Herbal supplement sales up 5.5%

Herb market report shows increased retail sales for ninth consecutive year.

Sales of herbal dietary supplements in the United States increased by 5.5 percent in 2012, reaching a total estimated figure of nearly $5.6 billion (USD). These statistics are conclusions of a new report published in the current issue of HerbalGram, the peer-reviewed quarterly journal of the nonprofit American Botanical Council (ABC).

Sales in the mainstream market channel (food, drug, and mass-market stores: FDM) continued to grow, increasing an estimated 2.2 percent over 2011 sales, while sales in natural food stores rose by a stronger estimated growth of 6.1 percent. 2012 marks the ninth year in a row that herb sales have increased, according to data in previous HerbalGram herb market reports.

“The market for herbs continues to grow, year after year, even during difficult economic times,” said HerbalGram Editor-in-Chief and ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal. “The sales data demonstrate that consumers of all types are interested in safe, natural, low-cost options to maintain their health and increase wellness.”

The annual HerbalGram herb market report is based on herb supplement sales statistics from the Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ) and market research firms SymphonyIRI and SPINSscan Natural. It covers only sales of herbal dietary supplements and does not reflect the sales of herbal teas or botanical ingredients in natural cosmetics.

NBJ, a publication of New Hope Natural Media in Boulder, Colo., estimated the total herb supplement sales figures for 2012 based on data from market research firms, company surveys, interviews with major retailers and industry experts, and various published and unpublished secondary material.

Chicago-based SymphonyIRI determined 2012 herb supplement sales in the FDM channel to be $594,815,900, a decrease of 1.06 percent compared to the previous year. SymphonyIRI’s figure includes sales from supermarkets, drugstores, mass-market retailers, military commissaries, and select club and dollar retail chains. (This decrease contrasts slightly with NBJ’s estimate of 2.2 percent growth in this channel; as outlined in the above paragraph, NBJ calculates its estimates based on numerous market data sources, including SymphonyIRI). The top-selling single herbs of 2012 in the FDM channel, according to SymphonyIRI, were cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon), garlic (Allium sativum), saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), soy (Glycine max), and ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) leaf extract.

The Schaumburg, Ill.-based SPINS found sales of botanical dietary supplements in the natural and health foods channel to be $295,484,348, a significant increase of 14.7 percent over 2011 sales in this channel. SPINS’ figure does not include sales from the United States’ largest natural foods chain store, Whole Foods Market. (This 14.7 percent increase also contrasts with NBJ’s more conservative estimate of 6.1 percent noted above, based on NBJ’s range of market data sources for natural food retail outlets.)

The five top-selling herbal supplements of 2012 in the natural channel, according to SPINS, were flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum) oil, grass (wheat and barley: Triticum aestivum and Hordeum vulgare), turmeric (Curcuma longa) and concentrated curcumin extracts, aloe vera (Aloe vera), and spirulina/blue-green algae (Arthrospira spp.). Turmeric showed a 40 percent increase in sales in 2012, a huge jump, presumably reflecting increased consumer awareness of the various health benefits documented in published clinical trials, including its anti-inflammatory effects and use as a potentially safe and effective adjuvant in various types of cancer therapies. Natural foods channel rankings may include some combination herbal products, as SPINS codes sales by primary ingredient.

The online version of the HerbalGram report comprises six tables illustrating herbal supplement sales, including, for the second time, a table of the 40 top-selling herbal supplements in the FDM channel (HerbalGram previously published only the top 20) as determined by SymphonyIRI, as well as a table of the 20 top-selling botanical supplements in the natural channel as determined by SPINS. The top-selling herbal supplements in each channel are different, both due to different preferences and values of shoppers in health and natural foods stores versus those in mainstream stores, and because SymphonyIRI and SPINS do not include the same herbal supplements in their data sets.

Interestingly, of the top herbs in the FDM channel as determined by SymphonyIRI, five have been identified by the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program (an international educational campaign encouraging the integrity of the supply chain in the herb market) as being subject to intentional—i.e., economically motivated—adulteration. These include bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), black cohosh (Actaea racemosa syn. Cimicifuga racemosa), ginkgo leaf extract, Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) root, and saw palmetto berry products.

In addition to the FDM and natural channels, herbal dietary supplements are sold in the United States through mail order catalogs, Internet sites, radio and television direct sales outlets, network marketing firms that sell directly to the consumer, health professionals who sell supplements from their offices, and various other channels.

HerbalGram is available at some bookstores and natural food stores and is mailed to members of ABC. The annual HerbalGram herb market report article is posted on the ABC website.


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