actually a hard thing to do if you’re not careful. Supplements are very unregulated, which means you have a wide variety of products, each offering different “features” and claiming separate benefits. Ultimately, you end up with a wide range of prices, which can make it hard to know if you’re paying a fair price. While I’m not an expert on supplements, I can use pricing data from our Product API to help you avoid getting ripped off. So let’s get to it!
For this analysis, we’ll be focusing on just three dietary supplements – Vitamin D3, fish oil, and creatine. I picked these three because (a) they each represent a different component of “fitness” and (b) they each have consistent recommended serving sizes. Our Product API has thousands of listings for each of these supplements, but to keep things we fair, we narrowed down the data set to just listings where we could accurately determine the price per serving.
Here’s a quick summary of the data:
- 1,520 available listings for creatine, narrowed down to 100 comparable listings
- 945 available listings for fish oil, narrowed down to 247 comparable listings
- 1,649 available listings for vitamin D3, narrowed down to 93 comparable listings
Here’s an example of the creatine data:
Let’s take this data and make it more visual. Below are the pricing distributions for each supplement:
Looking at this data, a few things stand out for me:
1. There’s a huge range in prices
Excluding outliers, the price range for each supplement varies a lot. For fish oil, it’s $0.05 – $1.00/serving. For creatine, it’s $0.05 -$0.50/serving. For Vitamin D3, $0.01 – $0.09/serving. The difference between 5 cents and 50 cents may not sound like much, but it’s a 900% markup!
2. Price outliers are fairly common
Many supplement offerings are affordably priced, but there are still several outliers attempting to extract significantly more money from consumers. While fish oil can vary in quality, creatine and Vitamin D3 are pretty much the same regardless of brand. How are sellers justifying these markups?
3. Median price may be consistent among supplements?
This is something worth investigating more. For creatine and fish oil, the median prices is very similar ($0.20 – $0.30/serving). For Vitamin D3, it’s about 10% of that price ($0.037/serving). We would need to do analysis of more supplement types before determining if there’s a trend, but I wonder if “high value” items like fish oil or creatine have consistent pricing and more “commodity” items like Vitamin D3 are always priced much lower.
A Closer Look at Outliers
What about those outliers? We took a closer look at any listings that were priced significantly higher and found some common characteristics:
- Many were sold through resellers (vs. directly from the manufacturer)
- Many were distributed from Asia
- They tended to promote additives or extra benefits on their labels
In most cases, these products with high prices had little to no difference in their active ingredients. For example, the two products below have the exact same ingredient list (just creatine monohydrate), but the one on the right is 8 times more expensive.
How to Avoid Overpaying
Now that we have this data, how can we use it so we don’t overpay for our supplements? Based on what we’re seeing here, if you’re paying less than $0.40/serving, at least for these three supplements, you’re probably good. I suspect that the same heuristic hold true for all supplements, but again, this is something that needs further research.
If you see a price higher than $0.40/serving, take a closer look at the claims on the label. For natural products like fish oil, pay attention to the quality claims. For more synthetic products like creatine, be very wary of any purported benefits. Remember that in the unregulated supplement market, manufacturers can’t vary their formula too much in ways that would catch attention of the FDA. While there may be exceptions, high prices are unlikely to mean you’re getting a better product.
Want A Closer Look At The Data?
With the new year upon us, consumers are likely to be spending a lot of money on these supplements and similar products. The above analysis is just a quick dive into the data we have available, but much more is possible with our entire data set. If you’re interested in conducting more extensive research on supplement pricing, just contact us to get direct access to the data!