In this edition of PLMALive! Brad Edmondson takes a look inside the evolving world of alternative medicine and how says its growth
An Apple A Day
More and more consumers are using alternative medicine to solve their aches and pains. Brad Edmondson says it has become a very big business.
Americans spend more than twenty-five billion dollars on vitamin and mineral supplements every year. About half of us take them, even if lots of doctors say that they don’t do much to improve our health. But what do doctors know? Bring ’em on! In fact, why stop at vitamins and minerals? About 44 million adults regularly take dietary supplements made from plants and animals — stuff like fish oil for our hearts, glucosamine for our joints, and ginseng for alertness. Doctors tend to like this stuff even less, but so what? We spend more than six billion dollars a year on herbal supplements.
Health care that isn’t approved by doctors is big business, and it’s getting bigger. More than twenty million Americans go to chiropractors or do yoga. More than sixteen million go to a massage therapist. And ten million say they improve their health by meditating.
Alternative therapies are much more popular out west. Residents of Minnesota and other Upper Plains states use chiropractors twice as much as people in the South do. Twelve percent of adults who live in California and other Pacific states say they regularly practice yoga or meditation, compared with just seven percent in New York and other Mid-Atlantic states. And more than twenty-eight percent of adults in Colorado and Rocky Mountain states take herbal supplements, compared with just 13 percent in Florida and South Atlantic states.
Herbal and osteopathic treatments are sometimes called folk remedies. They are traditions, and traditions die hard. The Centers for Disease Control has found that children whose parents use alternative therapies are five times more likely to also use these treatments. And half of Native Americans say they use herbal cures. Their families have been passing down these traditions for centuries.
People also turn to alternatives when they have chronic conditions that science-based medicine can’t cure. The top four reasons for using an alternative therapy in 2007 were back pain, neck pain, joint pain, and arthritis. More than half of users of alternative remedies report having six or more health problems. Only one-fifth of users say they are problem-free.
People in the baby boom generation are more likely than other generations to use alternatives. A lot of boomers learned about herbs and meditation in the 1960s and 1970s. It started as something cool, it seemed to help, and it became a habit.
Some of this is mind over matter. The fifth most popular reason for using alternative therapies is anxiety. Headaches, insomnia, stress, and depression are all in the top twenty. And former smokers are far more likely than current or non-smokers to use alternatives. It’s called the placebo effect, and scientific studies confirm that it works. Just convincing yourself that something will help is often enough to reduce your discomfort.
Whatever their reasons, people who use alternative therapies are far from being ignorant. Half of them have a four-year college degree, which is well above the national average.
Given their steadfast, ongoing popularity, it’s no surprise that the vitamin and supplement categories have attracted the attention of retailers looking to extend their store brand presence into new areas. There’s hardly a regional or large retailer in the U.S. today that doesn’t have at least a private label multi-vitamin, or a line of the most popular therapies.
Statistics from Nielsen bear this out: Dollar share of all vitamins and supplements in all channels totaled 2-point-2 Billion dollars last year, and enjoyed a 22-percent share. Even more impressive, unit share approached 26-percent during the same period.
Even smaller players are getting involved. Bartell Drugs, a 63-store drug chain operating in Washington State, recently introduced its customers to a selection of vitamins under the chain’s new own-brand, called “Emerald & Spruce.”