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Herb Sales Down 15 percent in Mainstream Market


Market Report

Herb Sales Down 15 percent in Mainstream Marketby Mark Blumenthal


Total retail sales for herbal dietary supplements fell about 15 percent in the year 2000 in food stores, drugs stores and mass market retailers (FDM). The year-end report for 52 weeks ending Jan 7, 2001, reflects sales of almost 74 million units of product valued at $590,953,088, 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 sales generated through high-volume warehouse buying clubs, convenience stores, the natural foods market, multi-level marketing companies, health professionals, mail order, or the Internet. Sales figures for all herbs in all these markets are difficult to estimate.

In the mainstream market the largest-selling herbs all showed a downward trend, compared to the 52-week period ending a year earlier: ginkgo (down 32.1 percent), asian ginseng (-25.2%), garlic (-20.0%), echinacea (-20.4%), and St. John's wort (-45.4%). The biggest gains in dollar sales were in soy (up 115.6%), valerian (+70.5%), elderberry (+58.2%), guarana (+48.7%), and green tea (+39.4%). The largest declines were in yucca (down 61.3%), eyebright (-58.7%), cat's claw (-46.9%), cayenne (-40.6%), and spirulina (-34.5%).

Another insight revealed by these data is that in the category of "all other herbs" (A/O herbs in the bottom line of the table), sales increased by 42.8 percent on a dollar basis and 30.9 percent in total units sold. This category represents all other herbal products whose individual sales were not sufficient to qualify for a separate listing with the top 35 herbs supplied by IRI. Apparently, there is still growth in these relatively "minor" herbal categories.

Industry veterans generally agree that negative media coverage about herbs in the past two years constitutes the primary reason for the overall decline in sales. While these same industry leaders acknowledge that some aspects of the negative coverage are occasionally or possibly frequently warranted, they generally agree that much of the media coverage has been distorted, promoting various myths and misconceptions regarding regulation, herb product quality, and safety, among other issues.