Why you should care
Because it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
Every time my Brazilian friends hear I’m heading back to the U.S., the requests start coming. An iPhone 6 — check. Baby clothes from Carter’s — check. Nike sneakers — check. Massive barrels of protein powder? Actually, forget the baby clothes and Nikes, they tell me. Just load up on the protein powder!
The Brazilian vitamin and supplement market is growing at an average rate of 11 percent a year.
That’s according to a 2015 study by Euromonitor International, and it’s more than double the rate in the U.S. In Brazil, vitamin supplements have become as hot of a commodity as the beaches. But you don’t need economists to tell you that. Walk down any street in Brazil’s cities and you’re likely to come across a vitamin shop that didn’t exist five years ago. The market is growing so fast, in fact, that franchises have had a hard time keeping up. Whey protein and maltodextrin have been top sellers. And in perhaps the most Brazilian sign of the market’s growth, one of the big supplement companies, Guaramix, is now the sponsor emblazoned on the jerseys of the massively popular Botafogo soccer team.
The reason could partly be an urban lifestyle. The report blames “traffic jams, pollution and urban violence” for creating “stressful routines and busier schedules,” which mean not-so-great diets. So “young adults are reaching to vitamins as a way to fulfill their need for nutrients … to be in good health,” says Marcela Viana, a Euromonitor International research analyst based in São Paulo. But spend some time here and you’ll suspect the trend has got more to do with culture than commute times. In Brazil, the image of beauty has shifted to a muscle-licious one. The larger fitness market of gyms and fashion lines have raced to accommodate. And that includes supplements.
To be sure, that growth rate is no guarantee, if you happen to be an intrigued entrepreneur. Opening up a vitamin shop in Brazil is not necessarily a safe bet. For one, these shops face the challenge of just getting their hands on the products. Brazilians want the good shit — the American stuff — which is why expats are getting these requests, and why some store owners end up paying high fines for smuggling in the stuff. (I immediately regretted mentioning to a friend that Trader Joe’s sells soy protein powder in big barrels for less than $20.) And with the proliferation of shops around the country — even in smaller towns — the market looks nearly saturated.
But don’t count out the value of culture. As long as Brazilians pursue this image of fitness, expats can expect the requests to keep coming.