Natural Foods Merchandiser

NFM Tours the Countrys Supplement Aisles

What starts a supplements trend? Is it word of mouth—your aunt tries a new product, likes it and tells her friends about it? Is it overwhelming hype in the media? Is it the endorsement of someone famous, such as George Foreman? Whatever the yeast that makes a trend rise, people like the smell of it and gather round to enjoy it—and become consumers of it.

Because retailers may not have a working crystal ball or time on their hands, NFM took a tour of the country to see what is—or should be—on their supplements shelves.

Down South
According to Elizabeth Woods, health and body care category manager for Asheville, N.C.-based Earth Fare, diabetes and sugar-balance awareness is a trend hitting the aisles. ?I was really surprised it didn?t happen sooner, but [diabetes and sugar balance] will be the next big thing. ? I was recognizing it [more than] a year ago, then low-carb stuck longer than I thought it would. That may have forestalled the diabetes awareness. There are 17 million people with diabetes in the U.S., and 16 million pre-diabetic. It?s going to become something big.? She says that stevia is a huge seller, as well as sugar-balance formulas.

Woods says superfoods are really starting to pop, as well as awareness of the importance of minerals. ?The recognition of how vital they are is getting bigger. Customers are starting to request them more.?

Glucosamine and chondroitin continue to grow for Earth Fare, as more people learn about them, according to Woods. ?You can hear people talking about it, [like when] you?re getting your car fixed. ?You work in a health food store? I heard about that glucosamine.??

Enzymes and digestive supplements are one of the biggest sales categories in health and body. ?Everyone?s got a digestive problem,? Woods says. Mushroom products are beginning to grow, but it will take more education for people to really get the message.

The overall winner? Ear candles. When Woods was running the numbers, she was surprised to see that they outpaced all other products in sales. ?It?s a fun thing for crossovers to try. They?re so under the radar that you don?t realize how many are selling. ? I was stunned.?

The Heartland
In Livonia, Mich., home to Zerbo?s Health Foods, sales consultant Judy Wein says, ?Lifestyle diseases are picking up speed now. More and more of our food is processed, and it?s an effort and challenge to find foods that aren?t.?

More people have skin problems like eczema and psoriasis. ?One of the No. 1 things for that that people are using, and that?s being recommended to them, is fish oils.?

Neurological diseases such as Parkinson?s, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer?s are becoming common concerns for Wein?s customers, as well as gastrointestinal issues. ?A lot of people come in not knowing [what they want], but asking for help,? Wein says.

Common complaints for Zerbo?s customers are joint and arthritis problems, ?which really relates to immune system functioning,? Wein says. Glucosamine and chondroitin are still the most requested remedies. ?Enzymes are becoming real popular. I think there?s a [growing] awareness,? Wein says. Employees at Zerbo?s educate their customers about digestive and systemic enzymes, especially for inflammation. One naturals mainstay is seeing a sales jump in Michigan. ?A lot more people—I think as they are becoming more aware of natural health—are coming in looking for multivitamins. Probably the biggest sellers now are whole foods supplements. ? There must be an awareness out there [of whole foods supplements] because people are asking for them.?

For Beverly Krock, owner of For Goodness Sake Natural Food Store in New Braunfels, Texas, what?s hot is maddeningly fickle. ?Trends come and go. If it?s in Woman?s World magazine, they want it.?

She says that antioxidant-rich macadamia oil is near the top of the trendy list. ?It?s in one of the new diets. They don?t even know what it?s for.?

Glucosamine and chondroitin are popular in the Lone Star State and show no signs of slowing down, according to Krock.

?We had really good luck with ephedra—and never had any side effects,? she says, ?but they took that away.?

Arnica has seen a spike in sales, says Krock. ?Apparently there was a big article about arnica recently. That?s been around, but we?ve had a lot of requests lately.? Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) is also seeing a sales jump.

?A lot of people ask about organic versions of products,? she says. ?They don?t always know what that means, but they?ve heard it someplace.?

The Northeast
New Jersey has its share of savvy shoppers. Janet Tammero, store manager of the George Street Co-op in New Brunswick, says that a lot of the detox products are continuing to be hot sellers, a trend that began two years ago and hasn?t died. ?The Yerba Prima formulas for men and women do well. Also, Zand [Quick Cleanse] is a big seller.? She says that awareness of the dangers of heavy-metal toxicity keeps a steady stream of customers hunting for bentonite. ?Everyone seems to be bothered by mercury now. Some people come in because they?ve heard that mercury is bad, others come in with [multiple sclerosis], lupus—a lot of the autoimmune diseases they?re finding are related to heavy metals.?

Tammero says glucosamine and chondroitin continue to sell very well, but they?re not the buzzwords they once were. Instead, customers are catching the inflammation bandwagon. ?[New Chapter?s COX-2 inhibitor] Zyflamend is a new item that I brought in that people seem to like. People are finding results with it.? She also says that anti-inflammatory formulas, in general, are starting to find some traction.

Just as it is in Texas, macadamia nut oil is one of the newest hot trends, according to Tammero.

Way out West
In ultra-trendy Los Angeles, Ken Babal, staff nutritionist at Erewhon Natural Foods Market, says weight loss is a perennial preoccupation. ?A few people have been asking for Cortislim. ? Weight loss products are always a big share.?

The relatively new Ester-E is another product with a growing fan base because of the heavy marketing it?s receiving, says Babal. And, he says, green foods always sell well, as do condition-specific formulas. Mushrooms continue to be a force. ?It?s pretty good for us,? says Babal. ?We have an entire section now for mushroom products.? He sees a lot of potential for mushrooms and Chinese tonic formulas, because people are very receptive to the message. ?There?s a long history that validates their effectiveness and potential. I feel strongly about it, because they?re a whole category unto themselves. ? Their DNA is closer to humans than it is to plants. They have all these marvelous properties and the highest esteem in traditional Chinese medicine. That?s a strong selling point.?

Babal says that he personally feels that alpha-lipoic acid has some good growth potential because of the emphasis on syndrome X and enhancing insulin sensitivity. ?There?s a lot of potential for fish oil,? he says. ?That?s going to continue to grow.?

Meanwhile, in Seattle—another haven of trendiness—Karyn Schwartz, an herbalist at Rainbow Natural Remedies, cautions: ?This store is not maybe the best gauge of trends because we tend to recommend things specific to each person. ? There are things that work better that a lot of people don?t know about.?

That said, elderberry is taking off for Rainbow, in part because she and others on staff are such big proponents of its properties. ?More people are aware of it now, but most still look for echinacea and goldenseal, which is endangered. ? Elderberry is a great alternative because it?s a fantastic antiviral.?

Detox formulas also are big at Rainbow. ?That?s a big movement in the natural health world always, especially to focus on colon cleansing. A lot of naturopaths are very steeped in the idea that if the intestines are sluggish, then toxins keep recirculating in the body and you can?t ever really get rid of poisons.? There is also an awareness of detoxing as a defense against heavy metal accumulation, she says. ?Detoxing is a part of people?s everyday language up here.?

Schwartz says what?s in the mass media is not necessarily what people come to Rainbow for. ?What?s in the media is energy, weight loss and all that ridiculous, very acculturated stuff that people think they can get a quick fix for, and we don?t go there. If people come in looking for them, they leave with much different things.?

However, some big-press items are working at Rainbow. ?Essential fatty acids are a big thing, antioxidants are a big buzzword, and prevention of deteriorating conditions.?

Glucosamine is still popular, according to Schwartz, but perhaps less so because the staff asks a lot of questions to help customers zero in on a more personally tailored remedy. ?If we weren?t a bunch of people who actually know some stuff, we might just sell stuff because people just come asking for it,? she says.

The hot trend, according to Schwartz, is ?really knowing what?s going on.? As she and the staff of Rainbow find more and more people don?t have health care and use the store as a de facto doctor?s office, she says that education and customer service become more important. ?We help people learn how to find good information, how to question things and what?s going on and find good help. ? I think what?s cool is people are asking better questions. They?re hip to the fact that a lot of what gets put out in the mainstream media is not necessarily true or good for you. People want more knowledge so they can have more control over their bodies.?

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 12/p. 34, 38-39

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