Sales in 2021 grew by over $1 billion, making it the second-strongest annual sales growth for these products behind 2020’s record-breaking 17.3% increase, which was largely driven by immune support products. While immune-supporting herbs like elderberry continued to post big sales numbers, herbs for digestive health, mood support, energy, and sleep also posted significant growth.
The standout herbal products across both mainstream and natural channels were ashwagandha and apple cider vinegar. The latter rose to number three in the mainstream channel with $178 million in sales. This represented growth of 129% from 2020. This represents a meteoric rise for apple cider vinegar (ACV), which was not in the top 10 for herb sales in 2019 in the mainstream channel.
Impressive growth was also posted in the natural channel, with ACV supplement sales growing 105% to reach $7.7 million in 2021.
“Supplements marketed for weight loss made up a majority of ACV’s mainstream sales in 2021. However, sales of ACV products with this health focus declined by 27.2% in 2021, which suggests that mainstream consumers may be turning to ACV for other potential benefits,” explained the report’s authors in the November issue of HerbalEGram.
“Despite this decline in the mainstream channel, sales of ACV supplements marketed for weight loss in the natural retail channel increased by 75.8%.”
The highest growth in sales in the mainstream channel was for herbal supplements containing ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), which saw increases of 226% in 2021 versus 2021 to reach $92 million. This surge saw ashwagandha leap to number 7 on the best-selling list in the mainstream channel. In 2019, the herb was only number 33 in this channel.
In the natural channel, ashwagandha sales increased by 23% to $16.7 million, putting it at number four on the top selling list.
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.
Best selling herbs…
The top spot in the mainstream channel continued to be occupied by elderberry (Sambucus spp., Viburnaceae), with $274 million in sales in 2021. This was a tiny (0.2%) decrease on the 2020 number. Larger declines were noted for elderberry in the natural channel, with a 41% decrease in sales versus the previous year. Despite this fall, sales for elderberry still exceeded $31 million in the natural channel, putting the botanical at number three on the top selling list.
The highest growth in sales in the natural channel came from quercetin, a flavonol found in apples and onions, with sales increasing by 137.8% from 2020 to 2021 to hit $15.1 million.
As some herbs rose, others fell, and hemp-derived CBD (cannabidiol) again posted some of the most notable declines. Specifically, sales of CBD in the mainstream and natural channels decreased by 32% and 24%, respectively. However, CBD herbal supplements maintained its top spot in the natural channel, with $39 million in sales.
“In 2021, CBD sales in the natural channel totaled $38,931,696, a 24% decline. This was somewhat less than the nearly 37% decline seen in 2020,” wrote the ABC report authors. “Sales appear to have peaked in 2019, when natural channel consumers spent more than $90.7 million on these products. Still, even after two years of declining sales, natural channel sales of CBD in 2021 were still significantly higher than when the ingredient first appeared on the top 40 list. Consumers spent roughly $31.3 million more on CBD products in 2021 compared to 2017 — a 413.4% increase in annual sales.”
Interestingly, the top three selling herbs in the natural channel all experienced declines in sales: In addition to CBD, turmeric (#2) sales declined by 5.7% to $38 million and elderberry (#3) declined by 41% to $31.2 million. The most notable declines in the natural channel were for Echinacea–goldenseal (-40%) and oregano (-31%).
Echinacea also experienced declines of 24% in the mainstream channel, but still posted $41 million in sales in 2021.
In their conclusion, the report authors stated: “Consumers […]appear to be more interested in the science supporting supplements, which may explain the increased sales of certain well-researched ingredients and shifts in the most popular health focus categories of ingredients with established uses.
“Some sales trends in 2021, such as the decreased sales of several immune ingredients, may seem counterintuitive, but the data suggest that this may be another example of a return to normal.”
Volume 19, Issue 11, November 2022
“US Sales of Herbal Supplements Increase by 9.7% in 2021”
Authors: T. Smith et al.