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Herb Sales Down 7.4 Percent in Mainstream Market
Herb Sales Down 7.4 Percent in Mainstream Market

Garlic Is Top-Selling Herb; Herb Combinations See Increase

by Mark Blumenthal

The sales of herbal dietary supplements continued their downward slide in mainstream retail stores in 2004. For the 52-week period ending January 2, 2005, sales of all herbal supplements sold in food (grocery), drug, and mass market (FDM) stores decreased by 7.4% to a total of $257,514,900 according to sales data compiled by Information Resources Inc. (IRI) of Chicago.1 

The biggest increase was in the “multi-herb” category, referring to combination herb products, where sales rose 29.1% to $52,049,290. The sales for the top-selling 20 single herbs as well as for combination herbal formulas and total herb sales are shown in Table 1.

Table 1:  Top-Selling Herbal Dietary Supplements in the Food, Drug, and Mass Market Retail Channels in 2004 (for 52-weeks ending January 2, 2005)*
Rank/HerbDollar Sales$ Sales % Change vs. 1 Year Ago 
1. Garlic$27,013,420-11.2
2. Echinacea$23,782,640 -14.9
3. Saw Palmetto$20,334,030-10.5
4. Ginkgo$19,334,010 -12.9
5. Soy $17,419,530-26.6
6. Cranberry $13,445,6706.8
7. Ginseng  $12,165,220-10.2
8. Black Cohosh $11,984,960-22.3
9. St. John’s wort     $9,087,829-12.5
10. Milk thistle$7,775,5290.8
11. Evening primrose$6,088,103-3.6
12. Valerian$3,449,297-9.2
13. Green tea$2,794,78322.1
14. Bilberry$2,341,301-17.6
15. Grape seed$2,330,281 -11.9
16. Horny goat weed$2,203,555-12.2
17. Yohimbe$1,835,313-21.9
18. Horse Chestnut$1,564,550-35.8
19. Eleuthero$992,286-64.4
20. Ginger$814,789-13.8
Multi-Herbs $52,049,29029.1
All other herbs$11,841,120-7.5
Total Herb Supplements$257,514,900-7.4

* Data courtesy Information Resources, Inc., Chicago, IL. All data are based on sales in FDM channel for 52-week period ending Jan. 2, 2005. Data do not include sales from Wal-Mart stores, or sales from other market channels: health and natural food stores, mail order, MLM companies, health professionals, warehouse buying clubs, and convenience stores.

Presumably includes Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American ginseng (P. quinquefolius)

‡ Multi-herbs refers to combination formulations containing more than one herb.

Significant sales declines were seen in many herbs: guarana sales were down 77.3%, while kava continued its plummet by dropping 68.7%. Eleuthero sales were down 64.4%. This is probably the result of its inability to be marketed under its former common name, “Siberian ginseng”; that name was made illegal in the Farm Bill of 2002.2,3 It is possible that eleuthero sales in the natural food channel may have stayed more constant, owing to a usually more educated shopper who may recognize the name eleuthero more readily than a shopper in a mainstream outlet. Horny goat weed (Epimedium spp., Berberidaceae) made the "Top 20" list due to its recent jump in popularity in mainstream retail channels as a sexual enhancement herb, although its sales were down 12.2% from 2003.

It bears emphasis that the sales data from IRI in Table 1 represent only a minor segment of the total herbal dietary supplement market. The data do not include sales made in Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer. For the past three years IRI data have included Wal-Mart sales and thus the statistics in Table 1 must be seen as only a partial representation of the total FDM market. It is widely acknowledged that Wal-Mart accounts for a significant, but unmeasured, segment of the total herb and dietary supplement market. IRI was unable to produce estimates of total Wal-Mart herb sales in relation to the rest of the sales in the FDM channel of trade.

Further, these data do not include herbal tea sales, which are tracked separately. Nor do they include herb sales in other channels of trade: health and natural food stores, mail order, multi-level marketing organizations, health professionals (e.g., acupuncturists, chiropractors), warehouse buying clubs (e.g., Costco, Sam’s Club), and convenience stores. Sales of products in most of these channels are traditionally more difficult to measure and are not tracked by econometric services like IRI and A.C. Nielsen.

The IRI sales total for all herbal supplements in the mainstream (FDM) channel for 2003 was $278,212,100. The IRI total for 2003 comprises approximately 6.6% of the total market volume for herbal supplements for all channels of trade totaling an estimated $4,197,000,000 as compiled by Nutrition Business Journal in its annual industry report.4 Presumably, the ratios are similar for 2004, but the 2004 data from the various sources compiled by NBJ were not yet available for this article. For 2003, NBJ concluded that 19% of herbal supplements were sold in the mass market (NBJ includes Wal-Mart, club and convenience stores and broadens the capture of herbal “blends” principally used for weight loss), 32% of herbal supplements were sold in natural food and specialty retail stores (including supplement stores like GNC), and 49% were sold in direct sales (including network marketers, practitioners, mail order, direct response TV and internet sales).


1. FDM Market Sales Data for Herbal Supplements, 52 weeks ending January 2, 2005. Chicago, IL: Information Resources Inc.

2. 107th Congress. Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002. Public Law 107-171. Available at:

3. Blumenthal M. Farm Bill Bans Use of Name “Ginseng” on Non-Panax Species: “Siberian Ginseng” no longer allowed as commercial term. HerbalGram. 2002;No. 56:54-55.

4, Ferrier GKL, Thwaites LA, Rea PR, et al. U.S. Consumer Herbal & Botanical Supplement Sales. Nutrition Business Journal. IX(5/6); May/June 2004.