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.