Published under ABC’s HerbalGram masthead, the report showed that consumers spent an additional $480 million on herbal products in all channels in the year. Sales in 2014 were $6.4 billion. In the years ABC has been conducting the report, sales have grown from $4.2 billion in 2000. After a decade of low single digit growth, the trend has shown more than 7% year-over-year gains in recent years.
The leading botanical for the second year in a row is horehound (Marrubium vulgare). Sales of this supplement were $115 million in 2015. While the report terms these ‘dietary supplements’ many are sold in lozenge as foods without claims other that to soothe the throat. Other horehound supplements are sold in liquid form as supplements.
The report covers only retail sales of herbal dietary supplements and does not reflect the sales of most herbal teas, botanical ingredients used in cosmetics, or government-approved herbal drug ingredients in over-the-counter medicines.
“These figures confirm that strong consumer demand for herbs and herbal products continues in the United States, based on a consumers’ interest in natural and relatively low-cost ways to maintain their health,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of ABC. “Herb supplement sales continue to grow to record levels, evidence that much of the public considers herbs to be an essential component of a healthy lifestyle.”
No NYAG hangover
It’s interesting to note that sales continued to rise in a year in which the dietary supplement category suffered its worst public relations disaster in recent memory. In February of 2015 New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched an investigation of herbal supplements that targeted four mainstream retailers, claiming that DNA tests (that were misapplied, according to experts) showed that the products had little or none of the targeted herb in them. Schneiderman ramped up the pressure with a subsequent action targeting additional supplements, and later in the year Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, added calls of her own for FDA to take action against certain categories of products. The message seems to be that little of any of this information is having an effect on the consumer level.
In addition to horehound, the top selling botanical ingredients according to SPINS/IRI data were cranberry, which racked up $66 million in sales for 16% year-over-year growth and echinacea ($60 million; 7.4%). Rounding out the top five were two perennial best sellers Garcinia cambogia and green tea that both showed sales declines ($55 million; -23.3% and $49 million, -23.4% respectively).
Boswellia, despite ranking 39th in this channel, had perhaps the best year of any supplement sold in mainstream retail outlets, with a 674% increase in sales over 2014. Also known as Indian frankincense, this tree gum has been used for millennia in the traditional Indian medical system of Ayurveda for ceremonial, religious, and medicinal reasons. Today, boswellia herbal supplements are marketed for anti-inflammatory benefits, often in combination with turmeric, another traditional Indian ingredient known for its anti-inflammatory properties.
The report, which is available online for free, also relies on data from Nutrition Business Journal.