UK gets the urge to herbal

Natural remedies as an alternative to over-the-counter medicines have become more popular as product variety and availability has increased.

Consumers in the UK are increasingly turning to “natural” remedies. Consumers consider them to be healthier and safer than synthetic or standard medicines. Euromonitor’s latest research on the herbal remedies market shows that between 1996 and 2000 the UK market more than doubled, and is now worth £157m.

This growth has been fuelled by a rising demand for alternative medicines, alongside increased product development and marketing activities. Euromonitor research shows that a higher profile in television and press advertising has influenced consumers’ attitudes towards herbal remedies and has led to a greater acceptance of them as an alternative to standard medicines. Advertising campaigns for products such as GR Lane’s Olbas Oil (costing £1m) and Beecham’s Natural Relief Echinacea and Garlic (costing £1.6m) have helped to boost their sales growth.

Homeopathic remedies are the leading sub-sector in the UK natural medicines market: in 2000, they accounted for 19 per cent of the natural medicines market. In recent years, homeopathy has benefited from a fashionable image as an exotic – and effective – alternative to over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. The widespread availability of an extensive range of homeopathic products in most leading health food shops and a large number of chemists/pharmacies has also aided sales growth.

Natural cough and cold remedies have also experienced buoyant growth in recent years and by 2000 accounted for 12 per cent of the natural medicines market. Growth in this area has been stimulated by the entry of mainstream manufacturers and increased marketing activity. Although natural cough and cold products enjoyed a dynamic growth in 2000, they have had to compete against products such as Echinacea, which taken daily as a dietary supplement is said to boost the immune system.

Euromonitor’s study also reveals that natural remedies have fuelled sales in several OTC healthcare sectors. Growth has been most pronounced in the vitamins and dietary supplements market and by 2000, herbal and traditional medicines made up nine per cent of this £417m market. Increased consumer awareness of their distinct and individual health benefits has stimulated dynamic sales growth of Echinacea and St John’s wort. The supplements sector has also seen expansion, with the novelty of exotic or unusual products such as kava-kava, green-lipped mussels and isoflavones driving consumer interest.

The increased availability of products through mainstream retail channels has been another key driving force for the growth in sales of herbal cures. The UK has one of the most developed self-medication markets in Europe and consumers are taking greater responsibility for their personal health. As a result, retailers are stocking a wider range of healthcare products and providing advice on the benefits of herbal remedies as alternatives to OTC medicines.

According to Euromonitor, health-food stores such as Holland & Barrett and Fresh & Wild are the most popular choices for consumers new to natural medicines because of their wide product range and knowledgeable staff. Last year, the health-food shops sector accounted for 52 per cent of the natural medicines’ market and are the leading specialists in natural health products.

However, increasing competition has arisen from grocery and pharmacy multiples, which have introduced more herbal products and own-label ranges. Last year, grocery outlets were particularly dynamic and their share of the natural medicines’ market stood at nearly 16 per cent, representing a growth of more than five per cent since 1996.

Chemists and pharmacies are also gaining market share. In 2000 they accounted for 22 per cent of the herbal remedies market, a rise of three per cent since 1996. Pharmacies have proven popular among consumers as a reliable source of information about using natural remedies as a replacement for standard OTC medicines. The variety of natural remedies has created a need for pharmacists to offer qualified advice on the benefits of herbal alternatives. This is in contrast to the focus on self-selection and brand awareness that characterises conventional OTC distribution.

Euromonitor predicts that the UK natural medicines market will grow in value by 36 per cent this year. By 2003, sales of natural medicines in the UK are forecast to nearly double to £307m. Future growth will be driven by herbal equivalents of OTC products.

In the near future, positive growth is expected from ginkgo, ginseng and Echinacea supplements, although more unusual supplements, such as saw palmetto, soy and kava-kava, will enjoy faster growth.

Efforts on the part of manufacturers and retailers to become knowledgeable about healthy living will be important in driving sales. Chemists and health-food stores will continue to benefit because of their comprehensive range of products as well as their reputation for offering a high level of service.

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