Natural Foods Merchandiser logo

The fringe ain't so fringe anymore

Bryce Edmonds

April 24, 2008

6 Min Read
The fringe ain't so fringe anymore

Neti pots? Tongue scrapers? Ear candles? You better believe it. As is often the way, what was once fringe has moved into the mainstream—at least in natural foods stores. And that newfound acceptance is translating into big sales.

In fact, ear candles and neti (nasal irrigation) pots are constant residents on The Natural Foods Merchandiser?s monthly New Product Review?s Top 40 list. Down South—which is not as well-known for its cutting-edge natural ways as, say, California—Elizabeth Woods, health and body care category manager for Asheville, N.C.-based Earth Fare, found that sales of ear candles topped all other HABA items for 2004.

Don?t be ?stunned,? as Woods was when she ran the numbers. Here?s a tutorial on those items that may at first seem scary, but are (secretly?) being used by many.

Wash behind your … nose?
Nasal irrigation—referred to as jala neti in yoga and Ayurveda, the traditional medical science of India—is the practice of cleaning out the nasal passages with warm salt water. Usually, this is done with a ?neti pot,? a small device that looks like Aladdin?s lamp.

According to Wendy Fuehrer, sales and marketing associate for nonprofit neti-pot maker Himalayan Institute, sales of neti pots and related products are skyrocketing. ?Just in [2004] our sales were growing by over 25 percent—some months 35 percent.? In fact, sales saw a 353 percent increase from 2002 to 2004. And, Fuehrer says, the company was on track in 2005 ?to blow that out of the water.?

Fuehrer says the growing popularity of nasal irrigation really hit home when she took her 11-year-old son to her allopathic doctor for his severe allergies. ?She said, ?I?m going to recommend this product—and it may sound a little strange,? and she pulled [a neti pot] out of her drawer,? Fuehrer says. ?When she found out I work for Himalayan Institute, she said, ?I recommend this product to all my patients with allergy and sinus problems. The results are amazing. This stuff is better than any medicine I could give them for their allergies.??

?For me to hear a regular mainstream doctor recommend this to an 11-year-old boy—I was pretty impressed,? Fuehrer says. When her 11-year-old used it for the first time, ?He came out of the bathroom and said, ?Mom, I can breathe for the first time ever,?? she says. ?He uses it without me having to ask him. He knows at 11 how much this is helping him—and I used to have to fight with him to take a [Claritin] in the morning.?

The media is even getting in the neti game. National Public Radio aired a segment on nasal irrigation during an Oct. 12 ?Morning Edition? broadcast.

Burn the candle at one end
Ear candling, Earth Fare?s 2004 star, is fairly simple. A wax cone is inserted into the ear and lit on fire. A barrier is placed near the ear—such as a paper plate with a hole cut in the middle—to protect the user as the cone is allowed to burn down.

Many say that ear candling works by drawing wax out of the ear, but according to Travis Berry, director of sales and marketing for ear-candle maker Wally?s Inc., this isn?t true. ?In reality, ear candles just soften the hardened and impacted ear wax, allowing your body to naturally break it up and excrete it.?

According to Berry, his company?s growth has been impressive. ?It?s been about the same since ?99—sales are increasing about 25 percent to 35 percent per year, which is awesome. Even 5 percent to 10 percent would be great, but this is awesome growth.?

Berry says that the robust sales growth is due to a greatly increased awareness of the process. ?When I first started [at Wally?s] four years ago, 80 percent of people had no idea what ear candling was; 20 percent knew. And they were like, ?Oh, yeah. My grandmother used to do that.? These days it?s probably more like 60-40,? he says. ?Word of mouth is just spreading like wildfire.?

Customers will usually notice a better sense of hearing over the next three to five days following the procedure, Berry says. ?Sometimes, nearly instantly within the first day.?

Evicting tongue nasties
Tongue cleaning may be the least ?weird? of the fringe activities. Many people use their toothbrush to give their tongue a good scrubbing. Making the leap to a plastic or metal device created especially for the job isn?t such a stretch. In fact, Colin Davis, president and founder of Dr. Tung?s Products, says his sales volume increased 80 percent from 2001 to 2004. ?I did the Natural Products Expo … I?m guessing, now, let?s say ?97 or ?98,? he says. ?People would walk by and actually laugh when they saw the tongue cleaners and say, ?You?ve got to be kidding.? And now it?s completely the opposite. It?s a totally accepted, commonly used product.?

Ayurvedic texts say impurities cause respiratory problems and bad breath and dictate that those impurities should be removed. However, according to Davis, tongue cleaning is not only an Ayurvedic tradition. ?It also has been used in the West. They found some artifacts showing that around the birth of Christ the Romans were using iron tongue cleaners. And then, around the 18th century, the wealthier classes in England and Europe used silver tongue cleaners.?

Davis says that helping sales is a growing understanding that the mouth is not separate from the body and that oral health affects overall health. ?Even going to a dentist, there?s a trend for the dental clinic to almost be like a spa,? he says. ?People are treating the mouth as they would like the rest of the body to be treated and pampered in a holistic way, and it?s obvious that the tongue is an important part of the mouth.?

Education wins again
Cheryl Mackner, owner of Living Green Natural Food & Apothecary in Langley, Wash., reported in NFM?s February 2004 Top 40 that ear candles were the No. 1 seller in miscellaneous and neti pots were No. 5. In June this year, neti pots hit No. 1 in miscellaneous and ear candles were No. 2. ?I think that people get pretty fed up with having sinus, nose, eye and ear problems because it?s a very vivid and real experience,? she says. ?And with kids who get sinus stuff too … It?s real noticeable, more so than, say, a bruise.?

Mackner says that naturals? mantra of ?education, education, education? really is key in this realm, and it also can increase sales. She suggests making information on these practices readily available and to spend time with customers informing them about how they can directly benefit. ?For instance, someone very simply could come in and say, ?Do you have quercetin [for allergies]?? And you could say, ?Yeah, we have quercetin. Thank you very much. Goodbye.? And then that sale?s over. Or you can take the five minutes and—even if you don?t sell them the neti pot—give them the information,? she says. ?It ends up, always, that what would have been a $15 sale is increased.?

Mackner says education is crucial to the naturals industry, not only because it boosts sales, but because it helps people. ?It?s not like you?re doing this because you want to make the buck. I like people to get well, and when they have all the resources right there and they?re educated,? they can make more informed decisions, she says.

?It?s what we have to do in the natural foods industry—empower people for behavior modification.?

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 12/p. 32

Subscribe and receive the latest updates on trends, data, events and more.
Join 57,000+ members of the natural products community.

You May Also Like