Sector insight: Complementary medicines

Sector insight: Complementary medicines
Sector insight: Complementary medicines

Despite scepticism about the effectiveness of some products, the market for alternative remedies is still growing strongly.

Homeopathy tends to divide opinion. While many use it as a safe alternative to conventional medicine, others view it as pseudo-scientific claptrap.

Indeed, one campaign group was so incensed by Boots selling homeopathic products that it staged a 'mass overdose' at the end of last month. Members of 10.23 swallowed entire bottles of pills outside Boots stores to demonstrate that the 'remedies' are so diluted their only effective ingredient is sugar.

It is too soon to tell what impact this stunt will have on the public's view of these products, but the wider complementary medicine sector has grown by 18% since 2007; it was worth £213m in 2009, according to Mintel.

It is estimated that 12m adults, most of them women, use some form of complementary medicine. Other categories include herbal remedies and supplements, and aromatherapy products.

Most herbal remedies are currently exempt from licensing but that will change when the European Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (THMPD) comes into full force, requiring the registration of all products from next year. While some fear this will penalise smaller manufacturers, it should also make it easier for consumers to understand what remedies do.

About one in five adults is now more open to the idea of using complementary medicines and therapies than they were previously, according to research by BMRB, but the prospects for growth in this market can still be hampered by a lack of understanding.

Trust is a critical factor, with women more likely to put their confidence in face-to-face advice and men tending to choose products that they believe will work. Almost four in 10 adults would rather use conventional medicines than alternative ones and, even among users of complementary medicines, almost three in 10 prefer to use conventional medicine.

Complementary medicines are viewed as a last resort for one in five users or potential users. It appears therefore, that there is room for manufacturers to improve the positioning of their products as a first-choice treatment.

The requirement for registration of products under the THMPD is likely to lead to consolidation in the market, as smaller players may struggle to meet the cost associated with meeting the requirements of the scheme.

Boots dominates the herbal medicines sector with its own-brand options, but Lanes and Potters have both benefited from active NPD. Lanes' range includes the Kalms and Olbas brands, and it has recently updated its logo to read Lanes Health. It has also extended the Olbas brand into formats such as vapourisers and throat pastilles.

Meanwhile, Nelsons has focused on getting its bestselling products, such as Bach Rescue Remedy, onto the shelves of mainstream retailers. It also linked up with Duchy Originals in 2008 to produce a range of remedies under the brand Duchy Herbals.

The over-55s are the biggest users of vitamins and mineral supplements and the most likely to be concerned about their health. It would clearly benefit complementary medicine producers if they can find a way of better reaching this age group - perhaps by coming up with more clearly defined 'wellbeing' products.

The rise in the numbers of 25-to 34-year-olds is good news for the market as this group is the most enthusiastic about complementary medicines.

The recent growth in the sector is expected to continue over the next four years. By 2014, Mintel predicts that its value will reach £282m, a 33% increase on 2009. This represents a rise of 23% when inflation is taken into account.



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