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Herb Consumers' Attitudes, Preferences Profiled in New Market Study

As noted by numerous surveys and econometric tracking services, sales for herbal dietary supplements have dropped in the past five years from their previous record high levels.1-4 This difficult state of the herbal marketplace over the past few years has challenged herbal supplement marketers to continually appeal to new consumers, attempt to demonstrate the superiority of their products, and find new ways of promoting their products.

In such a market, the value of consumer research increases substantially because the cost of a misstep is magnified. The Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), a leading market research and strategic consulting firm, has researched the natural products marketplace since 1990. Its Health and Wellness Trends Database (HWTD) currently has five years of trended consumer data, with the sixth study just recently fielded. (A report on NMI’s previous consumer research was published in HerbalGram 54.5) According to the HWTD, 34% of the U.S. general population used herbal supplements in the previous year (i.e., prior to the June 1, 2003 survey date).6 This represents a market of over 60 million adults; and while it is constant relative to a year ago (i.e., relative to the last half of 2002 and the first half of 2003), the data reflects a decline in usage over the past five years (Figure 1).

NMI has identified a more integrated group of users: those who have used herbal supplements for more than a year on a regular and consistent basis. This group represents 14% of the general population. Compared to vitamins and minerals, of which 50% of the general population can be described as integrated users, one can see that while vitamins and minerals have mainstreamed, regular, integrated use of herbal supplements is still limited to a small group of consumers, relative to the potential. Based on this research, and other similar studies, NMI finds strong evidence of the importance of targeting consumers and understanding the benefits consumers seek. 

First, optimizing the consumer target is critical for efficiently using marketing dollars. NMI has found that simple demographic targets are not as effective for products such as herbals—interest in herbals crosses age, gender, and income boundaries. Understanding consumers’ attitudes and lifestyle is a more productive means of identifying targets.

One segment NMI found to be particularly fruitful for products such as herbals is the LOHAS consumer. “LOHAS” stands for “Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability,” and LOHAS consumers represent approximately one in every three U.S. adult consumers.7 They are driven by their interest in health, wellness, the environment and society, and they buy products accordingly.NMI identifies these consumers using a proprietary, 16-variable attitudinal segmentation model.This statistical analysis includes questions such as importance of sustainable manufacturing, concern about worker rights, and willingness to pay more for environmentally responsible products.

The behavior of LOHAS consumers is consistent with their attitudes. For example, they are heavier users of organic foods, more likely to practice yoga, heavier natural products channel shoppers (i.e., they tend to shop in natural food stores for some or all of their supplements and food items), and more likely to be members of environmental organizations. And, almost 40% of them use herbal supplements—a rate 37% higher than that of the general population.

For example, the data in Figure 2 show that a combination of attitudes, other product usage patterns, and some demographics can identify much more fertile consumer target groups.7

Second, it is important to understand why consumers use herbal supplements. According to the HWTD, the primary reason integrated herbal supplement users use them is for overall health and wellness (71%). Usage of herbs for treating or preventing specific health issues is statistically equivalent, at 35%.

Herbal supplements also satisfy an interest among users to lead a more healthy and natural lifestyle.Looking at numerous lifestyle measures, herbal supplement users are simply more intense about the beliefs they hold, the role of health and wellness in their lives, and the activities in which they participate. For example, 36% of herbal supplement users are LOHAS consumers (more than one-third higher than in the general population). This plays out in several attitudes, such as the importance of spirituality (with 58% of herbal supplement users stating they care about spirituality, versus 47% of the general population), and environmental issues (with 24% of herbal supplement users saying they prefer to purchase products manufactured in a sustainable way, versus 16% of the U.S. population).

These attitudes pervade not just their usage of dietary supplements, but other healthy products.Herbal supplement users are 32% more likely to buy energy and nutrition bars than the general population, 59% more likely to buy organic foods and beverages, and 54% more likely to buy soymilk or other soy beverages. This pattern holds across natural personal care products, socially responsible investing, green building products, and natural household products. Usage of these products leads them to be heavier shoppers in natural channel stores; they shop at stores such as GNC, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Wild Oats 40% more than the general population. And, perhaps not surprisingly, herbal supplement users also consume more healthy products, spending approximately 50% more on supplements each month than the general population.

Therefore, when all of these attitudes and behaviors are viewed in aggregate, an interesting trend becomes apparent: herbal supplement users are not just buying a supplement that treats or prevents a particular medical condition, they are looking for a natural approach to maintaining their health and wellbeing across most of their consumer behavior. These consumers want herbal products that provide the primary benefit of treating or preventing a specific health issue while improving their overall health and wellness. They also have an emotional need for a product that is pure, natural, and has a minimal planetary and societal impact.

Gwynne Rogers is a Strategic Marketing Analyst at The Natural Marketing Institute in Philadelphia. NMI provides in-depth market trend analysis and consumer attitude surveys in the natural products industry. More at


1. Blumenthal M. Herbs Continue Slide in Mainstream Market: Sales Down 14 Percent. HerbalGram. 2003;No. 58:71.

2. Blumenthal M. Herb Sales Down in Mainstream Market, Up in Natural Food Stores. HerbalGram. 2002;No. 55:60.

3. NBJ’s Annual Industry Overview 2004. Nutrition Business Journal. May/Jun 2004;5(6):1, 3-15.

4. NMI’s Health and Wellness Trends Database.Philadelphia: Natural Marketing Institute, 2004.

5. Molyneux M. Consumer Attitudes Predict Upward Trends for the Herbal Marketplace. HerbalGram. 2002;No. 54:64-65.

6. NMI’s Health and Wellness Trends Database, © 2004. [Note: Data based on responses of more than 2,000 in June 2003 U.S. primary grocery shoppers, bringing the total number of respondents in the database to over 10,000.The data gathered are statistically significant to ± 2% at the 95% confidence level.]

7. NMI’s LOHAS Consumer Trends Database, © 2004. [Note: Data based on responses of more than 2,000 U.S. general population adults, bringing the total number of consumers in the database to 6,000. The data gathered are statistically significant to ± 2% at the 95% confidence level.]