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Herb Sales Down 3% in Mass Market Retail Stores' Sales in Natural Food Stores Still Growing, but at Lower Rate
ISSUE:
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68

Since the end of 1998, there have been signs that herb market sales have begun to level off in retail stores and possibly other outlets. A comparison of the first eight months of 1999 and 1998 indicated that sales in mainstream stores—i.e., food, drug and mass market, but not convenience stores and warehouse buying clubs—were down about 0.2 percent (Blumenthal, 1999). By the end of 1999, however, sales for the entire year fell 2.9 percent for all herb products, compared to the previous year. The only products posting an increase in sales were soy supplements, with a significant 340 percent increase, flax supplements, 177 percent, and black cohosh, 143 percent.

The black cohosh (BC) statistics appear to contradict the previous market article in HerbalGram 47 (Blumenthal, 1999), where BC sales were reported up 477% to $3,385,393 in the first eight months of 1999 compared to eight-month sales in 1998 of $586,469, based on data from the research firm Information Resources, Inc.(IRI), given to ABC by the Pharmavite Corp. However, the data in the table below, also from IRI, supplied by Rexall Sundown, indicates total 1998 sales for BC of $2,507,078, yielding an increase of 143% to the 1999 sales level of $6,093,833. The difference in the BC reports is explained by the increased 12-month time frame for the entire year—possibly increasing the totals by approximately 40-50% over the eight-month report—and the reporting techniques, which are customized for each company’s needs. The BC reports for Rexall include combination products containing BC, not just BC products alone.

According to data presented at a conference for natural products industry executives in Newport, Rhode Island, on May 31- June 1 by Grant Ferrier, editor of Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ), 1999 sales for herbal supplements in the health food trade market channel were up about 5-6%. The multi-level marketing (MLM) channel increased 2-3%. Internet sales of herbs tripled in 1999, but were below $100 million, along with mail order catalogs, practitioner sales, and specialty stores, e.g., ethnic groceries, mall kiosks, and food co-ops (Aarts and Ferrier, 2000). These estimates were derived from surveys conducted by NBJ of herb manufacturers, raw material providers, and MLM companies, and surveys by natural food trade publications (e.g., Whole Foods and Natural Foods Merchandiser), scanned data from SPINS (a natural products industry market research firm), individual company sales data, and practitioner associations.

However, the rate of growth in natural food in 1999 is about one-half the rate of 1998, when herb sales grew at a rate of 11%. The continued growth in the natural food and MLM channels may indicate a deeper level of commitment to this class of products in the average natural food buyer, compared to the shopper in mainstream channels who is more likely to be a recent convert to herb supplements. It is also quite likely that the natural food customer may be less swayed by the spate of negative publicity about herbs in the media over the past several years, compared to the mainstream shopper who has less of a philosophical or lifestyle commitment to the natural products area and may be more susceptible to either positive or negative media coverage.

References

Aarts T, Ferrier G. State of the Industry. Newport Summit. Newport, RI. Nutrition Business Journal. May 31, 2000.

Blumenthal M. Herb Market Levels After Five Years of Boom: 1999 Sales in Mainstream Market Up Only 11% in First Half of 1999 After 55% Increase in 1998. HerbalGram. 1999;47:64-65.

Information Resources, Inc. Market Data for Herb Sales in FDM 1999 and 1998. Provided by Rexall Sundown to American Botanical Council. Used with permission.

Top-Selling Herbs in Mainstream Market in U.S. 1998 and 1999

Dollar Sales Dollar Share of Herb Market

1999 Rank 1998 1999 1998-1999% 1998% 1999%

1 Ginkgo $152,183,008 $148,237,072 -3 20.8 20.9

2 St. John’s wort 141,786,704 104,780,648 -26 19.4 14.7

3 Ginseng 97,616,064 84,322,760 -14 13.3 11.9

4 Garlic 84,705,720 77,156,048 -9 11.6 10.9

5 Echinacea 69,259,176 70,328,152 2 9.5 9.9

6 Saw palmetto 33,748,984 45,063,652 34 4.6 6.3

7 Soy 6,385,685 28,114,850 340 0.9 4.0

8 Kava 17,774,694 17,662,076 -1 2.4 2.5

9 Horse chestnut 11,181,229 12,684,941 13 1.5 1.8

10 Cranberry 10,785,694 12,377,322 15 1.5 1.7

11 Valerian 9,608,062 9,911,140 3 1.3 1.4

12 Evening primrose 8,422,798 9,005,161 7 1.2 1.3

13 Multi-herb combinations 13,273,055 8,649,007 -35 1.8 1.2

14 Grape seed 7,226,735 8,394,039 16 1.0 1.2

15 Milk thistle 5,192,922 7,719,573 49 0.7 1.1

16 Bilberry 7,079,049 7,699,295 9 1.0 1.1

17 Black cohosh 2,507,078 6,093,833 143 0.3 0.9

18 Flax 1,760,084 4,870,143 177 0.2 0.7

19 Pycnogenol® 5,526,246 4,862,080 12 0.8 0.7

20 Green tea 2,319,290 2,247,281 -3 0.3 0.3

Total herb sales* 731,651,520 710,794,944 -3 100.0 100.0

* Total retail food, drug, and mass market herb sales equals the top 20 herbs sold plus other herbs with lower sales, not listed here.