According to a report in the ABC’s journal HerbalGram, herbal supplements experienced about 1 percent growth in 2008 – an achievement not to be snubbed in the current economic crisis.
Moreover Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the ABC, told FoodNavigator.com that, for 2009 so far, there is evidence that herbal dietary supplement sales are strong – and possibly even up on 2009.
“It’s highly possible that the closing of consumers’ wallets in Q4 2008 (Oct-Dec 08) due to concerns and fears re the recession has been relieved and some of the pent-up pressure has resulted in strong sales activity for DS that’s being reported for Q1 2009,” he said.
The sales figures could indicate that consumers – especially those without health insurance – are turning to herbs to manage some of their health needs instead of costlier conventional medicine.
Blumethal did say, however, that it is “at least theoretically possible that consumers can potentially create problems with their health if they do not continue to use prescription medications prescribed by their physicians, whether they try to substitute herbal or other dietary supplements for these medications, or if they simply stop using them altogether, as a means of reducing personal healthcare costs”.
In the US, about 30 per cent of the population does not have health insurance.
Report co-author and SPINS director of consumer insights Mary Ellen Lynch pointed out that herbal products also have potential to move beyond supplements and into mainstream food and beverage products. This is a trend already seen in the wider supplements sector, as ingredients are often used in supplements first then go on to gain GRAS (generally recognised as safe) status for use in more kinds of products.
She gave the example of turmeric. Although the spice has long been used in foods, such as curries, there is increasing interest and research in its potential role in cardiovascular, liver and brain health.
Data and popularity charts
The ABC reached its upbeat conclusion on the state of the market in 2008 after analysing and synthesising data on herbal supplement sales through various market channels from SPINS, Nutrition Business Journal and IRI.
The NBJ valued the herbal supplements market at $4,800m in 2008, 0.9 per cent more than in 2007.
IRI, meanwhile, assessed sales in the mainstream channel, including grocery stores, drug stores and mass market retailers, but excluding Walmart, Sam’s Club, other large warehouse buying clubs, and convenience stores. It put a figure of $289.25m on these sales, with 7.16 per cent growth over the previous year.
SPINS looked at sales in the natural and health food channel, including Whole Foods, counting them at $329.15 – around the same as the previous year.
The most popular herbal supplements (sold singly) vary depending on the outlet type, reflecting the priorities of shoppers in each context.
SPINS’ top five for natural and health food stores were flaxseed oil (Linum usitarissimum), wheat grass and barley grass (Triticum aestivum and Hordeum vulgare), stevia (Stevia rebaudiana), aloe vera, and milk thistle (Silybum marianum).
IRI’s top five for mainstream were cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon), soy (Glycine max), garlic (Allium sativum), saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) and ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba).
The ABC’s Annual Herb Market Report is available here .