The UK complementary medicines market has grown by almost 60 per cent in the last five years to an estimated value of £130 million (€187m), according to new research from market analysts Mintel.
But the report, 'Complementary Medicines', warns that new legislative requirements and a related decline in promotion as brands were consolidated, slowed growth during 2002. Negative publicity regarding either the strength of herbal remedies, or the lack of efficacy ofhomeopathic remedies and aromatherapy oils also discouraged some consumers from entering the market.
However, this is likely to only be a temporary lull, as many new companies are looking to expand into the category once the new legislative framework is in place, according to Mintel. The report suggests that the total market will grow by 45 per cent over the next five years to reach £188 million.
Market growth will pick up in 2003 and 2004, althoughmanufacturers may have to work harder to persuade more cynical consumers of the efficacy of their products. "Taking a more 'scientific' approach could be a double-edged sword in that it will bring them into competition and perhaps conflict with highly researched conventional medicines which have far greater financial backing and are used to investing heavily in research, NPD and advertising," noted Amanda Lintott, consumer analyst at Mintel.
Herbal medicines dominate the UK natural health market accounting for almost 60 per cent of the sector value, while homeopathic remedies retained a static market share in 2000 and 2003, failing to move into the mainstream as quickly as herbal remedies. Nevertheless, the sector has successfully drawn in new consumers, especially for products to treat ailments associated with stress and modern lifestyles. Around a fifth of the population have faith in homeopathic medicines, which rises to over a quarter of women, and a further 12 per cent prefer to treat illness with herbs.
The report also reveals the British consumer's reticence about preventing disease. Eighty per cent of adults say they have to be really ill to go to a doctor, while 56 per cent say that when they have an ailment they simply wait for it to go. Around a third of the population take vitamins and/or a dietary supplement every day and just 17 per cent have a periodical check-up, much lower than among other European nationalities.
"It is clear that the 'prevention rather than cure' message has some way to go in Britain, even among those already favourable towards complementary products," commented Lintott.
Conditions most likely to be considered suitable for treatment with alternative remedies are those which are either not easily treated by conventional medication (eg back pain 28 per cent, sleep problems and stress 25 per cent) and/or where the conventional option may be considered to be too strong or have too many side effects. Coughs, colds and flu at 28 per cent provide the exception here, appearing high in the list most likely because these conditions are so common. But many consumers will use conventional medicine (eg paracetamol) to relieve symptoms, while using alternative medicine (eg echinacea) in a bid to speed recovery, finds the report - 30 per cent of consumers feel that alternative medicines can work in tandem with traditional medication to treat or speed recovery.
And ironically, despite manufacturers of unlicensed remedies only being able to claim 'health maintenance' on the packs and promotional materials, only 16 per cent of respondents would consider alternative medicine as a preventative measure, it continued. It seems that alternative medicine, as a general category, is viewed as suitable for minor ailments, with just 8 per cent saying they would consider using it to treat serious or terminal illness.
Recommendation, particularly from family and friends (42 per cent) is the most important reason for either considering taking or taking alternative medicines, but information from the media (35 per cent) is also an important consideration, while three in ten state that they would consider such medicine if recommended by a pharmacist or other medical practitioner or specialist. Some 36 per cent of consumers believe that doctors should recommend more use of alternative medicines, and just over a third believe that such medicine should be available on the National Health Service (NHS).
The report also points to lack of information as a significant consumer concern with over a quarter of consumers believing that pharmacists should provide more information on alternative medicines. Almost a fifth of consumers worry about the possible side effects from alternative medication.
But while manufacturers will surely need to address this consumer concern, the report also found that around one in five UK consumers worry about the possible side effects from standard medication too. And 18 per cent say that they have tried conventional medicine which did not work, suggesting a significant opening for the natural health industry.
Complementary Medicines is available from Mintel.