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Elderberry: Flu-fighters' secret weapon

Purchases by natural-channel shoppers between August 2009 and August 2010 made elderberry the leading immunity botanical, pushing sales up nearly 53 percent over the previous year to $7.48 million.

In the year of the H1N1 pandemic, nutrient-minded shoppers in the natural channel flocked to a little-known immunity-booster: elderberry.

Their purchases between August 2009 and August 2010 made the plant the leading immunity botanical, pushing sales up nearly 53 percent over the previous year to $7.48 million. By comparison, echinacea sales rose only 10 percent in this channel, according to SPINS data.

Over in the FDM channel, more mainstream shoppers' buying habits remained largely unchanged. Products containing elderberry registered $4.55 million in sales, a 1.1 percent decrease over last year's figures.

This discrepancy is not a surprise to Proprietary Nutritionals, the makers of Elder-Max, a proprietary elderberry ingredient that utilizes the patented Bio-Shield system to deliver its bioactives through the digestive system.

"Elderberry has a rich history of use both as a food and as an agent to support the immune system," said president Dean Mosca. "The top FDM immune-support supplements are vitamin C and echinacea. We believe that FDM audiences have not been exposed to mass-media stories on the benefits of elderberry for immune support; therefore, there is not an aggressive demand. Conversely, the specialty shopper is much more aware and compelled to incorporate elderberry into his/her seasonal support regimens. Elderberry receives powerful press in the specialty consumer magazines such as Better Nutrition, Delicious Living and Energy Times."

The most popular platform for elderberry in both channels is herbal formulas and herbal singles. But the botanical made its first major appearance this year in shelf-stable juices, jumping 3,408 percent in sales to $47,500 in the natural channel. In FDM, it earned nearly $31,000 — up from zero.

As a supplement it is usually sold in tablets or capsules, but elderberry is perfect for other applications, such as effervescent tablets and gummies, Mosca said.

Mosca also believes it has great FDM potential as an on-the-go supplement, if word about some exciting recent research would break into the mainstream media.

"There was an exciting study that was published only last year in Phytochemistry, in which the authors concluded that H1N1 inhibition activities of elderberry flavonoids compared favorably to the known anti-influenza activities of Oseltamivir (Tamiflu; 0.32 microM) and Amantadine (27 microM)," Mosca said. "It remains to be seen how this could impact this product category next year, if this information were to be disseminated."

What suppliers are saying

"There was an exciting study that was published only last year, that if it were given mass media treatment, would have likely cemented elderberry as the 'go-to' supplement for the cold/flu season."

—Dean Mosca, president, Proprietary Nutritionals

Chart: Elderberry sales

Sales of elderberry in FDM and natural channels

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