Natural medicines take lead in industry

February 8, 2010

By Florence de Vries

The sales of complementary alternative medicines are growing at a faster rate than traditional or prescribed medicines in pharmacies, according to key players in the industry.

Health care retailer Clicks, as well as homeopathic and natural medicines brands, Natura and Vital Health Foods, said at the weekend that sales of multivitamins and homeopathic medicines in pharmacies and health stores were ahead of the growth rate for overall health categories.

Complementary alternative or natural medicines including herbal remedies are seen as alternatives to generic medicines generally prescribed by medical doctors.

According to Natura chief operating officer Cris Dillon the natural medicines industry grew between 10 percent and 15 percent last year and is currently worth R4 billion.

"These include vitamins, health foods such as goji berries, homeopathic brands such as Echinacea and cold-fighting products," said Dillon.

The generic medicinal industry, which includes morphine-based medication, was worth R12bn.

Andrea du Plessis, the head of customer care at Vital, said alternative medicines were growing at a rapid rate due to the availability of information at consumers' fingertips.

"The industry is growing at a phenomenal rate as alternative medicines are cheaper than generic medicines and people are prone to self-medication," said Du Plessis.

Sales at Vital grew by 11 percent over the past year.

"Product categories that showed particularly positive growths include herbal medicines, such as Ginkgo biloba and cranberry, while some of our Natrodale brands showed growth of 22 percent over the past year."

Du Plessis said the increased number of natural health care practitioners, as well as increased recommendation of natural remedies by medical doctors, had aided the growth of these products.

"Following recent inclusion of natural medicine modules into medical practitioner training courses, there is a marked pick-up in recommendation of alternative products."

Mike Harvey, the managing director of Clicks, said the group had increased its focus on homeopathic and aromatherapeutic products in the past year, introducing private label and exclusive brands in its stores.

"The main reasons for the increased awareness of alternative medicines is that educated consumers are looking for natural alternatives. We are seeing a growing trend toward self-medication and increased confidence in these products, which are led by well-known brands," said Harvey.

Retailer Pick n Pay said sales in this category, including sports supplements, amounted to R2bn a year for the group.

"We are seeing steady year-on-year sales increases of these products. They are becoming more popular due to their lack of contra-indications," said Tamra Veley, the spokesperson of Pick n Pay.

Stan Goetsch, a director at Dis-Chem pharmacies, said: "We've seen growth in this category in excess of 20 percent in the past year."

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