U.S. Herbal Supplement Sales Up 7.7% in 2016


According to the newest HerbalGram report, 2016 marked the 13th consecutive year of increased sales for herbal supplements-and the first year that U.S. sales of herbal supplements have exceeded $7 billion.

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U.S. sales of herbal supplements continue their impressive growth streak. In 2016, U.S. sales increased by 7.7%, making 2016 the 13th consecutive year of growth for herbal supplements. According to the HerbalGram report, which is published by the American Botanical Council (ABC; Austin, TX) annually, U.S. consumers spent an estimated $7.452 billion on herbal supplements last year, or roughly $530 million more than in 2015. The report also notes that 2016 marked the first year that U.S. sales of herbal supplements have exceeded $7 billion. According to the HerbalGram report, growth in 2016 was relatively consistent with the growth rates of years past, if not more impressive. According to the report, 2016 sales growth is the second highest rate of growth in this category in over a decade. In 2015, the category saw a 7.5% increase in sales, and in 2014, sales for herbal supplements were up 6.8%.

The HerbalGram report is based on retail sales data from the Chicago-based market research firms SPINS and IRI, and from Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ), and ABC notes that the report “does not reflect the sales of most herbal teas, botanical ingredients used in cosmetics, or government-approved herbal drug ingredients in over-the-counter medicines.”

Per the report, sales increased for the eighth year running in each of three primary market channels: mainstream channel, which showed an 11% increase over 2015; natural channel, with an increase of 6.4% over 2015; and direct-to-consumer sales, with a 7.3% increase over 2015. Bitter herbs and products marketed for gastrointestinal health were particularly successful categories in 2016, indicating a trend toward “systemic wellness.”

Mark Blumenthal, founder, executive director, ABC, commented on the upward sales trend for the natural supplements category in a press release: “This report documents the consistent growth of consumer demand for natural remedies, as evidenced by the increased sales of herbal dietary supplements. This is indicative of a well-demonstrated, long-term trend toward natural medicine and consumers’ interest in taking responsibility for their own health via the responsible use of herbal medicine as an integral part of self-care.”


Mainstream Channel

Mainstream channel sales include data from supermarkets and drugstores, as well as military commissaries, select buyer’s clubs, “dollar stores,” and convenience stores like Walmart and Costco. In the mass-market sector, horehound (Marrubium vulgare), commonly used to relieve upper respiratory symptoms, was once again listed as the top-selling herbal dietary supplement. With sales of $125,468,033 in 2016, up 9.3% from 2015, horehound remained the top seller for a fifth consecutive year. After horehound, cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) was the second highest-selling herbal supplement, with echinacea (Echinacea spp.) rounding out the top three. Other top sellers included green tea (Camellia sinesis), black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), and garcinia (Garcinia gummi-gutta).

For the most part, the top herbal supplement ingredients held steady in 2016; however turmeric (Curcumalonga), fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), and boswellia (Boswellia serrata) all showed significant growth over the previous year, with an 85.5% increase, a 52.1% increase, and a 118.7% increase, respectively. As Nutritional Outlook reported in last year’s coverage, the sales growth for turmeric and boswellia are indicative of increased consumer interest in anti-inflammatory ingredients-a trend that is showing no sign of slowing. In addition, both turmeric and ivy leaf (Hedera helix) cracked the top 10 this year.

The ingredients with the strongest mainstream growth in 2016 were wheatgrass (Triticum aestivum) and barley (Hordeumvulgare) with a 131.9% increase in sales over 2015. As the report notes, SPINS groups the two ingredients together, as they are both members of the grass family. Total mainstream sales for wheatgrass and barley were $5,770,618. Both ingredients are considered “superfoods,” the report says, and their sales success is likely due in part of the green beverage trend that gained traction in 2016. Both ingredients are said to be nutrient dense, with wheatgrass offering a range of purported health benefits, including digestive health support, detoxification, and improved strength, and barley boasting cardiovascular and digestive health benefits, among others.

The top-10 selling herbal ingredients in the mainstream channel were:

1. Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)

2. Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon)

3. Echinacea (Echinacea spp.)

4. Green tea (Camellia sinensis)

5. Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa)

6. Garcinia (Garcinia gummi-gutta)

7. Flax or flaxseed oil (Linum usitatissimum)

8. Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

9. Ivy leaf (Hedera helix)

10. Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

*View the HerbalGram article for a complete list of the top 40 sellers.


Natural Channel

In the natural channel, where sales come from what marketers call “core shoppers,” or consumers who are “committed to a natural lifestyle,” turmeric was the number one ingredient for the fourth consecutive year, posting total sales of $47,654,008, and up 32% from 2015.  Though turmeric was the top seller, two other ingredients showed greater sales rates from 2015 to 2016: sales for ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) increased by 55.2% in 2016, while sales for cranberry increased by 36.2%. The report notes that while turmeric has been on the rise for a few years now, 2016 was the year sales for turmeric spiked. Per a search engine query of that time, Google named turmeric the “breakout star” of the functional food movement, and searches for turmeric had increased by 300%.

Broadly, the report indicates that there is a market shift underway toward ingredients that promote overall health and wellness rather than specific health benefits. In last year’s report, ABC called attention to increased consumer interest and awareness of Ayurvedic herbs, which it says contributed to ashwagandha’s increased sales in 2015.

That trend has continued into 2016, but the new HerbalGram report also attributes its success to consumer interest in adaptogenic herbs, or “superherbs,” which it says are “non-toxic substances that promote the normalization of bodily functions and support a healthy response and resistance to ‘noxious factors’ or stressors.” Other ingredients in the report that showed increased sales include mushrooms (up 13.8%), “ginseng” (Panax spp. Araliaceae, 9.3%), rhodiola (Rhodiola spp. Crassulaceae, up 5.5%), and holy basil (Ocimumtenuiflorum, up 2.8%).

The top-10 selling herbal ingredients in the mainstream channel were:

1. Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

2. Wheatgrass and barley grass (Triticum aestivum and Hordeum vulgare, respectively)

3. Flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum) and/or flax oil

4. Aloe vera

5. Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

6. Milk thistle (Silybum marianum)

7. Maca (Lepidium meyenii)

8. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

9. Echinacea (Echniacea spp.)

10. Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens)

*View the HerbalGram article for a complete list of the top 40 sellers.


Finally, U.S. direct-channel sales of herbal supplements increased by 7.3% over 2015, reaching $3.609 billion in 2016. Per the report, the sales data for direct-channel sales is collected from multilevel marketing companies, and encompasses mail- and internet-order sales companies, direct-response TV and radio sales, and sales by health practitioners.

HerbalGram is mailed to members of ABC and can be found in some bookstores and natural food stores. The annual herb market report can be found for free here, on the ABC website.


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