Total retail sales for herbal dietary supplements fell about 21 percent during the year 2001 in food stores, drug stores, and mass market retailers (FDM), reflecting a third year of falling sales. The year-end report reflects sales of almost 40 million units of product valued at $337,431,200, according to market statistics compiled by Information Resources Inc. (IRI) of Chicago. These statistics represent only the FDM channel of distribution and do not include high-volume warehouse buying clubs, convenience stores, the natural foods market, multi-level market companies, health professionals, mail order, or the Internet. Sales figures for herbs in these markets are difficult to estimate.
However, data released to HerbalGram by SPINS, a San Francisco-based provider of market research to the health and wellness industry, paint a different picture for single herb supplements in natural food supermarkets. Sales of herbal products in 2001 totaled $134,086,587, compared to 2000 sales of $123,009,009. That translates to a 9.01 percent increase; not as strong as in the past, but this category is still experiencing solid positive growth.1
The Natural Products Supermarket channel represents natural food stores with annual sales greater than $2 million. This includes stores such as Whole Foods, Wild Oats, and smaller chains, independents, and cooperatives. The SPINS data are for the 52 weeks ending December 29, 2001.
In the mainstream market the largest-selling herbs all showed a downward trend, continuing the trend shown for the 52-week period ending a year earlier. The only increase was in black coshosh (up 106 percent), multi-herbs (up 69 percent), milk thistle (up 13 percent), and cranberry (up 7 percent).
According to IRI’s Kevin Bender, a discrepancy between the data in this year’s tally and what was published last year in HerbalGram2 lies in the exclusion of Wal-Mart sales data. The previous table included Wal-Mart sales data. The new table below excludes Wal-Mart from all time periods reported — allowing for an “apples-to-apples” comparison.3 It is not clear how the inclusion of the Wal-Mart 2001 sales would have affected the continued downward trend in FDM herb sales seen over the past three years. If Wal-Mart’s relatively large sales volume (i.e., relative to many other mass-market retailers) had not fallen at the same rate as the rest of the mainstream market, inclusion of its sales data might have resulted in a smaller drop in total sales.
Negative media coverage about herbs since 1998 continues to be the primary reason given for the overall decline in sales. While some of the negative publicity is warranted, much is often distorted, promoting various myths and misconceptions regarding regulation, herb product quality, and safety, among other issues.
1. Enders R. (SPINS). Personal communication. 2002 April 16.
2. Blumenthal M. Herb sales down 15 percent in mainstream market. HerbalGram 2001;51:69.
3. Bender K. (Information Resources Inc.). Personal communication. 2002 Feb 5.