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Ethical Vitamins and supplements

Finding ethical vitamins and supplements: ratings for 23 brands, with recommended buys and brands to avoid.

Are there vegan vitamins and supplements? Are supplements organic and free from palm oil? We rate major vitamin brands as well as small eco brands. We look at packaging, misleading marketing, sugar levels and animal ingredients.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a shopping guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying vitamins and supplements:

  • Do you really need it? Most healthy adults can get all the vitamins and minerals they need by eating a healthy, balanced diet.

  • Is it sustainably sourced? Palm oil and palm derivatives are often hidden ingredients in supplements, but commitments to certified palm are few and far between. Choose a palm-free company if possible.

  • Is it vegan? Bovine gelatine is commonly used to make supplement capsules, whilst omega-3 is often derived from fish oil. Animals needn’t suffer in the production of supplements.

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What not to buy

What to avoid when buying vitamins and supplements:

  • Is the company misleading with its marketing? Despite regulation that prevents supplement manufacturers from making false claims, consumers are often misled by implicit suggestions of health benefits that contravene scientific evidence and medical advice. Approach all health claims with a critical eye.

  • Is it full of sugar? If it tastes like a sweet, then its health benefits are probably sugar-coated too. The ongoing craze for wellness products has led to a boom in ‘candyceuticals’. The primary ingredient in vitamin gummies is generally sugar, whilst many effervescent ‘fizzy vitamins’ contain health warnings due their salt content.

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Score table

Updated live from our research database

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Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Our Analysis

Vitamins and health supplements sound natural and healthy, but we found many of them contain animal-derived ingredients, palm oil and large amounts of sugar.

Plus, some of the biggest brands of supplements are produced by big pharmaceutical companies who test on animals, or they are made by multinational brands who receive our worst ratings (zero points).

But the good news is that there are some ethical companies out there if you do want to buy vitamins and supplements. Our guide gives you the information you need to know what to look out for when choosing ethical vitamin and supplement brands.

Ethical supplements market

The UK vitamins and supplements market grew significantly during the Covid-19 pandemic, driven by a sudden focus on health but also buoyed by a growing, influencer-fuelled trend towards ‘wellness’. 38% of us now take dietary supplements on a daily basis. Some believe they are merely an expensive placebo for the ‘worried well’, while others swear by their health benefits.

This guide examines the companies behind a range of vitamins and supplements, from the pharma giants to independent ‘natural health’ specialists. We look at what goes into their products, whether ingredients are being sourced sustainably, and consider whether supplement marketing is misleading consumers.

Which vitamin and supplement brands are in the guide?

There is certainly no deficiency of brands selling vitamins in the UK, so we decided to cover a variety of brands that largely fall into 3 categories:

1. Multinational pharmaceutical & health giants

Centrum is owned by Haleon, which was previously the consumer healthcare arm of pharma giant GSK (GlaxoSmithKline). Haleon is 33% owned by Pfizer.

Sanatogen and Berocca are both owned by Bayer, the German multinational that acquired the lawsuit-prone herbicide producer Monsanto back in 2018.

Boots straddles the pharmaceutical and health and beauty sectors, whilst Seven Seas is owned by personal care leviathan Procter & Gamble.

2. Specialised vitamin, supplement, and nutrition companies

Vitabiotics – the UK market leader – and the Orkla-owned Healthspan both use medical-style branding, similar to that of the pharma giants, and their products are often found on the shelves of pharmacies.

Viridian, BioCare, and FSC (Food Supplement Company, not the Forest Stewardship Council!) are more commonly found in health shops but retain a somewhat clinical brand identity. BioCare is ultimately owned by an elusive nutrition company based in China, for which we were barely able to find a single policy detail.

Other nutrition companies eschew pharmaceutical aesthetics in favour of looking as grounded in nature as possible. Nature’s Plus, A.Vogel, Holland & Barrett, and Floradix are primarily the preserve of health stores, alongside a plethora of similarly named brands (Nature’s Aid, Nature’s Best, Nature’s Answer … you get the picture). Others, like Ethical Nutrition, are tiny companies that sell solely online.

3. Companies owned by Nestlé

Finally, a whole category unto themselves, are the companies that are ultimately owned by the world's largest food & beverage processing company, Nestlé.

We’ve included Solgar, Nature’s Bounty, Puritan’s Pride and Garden of Life in this guide, but Nestlé are also behind a range of specialised supplement brands such as Vital Proteins, OptiFibre, Vitaflo, Pure Encapsulations, Klean Athlete, Minami and more!

A company that admits that the majority of its products do not meet a “recognised definition of health” apparently wants to remedy your unhealthy diet! We don’t think it's overly cynical to be sceptical about companies that purport to sell both the poison and the antidote.

Nestlé’s acquisition of Garden of Life, back in 2017, was particularly disappointing. Garden of Life uses fully traceable ingredients and most of its products are USDA-certified organic. Were it not owned by Nestlé, it would likely sit near the top of our table. Unfortunately, the number of small, independent ethical brands will likely continue to shrink so long as corporations see profit in our health.

Do you need supplements?

At Ethical Consumer we generally steer clear of giving advice around health. However, we felt it necessary to outline current medical advice on supplements, given the prevalence in the sector of claims such as this one, found on the Health Plus website:

“Be it our hectic lifestyles, over farming of the land, too many preprepared foods or just fussy eating, the only way to guarantee your body is getting the nutrients it needs is by supplementation!”

Such statements are not supported by scientific consensus. NHS guidance on vitamin supplementation is as follows:

“Most people do not need to take vitamin supplements and can get all the vitamins and minerals they need by eating a healthy, balanced diet. Vitamins and minerals, such as iron, calcium and vitamin C, are essential nutrients that your body needs in small amounts to work properly. Many people choose to take supplements but taking too much or taking them for too long could be harmful. The Department of Health and Social Care recommends certain supplements for some groups of people who are at risk of deficiency.”

The guidance advises the supplementation of certain vitamins during pregnancy and childhood, and for groups of the population that are at greater risk of not getting enough vitamin D. The UK government currently advises that “everyone should consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement during the autumn and winter”. Women with very heavy periods can lose a lot of blood every month, so will often be prescribed iron.

According to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), randomised controlled trials have repeatedly failed to support the benefits of supplements in reducing risks of cardiovascular disease, cancer, or type 2 diabetes in healthy people with no clinical nutritional deficiencies. Observational studies have suggested benefits in the past, but these have not been replicated in large scale controlled trials.

Do vegans need to supplement their diets?

NHS guidance for vegans states that “with good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy, balanced vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs”, but recommends “fortified foods or supplements containing nutrients that are more difficult to get through a vegan diet, including vitamin D, vitamin B12, iodine, selenium, calcium and iron”.

The Vegan Society recommends supplementing diets with B12, D3, iodine, selenium, B6, B2, and folic acid – which are included in the VEG 1 supplement that it manufactures.

What makes a vitamin company ethical?

Many of the companies in this guide are keen to highlight their ethical credentials. They tend to do so by emphasising either how natural their ingredients are or how their products are packaged responsibly.

Most companies seemed less keen to discuss their manufacturing processes, carbon impact or what they are doing to uphold workers’ rights in their supply chains.

Are there any organic supplement brands?

Most companies sell some organic vitamin products, but no companies in the guide appear to only sell organic products. Ethical Nutrition uses organic ingredients “where possible”, A. Vogel claims the “majority” of its herbs are grown organically, whilst Viridian states that 40% of its supplements are Soil Association-certified organic.

Nature's Plus may be owned by a company called Natural Organics Inc., but just 18 of the 146 products on its website were tagged as organic.

Are vitamin brands animal friendly?

Every company, bar the Vegan Society and Ethical Nutrition, lost a mark for processing and retailing animal products. This includes Vegancity, as it shares a parent company, address, and much of the wording on its website with the non-vegan brand Health Plus.

The majority lost a full mark for processing fish oils, generally found in Omega-3 supplements. Vitamin tablets typically include bovine gelatine, and collagen supplements are also often derived from cows.

Despite the prevalence of animal products in the sector, only Nestlé had any form of animal welfare policy in place. This policy was, however, highly inadequate as it contained no comprehensive provisions against factory-farming practices.

In terms of animal testing, 19 out of 24 brands received our worst rating. Many of these companies had vague statements outlining their opposition to animal testing or stated that they did not conduct tests on animals themselves. This is misleading, as consumer-facing companies rarely test their end products on animals (although Bayer [Sanatogen and Berocca] and Haleon [Centrum] do this). Ingredient testing (especially for new ingredients) is common, however, and is often conducted by third parties.

A.Vogel, for example, has a page titled ‘No animal testing’ on its website, but admits in its code of conduct that it awards testing contracts to third-party companies “if approval regulations require”. We could only find guarantees from Viridian, Ethical Nutrition, and VEG 1 that none of their products’ ingredients had been tested on animals.

Are there any vegan brands of vitamins and supplements?

Veg1, made by the Vegan Society, and Ethical Nutrition, are the only two fully vegan brands in the table.

Whilst Veganicity is vegan, its parent company, Health Plus, is not vegan.

Dinner plate with vitamins and supplements in middle

What goes into vitamins and supplements?

The ubiquity of the word ‘nature’ in supplement branding might imply that these products are all made from fresh herbs in natural, organic cottage industries, rather than being mass-manufactured synthetically in massive factories across the globe.

Though it is probably the latter, we can’t be sure, because most companies do not provide any meaningful information about their manufacturing processes, and not a single one replied to our questionnaire on the subject.

Viridian, Ethical Nutrition, and A. Vogel emphasise their commitment to using only active ingredients in their products. Viridian states that its supplements contain “no fillers, binders, glues, irradiation or lubricants from mass production”, whilst A. Vogel aims to be as “close to nature as possible”, using “extracts from freshly harvested plants wherever possible”.

Is there palm oil in vitamins and supplements?

Palm oil and its derivatives are common ingredients in many supplements and over the counter medicines. Palm derivatives like magnesium stearate are used to coat capsules, glycerin is used as a solvent, and the oil itself is used to extend product shelf life. Vitamin E is commonly derived from palm oil, often in the form of Tocopherols or Tocotrienols, whilst Vitamin A Palmitate is often used as a source of – no surprise – Vitamin A.

Given the ubiquity of palm oil in the industry, you may have thought that vitamin companies would have policies on the sourcing and use of this problematic ingredient.

However, we found a near total absence of policy, with most companies failing to acknowledge their use of palm oil at all. All but three brands lost marks in this category.

Viridian, Ethical Nutrition, and VEG 1 were the only brands that stated that they were totally free of palm and its derivatives, so were not marked down in this category. A.Vogel stated that it used certified sustainable palm oil in one of its broths, but we found no information about whether or not it used derivatives elsewhere, so it therefore lost a whole mark.

Boots was the only brand to receive a middle rating in this category, with 72% of its palm oil physically certified in 2022.

It can be difficult to tell if a product contains palm oil because palm derivatives have complex chemical names that can get lost in the murky depths of ingredient lists. But the ‘Palm Oil Free Certification’ website has a useful list for spotting common derivatives.

Do vitamins and supplements contain GMOs?

Things are often similarly unclear when it comes to the use of GMO (genetically modified organisms) ingredients.

According to the Organic and Non-GMO Report and CropLife International, GM micro-organisms are commonly used in the production of vitamins A, B2, B12, C, and D, as well as in thickeners like xanthan. Only VEG 1, Viridian, Healthspan, Holland & Barrett, Floradix, and Nature's Plus stated that all of their products are free from GMOs, so all of the other companies in the guide were assumed to be using them.

Health Plus, which also owns Veganicity, stated that “every attempt is made” to avoid GM material, but that its suppliers “cannot guarantee that the material they supply will be 100% GM free”.

Sanatogen and Berocca are both owned by Bayer, which faces a range of GMO controversies associated with the bio-tech firm Monsanto, which it acquired in 2018. See its company profile below for more information.

Bottle of chewy sweets or supplements tipped on side with some on table

Why are vitamins and supplements sweet or fizzy?

Certain supplement marketeers appear to have decided that the main limitation of traditional pills is that they are boring to consume, and that their products would sell a lot better when crammed with sugar and salt and reformatted as ‘fun’, fruit-flavoured gummy sweets and fizzy drinks. The chewable gummy vitamins market is now worth an estimated $7.3 billion worldwide.

Nestlé-owned Nature’s Bounty produces a range of ‘gummy vitamins’ wherein the primary ingredient appears to be sugar, but its gummies, and Vitabiotics’ gummies, are free from artificial sweeteners. The same cannot be said of Boots, Centrum, or Healthspan, whilst Nature’s Plus and Holland & Barrett are vague about the flavourings they use. It certainly feels odd that companies with such ‘natural’ brand identities are peddling highly processed ‘candyceuticals’ that simply list ‘Strawberry Flavourings’ among their ingredients. It's worth noting that the WHO advises that artificial sweeteners should not be considered healthier than sugar.

The other brands in this guide appear to be steering clear of the gummy trend for the time being, although Procter & Gamble, and Bayer each sell effervescent tablets under their respective VÖOST and Berroca brands. Also crammed with artificial sweeteners, these fizzy drinks each contain more salt than a packet of ready salted crisps yet are marketed as health drinks. We’d advise taking their health claims with a pinch of salt, but that might take you over your recommended daily allowance.

Of the brands in this guide, only Ethical Nutrition, A.Vogel, BioCare, FSC, VEG 1, and Viridian appear to be steering clear of the ‘candyceutical’ route. If you wish to minimise your intake of sugars and sweeteners, we recommend you do the same.

Collagen is destroying rainforests

Collagen has long been touted as a wellness product, but the way Nestlé sources it is making the world sick.

A recent report from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism traced collagen in Nestlé’s Vital Proteins brand to farms associated with deforestation and indigenous rights abuses in Brazil. Ekō has launched a petition calling on Nestlé to cut rainforest-destroying collagen out of its supply chain, which you can find on the Ekō website.

Are vitamin brands eco friendly?

Interestingly, when rating companies for environmental reporting, we came across far more sustainability claims that concerned the packaging of supplement products than those that discussed their actual contents. Holland & Barrett, Health Plus, and Veganicity discussed using recyclable and post-consumer recycled plastic, whilst Viridian uses recyclable glass jars that can be returned to the company for 25p off the next purchase.

Ethical Nutrition opts for fully ‘plastic-free packaging’, which is made from FSC certified paper and is both recyclable and biodegradable.

BioCare, Floradix, and A.Vogel use predominantly glass bottles whilst VEG1 uses recyclable aluminium – all other brands in the guide appear to rely heavily on plastic.

It is difficult to confidently state that any one of these brands' approaches stands out as the most sustainable.

Even ‘glass versus plastic’ is not as clear cut as you may have assumed. Silica sand mining for glass production can have a heavy environmental impact and has been associated with workers’ rights abuses, whilst plastic is less energy intensive to produce but has a larger potential waste impact.

There’s more to environmental sustainability than packaging

We would like to see supplement companies discuss the environmental impacts of their sourcing, manufacturing, and distribution processes in detail, rather than focusing solely on packaging.

Only Ethical Nutrition, Floradix, Holland & Barrett, VEG 1, and Viridian received our best rating for Environmental Reporting. BioCare, FSC, Nature’s Plus, and Vitabiotics scored worst.

Misleading marketing by vitamin brands

You’ll notice that most brands will never outright state that a given supplement reduces disease risks but will instead carefully construct their phrasing to imply benefits without explicitly claiming them.

A cynic might suggest that this vagueness allows them to sidestep UK regulations on making health claims without evidence. For example, the description for BioCare’s Vitamin C powder states: “Vitamin C contributes to the normal functioning of the immune system, reduction of tiredness and fatigue, and skin and collagen formation”. Legally, companies cannot state that taking a particular nutritional supplement will improve immune functioning unless they have clinical evidence for that claim (most do not), but consumers might understandably equate "normal immune function" with preventing disease, or "normal cholesterol levels" with reduced cardiovascular risks.

Other companies have fallen foul of this already lax regulation. Holland & Barrett had a number of adverts pulled by the UK regulator in 2019 for implying, without widely accepted evidence, that its ‘weight management’ supplements could help consumers manage their weight.

Meanwhile, the same regulator ruled in 2015 that Vitabiotics was misleading customers by implying that its ‘Pregnacare Conception’ supplement would help women conceive.

Supplement marketing appears to have taken a more sinister and less traceable turn in recent years. The internet is inundated with third-party blog posts, podcasts and videos that sing the praises of different supplements but cannot be directly linked to any particular company.

Google searches for ‘top immune health supplements’ will return some results with genuine medical advice, but these may be lost in a sea of health-related ‘content’ that ranges from mere sensationalism to outright misinformation.

Be critical when considering buying supplements

For many, deciding whether or not to take supplements comes down to a decision on who to believe. In deciding who to believe, the last people to put your faith in should be those who have a commercial interest in you purchasing their products. Be critical of the blogs that often accompany supplement websites. These are marketing tools, not friendly advice columns. If you are unsure of whether to supplement your diet, speak to a medical professional.

Company behind the brand



Bayer is a multinational pharmaceutical and biotechnology company based in Germany with an annual turnover of £43 billion.

Bayer brands included in this guide are Sanatogen and Berocca. It also owns Alka-Seltzer, Rennie and Germolene.

On one hand it states its commitment “to conserving and restoring biodiversity within and beyond agricultural fields”, while on the other hand it owns brands with descriptions such as “insecticide that gives farmers maximum power against these voracious pests across the maximum number of crops”. In 2021, it was identified as exporting insecticides containing neonicotinoid active ingredients – which are banned in the EU – to countries in the Global South.

The Wall Street Journal called its 2018 takeover of Monsanto “one of the worst corporate deals in recent memory”. Bayer is paying up to $10.9 billion to settle a lawsuit over Monsanto’s weedkiller Roundup, over claims it causes cancer. It is also being sued by a Californian county and 17 of its cities for toxic PCB pollution, which Monsanto produced for decades, leading state officials to advise against eating fish from the bay.

It is not without its very own legal challenges too. In 2022, Bayer settled to resolve alleged violations of the False Claims Act in connection with various drugs, with a former employee alleging that "Bayer paid kickbacks to hospitals and physicians to induce them to utilize the drugs Trasylol and Avelox, and also marketed these drugs for off-label uses that were not reasonable and necessary.”

It also lost multiple marks on our table for operations in oppressive regimes, animal testing, excessive director pay (the highest in 2022 being €6.9 million), membership of lobby groups, lobbying in the US (over $6 million in 2022), using uncertified palm oil, and creating genetically modified plants and seeds.

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If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the score table.

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This guide appeared in EC 204. The [V] in the score tables means the product gets a sustainability point for being vegan.