It’s about more than washing your hands — fending off illness has become a state of mind for many consumers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. As the crisis has worn on, a growing number of consumers have become health-conscious shoppers, with a focus on products that can keep them healthy while being drug-free and composed of natural ingredients.
As a result, these shoppers are looking beyond the traditional OTC offerings and eyeing options that are natural, homeopathic or both as a way to be proactive about their health.
“People are realizing that in the face of a pandemic, they’re powerless in a lot of ways, and the one thing they can control is themselves,” said Art Rowe-Cerveny, vice president of marketing at Pharmacare US. “By living healthy and taking care of themselves, doing what they can to be proactive gives them some power back.”
Pharmacare makes Sambucol Black Elderberry, a line of black elderberry products that use the ingredient — long thought to boost the immune system — in a variety of formats that include syrups, gummies and tablets with formulations for children and adults. As the pandemic set in, Rowe-Cerveny said demand for Sambucol products skyrocketed.
“Shopper data shows searches for immune going through the COVID season were up 300%, 400%, and sales were up the same amount,” he said.
While a shift toward natural products — with an emphasis on drug-free offerings and ingredient transparency — was taking place, particularly among millennial shoppers, the pandemic has sped up adoption across demographics, he said.
“The millennial generation is very aware of what they’re putting in their bodies, so they’ve been moving away from chemicals and pharma anyway,” Rowe-Cerveny said. “All COVID did was accelerate that to the mass population, a movement that was probably going to take 18 months to three years.”
Which is to say that while the pandemic has played a role in speeding up consumer adoption and leading curious customers to the natural and homeopathic aisle, there is more to the segment’s appeal than simply pandemic preparedness and immunity. Consumers see these products as viable alternatives — or adjunctive treatments — in many categories dominated by products with active drug ingredients, including cough-cold, pain relief, eye care and digestive health.
Safety is Key
Susan Hanson, COO of Reno, Nev.-based The Relief Products, said that the appeal of homeopathic products has to do with their safety, effectiveness and use of natural ingredients.
“One of the greatest advantages that homeopathic products offer over traditional OTC medicine is the absence of side effects, interactions with other medications, or contraindications,” Hanson said. “Nearly half of all Americans (44%) are taking at least one prescription medication. Consumers can avoid potential complications or interactions with their medications by using homeopathic products.”
TRP’s offerings include a line of eye care products, as well as Ring Relief ear drops. The company recently introduced an allergy-focused product, Allergy Eyes Relief Day & Night Relief Pack, which includes a sterile daytime eye drop, as well as a preservative-
free nighttime ointment, meant to reduce common eye allergy symptoms. With no known drug interactions, the products can be used alongside prescription or drug-based allergy treatments.
Lack of drug interactions — and lack of habit-forming potential — are some of the reasons driving sales for the arthritis and pain relief products from Hyland’s.
“We have, in a lot of our research, found that people don’t want to be on a prescription drug for a long period of time because they’re trying to avoid side effects,” said Les Hamilton, president of the Los Angeles-based company. “If you’re receiving relief, you can also take our products in conjunction with a statin or an arthritis prescription; you can still take a homeopathic product to help take that last bit of edge off of your pain.”
Hamilton said that pain is a big opportunity for natural and homeopathic categories. In addition to releasing its Flexmore product in two SKUs — daytime and nighttime — Hyland’s has introduced a pain product under its For Kids brand, as well as a five-SKU pain relief line that is initially exclusive to Walgreens. The five products are focused on migraine, headache, backache, pain and fever.
Cutting Across Generations
While millennials may have been the trend-setters, natural and homeopathic products offer solutions across generational demographics. While Hamilton said that older consumers gravitate toward its FlexMore products, its new pain offerings, as well as its products with arnica, see adoption from shoppers in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
For Lifelab Health, which makes digestive health product NuSyllium fiber and HoneyWorks cough-cold relief, while fiber skews older, younger shoppers are showing a growing interest in fiber from a younger demographic [this is awkward] for NuSyllium. This, Lifelab Health managing director Lou Machin said, is due to adoption of diets like Paleo that focus on eating clean, making the USDA Organic-Certified NuSyllium an attractive option. The product is offered as a mix-in powder in unflavored and natural orange flavors, alongside vegan capsules and NuSyllium Ultra, a sugar-free orange-flavored mix-in powder.
“We’re seeing a younger demographic, alongside the older demographic that needs fiber, but we’re also seeing that the repeat purchase rate on NuSyllium is off the charts,” Machin said, noting that some retailers’ loyalty card data shows repurchase rates of 65% and 70% for the brand, compared with the average brand repurchase rate of less than 30%.
And while millennials and Gen Z often are coveted demographics, there is a big opportunity in the natural space for children-focused products. Hamilton said that moms are still the main shopper in the natural and homeopathic space, and that having children-oriented products offers a way to introduce the brand and drive loyalty over time. Machin said that Honeyworks organic cough syrup brand sees big adoption among parents looking for drug-free alternatives for their kids.
“Parents are much more likely to give their children a natural or an organic product and stay the course with that because they want to give the child’s immune system a chance to fight it off, so they’re more patient,” Machin said, noting that adult consumers may purchase a natural product, but want immediate results and return to a product with a drug ingredient. “That’s why I think there’s more growth in the children’s category for a lot of these products. Adults are much more willing, especially moms, to stay the course with organic and natural products because they are reluctant to give their kids products with an active drug ingredient if they don’t have to.”
Reaching the Shopper
Though various brands may offer products focused on various need states, one area they largely agreed on is where shoppers should look for natural and homeopathic products — alongside their category counterparts.
TRP’s Hanson said that a recent survey by the American Association of Homeopathic Pharmacists found that 21% of respondents, who are core homeopathic shoppers, said they expected products to be mixed in with traditional OTC medicine.
“This placement can be beneficial as it converts shoppers who were not initially looking for natural products,” Hanson said, adding that 35% of those surveyed said they would look in the vitamin/supplement section. “When possible, some retail chains are now placing homeopathic offerings both in the supplement section, as well as alongside traditional OTC medicines,” she said.
With the pandemic still going on, there also has been growth in e-commerce or buy online and pickup in-store offerings. Therefore, Hamilton stressed that in-store items show up on retailers’ websites.
“A lot of the times, customers are either doing click-and-collect or searching the web before they go to the store,” he said. “So it’s important that the breadth and depth of the homeopathic assortment is prevalent online, as well as in store.”