Consumers spent about $11.3 billion on herbal dietary supplements in the United States in 2020: The first time that total annual sales of herbal surpassed $10 billion, according to the American Botanical Council’s 2020 Herb Market Report, published in HerbalGram 131.
2020’s growth of over 17% is more than double the annual growth of 8.6% reported for 2019. It is also greater than the overall growth reported for the entire dietary supplements category in 2020, which was just over 14%, according to the Nutrition Business Journal.
Immunity blazes a trail
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the star performer in 2020 was elderberry (Sambucus spp., Viburnaceae) with sales totaling more than $275 million in the mainstream channel. This was an increase of 150% from 2019 and made elderberry the top-selling herbal supplement ingredient in this retail channel in 2020. Elderberry was number two in the natural channel, with an additional $54 million in sales, which represented growth of 68% from 2019.
Other ingredients associated with immune support, such as Echinacea (Echinacea spp., Asteraceae), garlic (Allium sativum, Amaryllidaceae), and turmeric (Curcuma longa, Zingiberaceae), also experienced sales increases in 2020 in the mainstream retail channel, with Echinacea experiencing the strongest sales growth with 37%.
“These sales data suggest that millions of people seem to have realized that they have something called an ‘immune system,’ and that they can enhance its function by modifying their behaviors, including, but not limited to, an improvement of their diets, and the consumption of various dietary supplements,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of ABC.
“While there are little scientific or clinical data supporting the use of botanical dietary supplements to prevent or treat COVID-19, the fact that many consumers chose to use these products indicates a strong consumer interest in natural products as a means to improve their overall health and particularly to enhance their immune response to potential challenges.”
Ashwagandha and Apple cider vinegar sales surge
Impressive growth was also reported for sales of supplements containing ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), with increases of 185.2% in 2020 versus 2019 in the mainstream channel.
According to a monograph from the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP), Ashwagandha has a history of use in ayurvedic medicine that dates back as much as 4,000 years to the teaching of renowned scholar Punarvasu Atreya, and in subsequent works that make up the ayurvedic tradition. The name of the herb derives from Sanskrit, and means “smells like a horse”, which refers to the strong smell of the root which is said to be redolent of horse sweat or urine.
Ashwagandha root is a well-known adaptogen — a substance believed to increase the body’s ability to adapt to different forms of stress.
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) supplements saw strong sales growth in both mainstream and natural retail channels. These supplements are marketed for digestive health and “cleanse and detox” were the top health focuses of these products in 2020.
Fungi supplements also experienced another strong year, with Chaga, for example, making its first appearance among the 40 top-selling natural channel ingredients in 2020.
“Consumer trends in herbal supplements have never been more pronounced — the pandemic’s effects on supplement purchases can be seen in almost every data point for 2020,” said Tyler Smith, managing editor of HerbalGram and lead author of the Herb Market Report.
“Throughout the year, consumers sought out products commonly used for immune health, stress relief, and digestive support, likely in response to pandemic-related stressors. However, sales of products for age-related concerns, such as prostate and heart health, also grew in 2020, which suggests that consumers were turning to herbal supplements for both acute and chronic conditions.”
As some herbs rose, others fell, and hemp-derived CBD (cannabidiol) was one of the most notable declines. Ongoing regulatory uncertainty (at the federal level the US FDA maintains that CBD is not a legal dietary ingredient), plus shifting consumer habits, and perhaps some negative media reports about quality-control issues with CBD products may have contributed to the declining sales, wrote the ABC report authors.
Specifically, sales of CBD in the mainstream and natural channels decreased by 30% and 37%, respectively. However, CBD herbal supplements maintained their top spot in the natural channel, with $57 million in sales.
Other notable declines in the mainstream channel in 2020 were experienced by garcinia (Garcinia gummi-gutta syn. G. cambogia, Clusiaceae; 36%), and ivy leaf (Hedera helix, Araliaceae; 32%).
To conclude, Smith and his co-authors noted: “2020 may have been marked by chaos, exhaustion, and loss, but during a year in which much was out of control, many consumers seemed to take control of their own health and prioritized selfcare with herb- and fungi-based dietary supplements.
“As the pandemic stretches into its 20th month at the time of this writing (August 2021), it remains to be seen whether these trends and record-breaking sales will continue in 2021.”
ABC’s 2020 market report is compiled using US retail sales data provided by Chicago-based SPINS and Boulder-based Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ). The report does not include sales of most herbal teas, botanical ingredients used in cosmetics, or government-approved herbal drug ingredients in over-the-counter medicines.
SPINS determined sales of herbal supplements in two retail channels: the conventional multi-outlet (mainstream) channel powered by IRI, which includes select grocery stores, drug stores, and mass merchandisers such as club, dollar, and military stores, and the “natural enhanced” retail channel, which includes co-ops, associations, independent retailers, and large regional chains (excluding Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s).
NBJ’s based its total herbal supplement sales figures for 2020 on data from market research firms, company surveys, interviews with major retailers and industry experts, and other secondary materials.
2021; Issue 131, Pages 52-65
“Herbal Supplement Sales in US Increase by Record-Breaking 17.3% in 2020”
Authors: T. Smith et al.