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Jennifer Grebow is editor-in-chief of Nutritional Outlook.
At October’s SupplySide West trade show, two ashwagandha suppliers talked what’s driving the ingredient’s growth.
Ashwagandha sales continue rising impressively, both in the natural and mass-market retail channels. At October’s SupplySide West trade show, two ashwagandha suppliers talked what’s driving the ingredient’s growth.
From Natural to Mass
According to the latestHerbalGram Herb Market Report1 released this fall, sales of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) herbal supplements in the U.S. mainstream market grew a whopping 165.9% in 2018, putting total sales at $7.5 million. While ashwagandha has been a steady leader in the U.S. natural herbal supplement market, these numbers indicate that the ingredient is beginning to gain real traction with the mainstream audience. In fact, per the HerbalGram report, ashwagandha was one of only four herbal ingredients on the report’s top-40 mainstream-seller list to see sales growth over 40% in 2018. Ashwagandha also continues to hold court in the U.S. natural herbal supplements channel. According to the HerbalGram report1, ashwagandha ranked as the seventh-top-selling U.S. herbal supplement ingredient, with 16.9% growth and $12.4 million in sales in 2018.
Said the HerbalGram report authors: “For the first time, strong sales of ashwagandha supplements in mainstream retail outlets earned the herb a spot among the 40 top-selling ingredients in this channel. Mainstream ashwagandha sales in 2018 increased 165.9% from the previous year, with sales totaling $7,449,103. Ashwagandha has been one of the 40 top-selling ingredients in natural retail stores since 2015, but its appearance among the top 40 herbs in the mainstream channel in 2018 suggests more widespread familiarity among casual consumers of natural products. Mainstream ashwagandha sales in 2018 likely benefitted from the continued popularity of ingredients traditionally used in Ayurveda, the primary traditional medical system of India.”
This report squares with what Bruce Brown, president of Natreon Inc. (New Brunswick, NJ), said he’s seen. Natreon’s flagship ingredient is its longstanding Sensoril ashwagandha brand.
“The natural channel [for ashwagandha] has really been a bastion of growth over the last four or five years, well outpacing mass, but I think what you’ve seen continue to happen is that the mass market has begun to pivot a little bit toward the natural space,” said Brown at SupplySide West. “So when you walk up and down the aisles of some of the historically mass retailers, you’re starting to see natural and organic sections take over more aisles and more space.”
This mainstream embrace of natural remedies benefits ashwagandha specifically, as more consumers seek aids for stress and sleep. In these categories, ashwagandha’s reputation is growing, Brown said. “A few years ago, when you looked at products within a grocery store, or a drugstore chain, or a natural food chain, you might see an ashwagandha product listed as ‘ashwagandha’ within an A-Z herbal section. Now what you’re seeing is ashwagandha starting to make its way as a standalone within the sleep section.”
The public’s need for stress and sleep aids shows no sign of slowing-promising unlimited potential for ashwagandha and marketers using the ingredient. Brown pointed out that Procter & Gamble’s ZzzQuil PURE Zzzs brand recently launched a product with ashwagandha and melatonin. Brown called this development “exciting.”
“Our stress levels in today’s society have not gone down; they only continue to grow,” said Liz Smith, marketing director for Sabinsa Corp. (East Windsor, NJ), at SupplySide West. At last year’s SupplySide West show, Sabinsa introduced its USP-grade ashwagandha ingredient called Shagandha. Smith said Sabinsa launched Shagandha to be a verified, “consistent” ingredient for companies amidst the ashwagandha category, which faces increasing adulteration threats as the herb’s popularity grows.
Smith added that Sabinsa “expects to see far more food and beverages containing ashwagandha” in the near future.
In addition to benefits for sleep and stress relief, ashwagandha’s other potential benefits are being explored, including for sports. A study published on Natreon’s Sensoril ingredient last year showed benefits for strength training and recovery.
“The benefits of ashwagandha have really expanded beyond what is just a simple herb,” Brown said. “We’re beginning to understand what are the health benefit categories that ashwagandha can play in, and our brand marketers are really beginning to tap into how they can differentiate ashwagandha in the stress and sleep markets. How can we differentiate it in combination with probiotics to look at the gut-brain connection? How can we look at ashwagandha in combination to help achieve sports nutrition outcomes?” Children’s health is another potential interest area for Natreon, he said.
Consumer interest in adaptogens will also drive growth for ashwagandha, he added. “As categories such as nootropics and adaptogens begin to take more hold with the consumer, I think we might start to see a pivot in how ashwagandha is positioned.”
Moving forward, Brown expects to see marketers become even more nuanced when they promote ashwagandha’s benefits. “I think what we’re going to see with brand marketers and how they talk about ashwagandha to their consumers is a real development and maturity of the message,” he said.
“When I look into 2020, I think we’re going to see an even broader array of ashwagandha-containing products and a much more focused and thorough review describing the benefits to consumers,” Brown continued. “It reminds me a little bit of the omega-3 market when we began simply by talking broadly about fish oil. Then we began to talk about omega-3s. Then we began to talk about the importance of EPA and DHA. I believe the same thing is going to happen with ashwagandha where we’re going to begin to talk about the importance of the bioactives within ashwagandha, begin to look at what the impact is of each one of those bioactives and what is the optimal blend of those bioactives.”
“There’s still a long way to go, but we’re taking the first steps,” he concluded.