Herbal dietary supplement sales hit record high in 2017, according to HerbalGram

Sep 13, 2018

Herbal dietary supplement sales saw their strongest sales growth in more than 15 years in 2017, according to new figures out from the HerbalGram Herb Market Report published by the American Botanical Council (Austin, TX). This growth was driven by rising interest in Ayurvedic herbs and in herbs and botanicals as a whole, the report’s authors say.

Total consumer spending on herbal dietary supplements in the United States reached an estimated $8.085 billion in 2017—the first time total U.S. retail sales of herbal supplements have surpassed $8 billion. This sales figure also represents an 8.5% increase in total sales from 2016, the strongest growth in U.S. herbal supplements sales in over 15 years.

The report is based on retail sales data provided by Chicago-based market research firms SPINS and IRI, as well as Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ), published by New Hope Network (Boulder, CO).* The information only covers retail sales of herbal supplements sales and does not reflect the sales of most herbal teas, botanicals in cosmetics, or herbal drug ingredients in over-the-counter medicines.

Besides overall sales growth, in a breakdown of market channels, NBJ estimates also showed that retail sales increase across channels in 2017. The strongest growth was in direct sales, totaling $4.012 billion, an 11.2% increase from the previous year. Significantly, this is the first time since 2012 that direct sales growth has outpaced sales growth in the mass market and natural channels. Mass market sales grew to $1.449 billion in 2017, an 8.4% increase, and sales in natural and health food stores increased by 4.7% for a total of $2.624 billion. Figures for sales by channel from SPINS differed substantially because of differences in how NBJ and SPINS define retail channels and which retailers they include. 

Mainstream Channel

HerbalGram also gave a breakdown of the bestselling herbs by channel. The bestseller for 2017—for the fifth consecutive year—in the mainstream/mass market channel was horehound (Marrubium vulgare, Lamiaceae). Sales in 2017 totaled $140,832,190, a 12.3% increase from 2016.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa, Zingiberaceae) experienced the strongest sales growth with a 46.7% increase in the mainstream channel, with 2017 sales totaling $32,456,933. Four other herbs also experienced a more than 30% growth in the mainstream channel: wheatgrass/barley grass (44.2%), elderberry (34.7%), fenugreek (33.5%), and ivy leaf (30.2%).

On the flip side, three products in the mainstream channel experienced a more than 30% decline from 2016: coconut oil (–34.9%), green coffee (–38.2%), and green tea (–30.4%). According to the HerbalGram report, the decline in green tea and green coffee could be due to an overall skepticism of weight management supplements from consumers, though green tea still has a spot in the top-ten bestsellers. The decline in coconut oil, which in 2013 experienced a 4,000% increase in sales, is most likely due to the highly publicized Presidential Advisory from the American Heart Association stating that coconut oil is not healthier than beef fat in terms of cardiovascular effects, the report authors note.

The top-10 selling herbal ingredients in the mainstream channel were:
1. Horehound (Marrubium vulgare, Lamiaceae)
2. Echinacea (Echinacea spp.)
3. Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon)
4. Ivy Leaf (Hedera helix)
5. Turmeric (Curcuma longa, Zingiberaceae)
6. Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa)
7. Garcinia (Garcinia cambogia)
8. Green Tea (Camellia sinensis)
9. Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
10. Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)

The Natural Channel

The natural channel has seen huge growth in emerging supplements and consistent sales for products that are just now breaking into the mainstream channel. For example, while turmeric did reach the top five in the mainstream channel, it is the bestselling herbal supplement for the fifth consecutive year in the natural channel, totaling $50,346,121—a 12.2% increase from 2016.

The natural channel appears to be more stable, with less volatile growth and decline compared to the mainstream channel, which is more susceptible to shifting trends. Rather, the natural channel is a launching pad for many trends that eventually make their way mainstream.

In the natural channel, certain herbs showed enormous growth in 2017. Quite significantly, cannabidiol (CBD) ranked for the first time among the top 40 bestselling herbal supplements of 2017 in the natural channel, hitting the number 12 spot with total sales of $7,583,483, a 303% increase from the previous year. While CBD is controversial from a regulatory and legal standpoint, it’s clear from this report that demand for hemp-derived CBD is only growing.

Nigella (Nigella sativa, Ranunculaceae), also known as black seed or black cumin, is another product experiencing huge growth in the natural channel, with sales up 202.5% compared to 2016. Moringa (Moringa oleifera, Moringaceae) is the only other ingredient in the natural channel to grow more than 30%, with sales growth of 32.9% and making its debut on the top 40 bestselling products in the natural channel.

The authors note that these emerging products offer consumers alternative supplement formats like liquids, oils, and powders, a welcome respite for consumers dealing with pill fatigue.

The top-10 selling herbal ingredients in the mainstream channel were:
1. Turmeric (Curcuma longa, Zingiberaceae)
2. Wheatgrass/barley grass (Triticum aestivum/Hordeum vulgare)
3. Flax seed/flax oil (Linum usitatissimum)
4. Aloe (Aloe vera)
5. Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
6. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
7. Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)
8. Maca (Lepidium meyenii)
9. Echinacea (Echinacea spp.)
10. Oregano (Origanum vulgare)

Authors of the report conclude that the significant increase in sales are the result of a heightened consumer interest and awareness of botanicals and traditional medical traditions such as Ayurveda.

*New Hope Network and Nutritional Outlook are both owned by parent company Informa.