Elderberry sales are declining, but experts aren’t worried. Here’s why.

Nutritional OutlookNutritional Outlook Vol. 26 No. 4
Volume 26
Issue 4

Read why elderberry stakeholders believe this immune-health powerhouse can endure.

©Tynza / Stock.adobe.com

©Tynza / Stock.adobe.com

Elderberry ingredient sales soared during the height of the pandemic, so much so that you could practically visualize the bottles flying off the shelves wearing their superhero capes. Like Mighty Mouse, here to save the day, the bright botanical was part of a consumer rush to bulk up their arsenal of immune-health protectors while also serving as a counterbalance to the drop in other categories of supplement sales.

Consumer sales of elderberry supplements jumped up 169% in mainstream retail channels in 2020. What about today? Sales dropped by 10% in 2022.1 And even though data from market researcher SPINS (Chicago) show that cold-and-flu supplement sales grew overall in 2022, in both the mainstream and natural retail channels, elderberry supplement sales were down.2

The decline in sales begs these questions: Do these kinds of numbers signal a rational and realistic return to earth for elderberry? Or the start of a devastating downward decline?

First, a little context is in order.

Which Came First: The Pandemic or The Interest in Elderberry?

Shaheen Majeed, CEO of BGG Americas (Irvine, CA) and two of its subsidiaries, HBNI North America and Algae Health Sciences, says that “elderberry sales went ballistic during the COVID pandemic, and rightly so.” BGG supplies the branded elderberry ingredient EldPro, and Majeed calls elderberry “a great supplement for immunity, with solid clinical research showing benefits in fighting the viruses that cause colds and flu.”

Majeed also says that “While I’m unaware of any clinical trial specifically on elderberry for COVID-19 prevention or treatment,” he adds that “it’s a logical extension of the existing literature on elderberry that it may have some benefit for this novel virus as well.”

According to Eric Cohen, senior brand manager at The Vitamin Shoppe, “Although elderberry sales had significantly increased during the pandemic, it had been a strong seller prior to the pandemic.”

He adds that “increased media exposure touting the benefits of elderberry for immune and respiratory support occurred at the same time as many customers were seeking additional immune support to add to their supplement programs beyond vitamins C and D and zinc.”

Why elderberry? Cohen notes that elderberry “has a history of use as a safe, efficacious ingredient for decades and has gained acceptance as a mainstream supplement since the pandemic.”

He continues, “Elderberries naturally contain antioxidant compounds, including flavanols and anthocyanins. Elderberry can activate a healthy immune system by increasing inflammatory cytokine products and plays an immune-protective or immune-stimulatory role.”

Art Rowe-Cerveny is executive vice president, marketing, Americas, at PharmaCare U.S., manufacturer of the Sambucol dietary supplement brand. He says, “We actually sold more product in March 2020 than we had in an entire three years prior.”

He says once COVID hit, whether it was stocking up on toilet paper or elderberry supplements, everyone was looking to fortify their health (and other) supplies to protect their households.

However, Rowe-Cerveny agrees with Cohen that it wasn’t just a pandemic that pushed elderberry to the forefront. From his perspective, the elderberry growth spurt really began in 2018 when, he says, a serious cold-and-flu season and shortages of flu shots and other related influenza supplies, combined with viral social media attention, led people to discover the centuries-old remedy.

“So, by the time the pandemic hit in March 2020, elderberry was already growing as a recognized way to help support the immune system,” declares Rowe-Cerveny.

Randy Kreienbrink, CFS, vice president of sales and marketing at Artemis International (Fort Wayne, IN), recalls that “as news of the pandemic was spreading around the world and there was so much uncertainty, everyone was justifiably worried. People were on board with anything they could do to enhance their immune system and potentially fight infection.”

Artemis supplies branded ingredients ElderCraft and BerryDefense, among its other berryceuticals, and Kreienbrink says that elderberry’s “solid science behind its immune-support properties” and its delivery-method versatility—including tablets, capsules, teas, and gummies—were reasons why elderberry products “were flying off the shelves and being consumed in mass quantities.”

Business as Usual?

Now that the biggest fears for immune health have subsided, hopefully more than temporarily, how is elderberry faring?

Kimberly Kawa, product expert at SPINS and a member of Nutritional Outlook’s Editorial Advisory Board, agrees that “elderberry was widely accessible during the pandemic, and successful because it already had mainstream consumer familiarity.”

She adds that “with markets starting to normalize post-pandemic, it seems logical that the heightened growth rates for trending functional ingredients would drop down a bit.”

Kreienbrink confirms that the “elderberry market has chilled a bit, but the overall concern about immune system health and functionality is still strong.” And, he adds that “it was unrealistic to assume elderberry sales would continue such an exponential growth curve.”

Majeed does not seem worried either. “It’s human nature that once a threat is no longer imminent,” he says, “behavior will revert back to normality.” He advises that while the virus hasn’t disappeared, “the pandemic stage is over and many consumers aren’t thinking about modulating their immune systems like they were a couple [of] years ago.”

However, Majeed is optimistic, suggesting that “smart consumers will continue to focus on immunity as a key element of good health.” He believes that “immune-supplement ingredients will continue to have stronger sales than during the pre-pandemic era.”

Rowe-Cerveny points out that “sales have of course slowed from that meteoric rise,” but he claims it’s not just elderberry but also the immune health category in general that’s seeing a decline when compared to the height of the demand.

But he, too, doesn’t seem concerned, also suggesting that it was unrealistic and perhaps a bit of irrational exuberance on the part of the people predicting that elderberry sales would continue on that extreme upward trajectory. “Nothing can continue at such a pace,” he says. “The laws of nature eventually take hold.”

Rowe-Cerveny does wonder, however, if the American public has become somehow immune to protecting their immune health. He explains that “the American public is tired and no longer afraid and actually seems to be a bit fatalistic, adopting an ‘Oh well, I’m going to get sick with something’ attitude.”

And as long as he’s being realistic, he’s also upfront about the economic reality of inflation and market uncertainty, which, he says, “has also made the consumer a much fickler and more aware shopper.”

But still Rowe-Cerveny says this: “We believe the decline versus the height to be normal market reaction, and expected. As the true demand level is reached, and the opportunists and fakes leave the market as the category adjusts to its new reality,” he reminds us that the new reality is “still significantly above pre-pandemic levels.”

What Will Keep Everyone Interested in Elderberry?

For one thing, keeping adulterated ingredients out of the market can only serve to enhance industry and consumer confidence.

Says Rowe-Cerveny, “adulteration became something that permeated the elderberry landscape during peak demand, resulting in some consumers getting substandard product and not necessarily seeing any benefit.”

Thankfully, he believes the opportunistic adulterers have moved on to other trendy ingredients. Now, he says, in the age of the conscious consumer, both manufacturers and consumers are demanding more.

“Small things such as a particular variation of an ingredient, dosage, or even product claims will be under the marketplace microscope now more than ever,” Rowe-Cerveny proclaims. “Suppliers need to be open and transparent about sourcing and nutritional content.”

Along those lines, establishing standards will help. For example, earlier this year, BGG received awards recognition from the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) for the ingredient supplier’s work in helping establish a monograph for European Elder Berry Dry Extract.

In a BGG press release3, USP was quoted commending BGG’s efforts, saying “BGG’s contributions add significant public benefit to the standards-setting process in support of the USP mission.”

“We were honored to participate and contribute to the development of this monograph, especially having our test methods validated and adopted. The monograph sets up the pharmacopeial standard of elderberry extract and will benefit all stakeholders of the elderberry industry to fight against adulteration and assure protection of public health,” said Yanmei Li, PhD, global chief scientific officer at BGG.3

The coverage in industry trade press about BGG’s work on the USP monograph led to increased interest in the BGG branded ingredient EldPro, reports Majeed, which doesn’t surprise him. “As with most topics in our industry, [positive] media attention is the key to keeping brands, as well as consumers, interested in something, [including elderberry],” he says.

Rowe-Cerveny says that “consumers are increasingly focused on innovation just as much as the origination. This is why it is imperative for companies to innovate in the space, not just in new form or flavor, but to continue to push the science, conduct clinical research smartly, and create better and more complete value propositions for the consumer.”

He adds that the recent research pointing to elderberry as a potent prebiotic and some of the topical/skincare applications being pursued are two great examples.

Kreienbrink would like to see more science for elderberry, too. “We have centuries of anecdotal usage plus an ever-growing body of modern science on our side,” he says. “With the completion of more efficacy studies using elderberry concentrates and standardized projects, you will see an influx and increased demand for foods, beverages, and supplements containing elderberry,” he asserts.

He is also keen on innovation. “The way to keep elderberry manufacturers and suppliers interested in elderberry is to offer innovative, interesting new options,” Kreienbrink says. “As examples, applications such as juices and other beverages containing elderberry, and nutritional bars featuring elderberry, would likely entice the general public to fortify health via functional beverages and bars. That’s just the beginning.”

Signs of Encouragement

“Although we saw some overall decline in elderberry supplements in the immune health category,” says Kawa, she’s upbeat about the prospects for elderberry moving forward. She advises “there were pockets of growth in 2022, both in that [immune health] space as well as in some niche segments.”

Most notably, Kawa says, elderberry as the primary functional ingredient in lozenge form is up 17.6% to $11.2 million, according to SPINS’s U.S. brick-and-mortar-sales data.4

Additionally, she adds that other niche segments are “cough syrups for children, including dietary supplements and homeopathic formulas; liquid drops for babies; and gummies for children and adults.” These areas “are trending segments for dietary supplements reporting growth for elderberry ingredients,” she shares.

As for Kreienbrink’s earlier point about fortifying consumer health with functional beverages, Kawa is seeing some new products marketed with a Supplement Facts Panel that lists elderberry—although not as the primary functional ingredient, and not marketed for immune health—still showing growth. These elderberry ingredients, says Kawa, “appear in superfruit and juice concentrates and green food powders where elderberry is used as an adjunct ingredient in superfoods formulas sold as dietary supplements.” She believes this represents yet another niche opportunity for ingredient suppliers and product manufacturers and retailers.

Pockets of Possibilities

Kawa also presents another consideration for the industry as she’s seeing some supplements that include elderberry also highlighting what she calls “other hero ingredients,” such as vitamin C, biotin, honey, spirulina, melatonin, maca, and probiotics. She says in these cases, elderberry is a team player, rather than flagged as the primary, or only, functional ingredient.

Kawa’s also noticing some newer growth-driver chewable tablets that highlight probiotics and immunity where elderberry is featured as one of several ingredients.

According to Kawa, understanding where the growth trends are—something which SPINS tracks—is key for continued elderberry growth. “Consider what delivery forms and what trending functional ingredients could work synergistically with elderberry to support a specific health focus,” she recommends.

This could be another avenue for the elderberry market, she says. “Formulas with dual health focuses are becoming more noticeable this year, so perhaps we’ll see elderberry used in applications where immunity is paired with sleep, stress, digestive health, and so on,” Kawa adds.

Kawa isn’t the only person with trends to share and optimistic advice for the future of elderberry.

The Vitamin Shoppe’s Cohen says that “more supplement companies offer elderberry products than in the past, and there are also more delivery form options available as well, including soft chews, powders, and gummies complementing the capsules, tablets, and liquids.”

The Vitamin Shoppe itself offers elderberry products in a greater variety of brands and delivery forms than in past years, shares Cohen. He believes that “these delivery forms provide customers with more ways to fit elderberry into their daily lifestyle, contributing to greater acceptance.”

Opinions of Optimism

Cohen continues, reminding industry that “although elderberry is used by many as a year-round supplement for immune support, we have also seen increases in sales corresponding with customer needs for seasonal immune support.”

Kreienbrink agrees, stating that “as some time has passed, the overall fear and concern about COVID and similar related health issues moderated. But the market for elderberry will always be strong, especially during the fall and winter cold-and-flu season in the northern hemisphere and most especially for individuals in occupations that expose them to colds and flu and/or who have a compromised immune system.”

He’s also “very optimistic that the elderberry market will continue to grow, albeit at a more normal pace now that we have moved beyond the initial shockwaves of COVID.” He adds: “That said, elderberry will grow much more quickly than other supplements out there today, thanks to Gen Z consumers starting to take their immune health seriously, because they have no time to be sick and out of action. Gen Z will be looking for health assurance through supplements and exercise.”

And Rowe-Cerveny predicts, “Further research will continue to create new innovative product development and allow the category to expand and grow at a solid pace.”

“We are very optimistic about elderberry’s prospects in the near and far future,” says Rowe-Cerveny. “After all, elderberries have been used throughout the world as natural health remedies dating all the way back to 400 BCE. These little berries offer some big benefits, and [elderberry] has now moved into the mainstream consciousness and will remain there as a top-of-mind ingredient for immune health.”

And Majeed is no less optimistic. “I think elderberry is such a solid ingredient that we’ll see sales rebound from this slight post-COVID slump,” he says. “I don’t see huge growth numbers for the rest of this year and beyond, but I believe elderberry should attain solid single-digit growth for the next few years.”

That would be a true sign that elderberry has arrived and is here to stay.


  1. Hennessy Jr., M. Small Gains Are Good Gains. Nutritional Outlook. 2023, 26 (1), 7.
  2. Grebow, J.; Krawiec, S. Ingredients to Watch: The 2023 List. Nutritional Outlook. 2023, 26 (1), 26.
  3. BGG Receives United States Pharmacopeia Award for its Work on Elderberry Extract. News release. BGG World; January 17, 2023. https://bggworld.com/bgg-receives-united-states-pharmacopeia-award-for-its-work-on-elderberry-extract/
  4. SPINS Cross-Channel Data. Natural Channel + Multi-Outlet Sales for 52 Weeks Ending March 26, 2023.
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