Consumers interested in natural solutions that address pain have a myriad of options.
From the beginning of time, people have been trying to find ways to fight pain naturally. Between headaches, sports injuries, arthritis and the like, pain is, unfortunately, a fact of life for many people, whether on a chronic or acute basis, and natural pain and anti-inflammatory solutions are a huge market for natural products retailers.
Pain relief has come a long way from the ancient practice of using electric eels for wounds or cutting holes in the head to let the pain seep out. While such age-old practices as acupuncture are still widely used today, most folks opt for healing properties that are packaged in bottles or boxes, as they are convenient, easy to access, and are, for the most part, reasonably priced.
“There has been a trend in America to take your health into your own hands by looking for natural alternatives or complementary products to traditional medical treatments,” said Timothy Mount, CN, CCMN, director of education for the Irvine, California-based NeoCell.
While many traditional short-term pain solutions are available on grocery store shelves or by prescription, consumers interested in natural solutions have a myriad of options as well.
Various industry experts have weighed in regarding the state of the market, the latest trends, as well as tips on how to merchandise this product category.
Fact: no one is immune from pain. And pain can impact quality of life.
In a 2015 analysis by the National Institute of Health, more than one in 10 adults in the U.S. reported experiencing daily pain over a three-month period; moreover, the data indicated that half of the adult population experienced some sort of pain during the same time frame.
Even children are not unaffected. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 2.6 million children under age 19 receive emergency room medical treatment for sports injuries each year.
Athletes, gym rats and fitness trainers are one major demographic for whom joint pain prevention is geared. But even a lapsed gym member can experience shin splints or a pulled hamstring from time to time.
As the population ages, minor aches and pains are a common complaint. “Consumers in their ‘golden years’ make up the main population gravitating to these products,” said Mount.
The etiology of pain is not limited to sports injuries or to the joys of aging. Some people experience chronic pain from such conditions as fibromyalgia and arthritis or from genetic causes.
Natural products for pain and inflammation, therefore, have a potentially unlimited consumer base.
As pain is an equal-opportunity annoyance, it is not surprising that the natural products pain/anti-inflammatory market is a multi-billion dollar industry. After all, no one wants to walk around in chronic pain, or even in acute pain.
“Natural pain and inflammation products are the fastest growing segment in the specialty supplement category,” said David Gerhardt, president of Genacol USA, founded in Canada. “The category has more than doubled in the past five years and according to many natural retailers, the growth is not slowing down.”
“I think that there is incredible potential for the pain and inflammation market; it seems to me that this is an evergreen category that doesn’t show signs of letting up,” agreed Cheryl Myers, chief of scientific affairs and education at EuroPharma in Wisconsin.
Several factors will likely cause the market to grow exponentially, one being aging population, particularly as people are living longer. Another is consumer dissatisfaction with over-the-counter (OTC) options.
“As awareness grows of the potential side effects of the OTC and prescription products, and as more consistently efficacious natural products are available, I’d expect a relative increase in natural joint health product sales,” said Michael Bentley, president of SierraSil Health, Inc. based in Vancouver, BC, Canada.
Myers echoed this sentiment and added, “The growing awareness of the terrible toll that even over-the-counter medications have on the stomach, liver, and cognitive health have opened up a very serious and critical point of impact for health food stores and supplement manufacturers to provide guidance and healthy alternatives that work effectively and quickly without the dangers of side effects.”
On the flip side, factors within the natural products industry can have a negative impact on the market, such as natural products that do not stand up to their claims and/or are of poor quality. And as of late, there has been concern over potential contaminates in products sourced in Asia. “This can erode consumer confidence, especially when it alters perception of the whole industry,” said Bentley.
Another factor impacting the market is the current epidemic of opioid abuse. “The highly toxic nature of narcotic pain relief has engaged consumers’ fear—as it should, considering the highly addictive nature of opioid pain killers,” said Kurt Forstmann, director of Aceso in Colorado, whose company manufacturers hemp-based cannabinoid supplements.
Justin Zehrung, vice president of Essential Source in Arizona, commented that the scope of the future market will “…continue to grow by its own success, but it will also continue to need educators willing to invest in appropriate advertising.”
Delivering the Goods
Natural pain solutions can be ingested orally via capsule, liquid or powder forms, while topical treatments abound as well. Though the jury is out as to which delivery method is better, as is the case with many other consumer products, it is often just a matter of personal preference.
Betsy’s Health Foods, with three locations in the northwest Houston, TX area, sells 35 skus in the inflammation category and at least 19 skus in the glucosamine and chondroitin category. “The most preferred delivery method continues to be capsules for their ease in transporting, storing, and swallowing. For discomfort, sometimes customers prefer a topical cream they can place directly on the area that seems to be causing their discomfort,” said the store’s marketing manager, Ramona Billingslea. She added that liquids and powders are popular with those not comfortable with swallowing pills, but they’re more difficult to store and transport.
Mount said that capsules and tablets are the most effective way to get high doses of nutrients because of being able to combine several ingredients into a single formula, as well as avoiding a potentially unpleasant taste in a soft chew. “When possible, consumers like flavored products that they look forward to taking instead of adding another pill to their regimen,” said Mount, pointing to NeoCell’s Joint Bursts soft chews as an example.
“We believe in tablet, capsule and powder forms for more bioavailability,” said William Smart, president and CEO of Savesta LifeSciences, based in Chatsworth, CA.
“Unique to the CBD supplements market, our powdered delivery method mixes easily with water and honors the ages-old ritual of preparing/consuming a wellness remedy. Also unique to CBD supplements, our tincture spray (applied under the tongue) appeals to customers looking for a fast-acting and convenient delivery system,” noted Forstmann.
“The most effective methods are those that not only focus on the ingredients, but the speed of delivery. Some products are designed for sustained release and others are more for quicker relief,” said Zehrung.
Although Mosca said that ingestibles are just as effective as topicals, Gerhardt contradicts this somewhat by saying that unlike capsules and liquids, which work to repair damage, “Topicals are effective for temporary relief but not for long term healing.”
Studies Have Shown …
From time immemorial, the earliest humans have been experimenting with the effects of natural alternatives for pain relief; today’s scientists have built upon that knowledge and have continued to study herbal extracts and other solutions found in nature.
However, cautioned Bentley, “There is no agreement in the natural health industry on what constitutes adequate or appropriate research for new products. That’s not surprising given the industry fragmentation, the variety of products available, and that many products don’t have novel characteristics that could be patentable.”
That is not to say that studies are not being done. In fact, continued Bentley, SierraSil has conducted numerous lab studies with established protocols. “A past director of the Natural Products Association in the U.S. has referenced our research as representing a gold standard for our industry,” he said, and additional research is underway.
Many studies are looking at the effects of curcumin, deriving from turmeric, as that is one of the most popular anti-inflammatory supplements in the natural sector.
“There was a study in 2012 where this standardized turmeric outperformed an NSAID. This is not your typical study as many are not willing to compare directly to pharmaceutical ingredients to prove effectiveness. But in my opinion, this is exactly what we need more of,” noted Zehrung. While his company pays close attention to sources and studies, they conduct their own extensive R&D using a network of biochemists, naturopaths and other industry experts.
Myers explained that her company also reviews the latest studies and has found positive clinical results in individuals with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis who have taken the botanicals curcumin and boswellia compared against celecoxib.
“Collagen has soared in sales in the past few years with the revelation of many clinical studies that show collagen slows in production by age 30 and declines from that point on in our lives,” said Gerhardt, adding that his company has links to several large clinical studies about the positive effects of their collagen products on its website.
As the market grows, manufacturers must not only keep abreast of new studies but must develop new and improved formulations accordingly. A roundup of some bestsellers and new products are varied, though one recurring theme is the trend in curcumin products, as they have shown to be both effective and fast acting.
“Curamin changed the picture dramatically, because it features ingredients that both relieves pain right away and stops the inflammation that is causing the pain, giving the body a chance to heal, and in fact, helping heal the damage outright,” said Myers of her company’s best-selling supplement.
The company has also launched Rhulief Pain Relieving Balm, an OTC topical medication with menthol and camphor, which Myers said works quickly for arthritis or muscle/joint pain, and they have expanded the Curamin lineup.
A relatively new player in the supplements market is CBD extracted from hemp, due to the national trend toward cannabis legislation, said Forstmann. “There is a common misconception that hemp is another euphemism for marijuana. While they both are cousins within the Cannabis genus, they are indeed separate species of plant. The critical difference is that the psychoactivity or ‘high’ a consumer gets from marijuana is absent from hemp products. As such, hemp and CBD derived from it are legal across the U.S. and in many countries around the world—but thanks to the misconception mentioned above, it is only now entering the national dialogue around natural pain and inflammation relief,” explained Forstmann, whose Aseco product is mixed with other naturopathic soothing ingredients.
NeoCell’s Super Collagen is the original collagen supplement, first manufactured in 1998, clinically tested to improve skin hydration, and Mount reported it remains the No. 1 seller in America to this day. It is sold in an unflavored powder format that can be mixed into liquids or added to recipes.
A newer product from NeoCell is Move Matrix, a joint formula with a blend of high dose ingredients such as collagen, glucosamine, as well as a comprehensive mix of antioxidant components to promote a healthy inflammatory response.
Celadrin, a blend of fatty acids, is a product of Proprietary Nutritionals that targets joint swelling.
The company also makes Joint Bursts Tropical Tang soft chews for achy joints, consisting of collagen, turmeric and hyaluronic acid. Already a manufacturer of the only Boswellia product containing 85 percent Boswellia, Savesta has just introduced Boswellia Plus, an 800 milligram tablet for bone and joint support, which includes turmeric, white willow and cissue-quadrangularis to help increase calcium uptake for bone strength.
SierraSil produces a volcanic, geothermally altered mineral complex, sourced in the U.S. Sierra Mountains. “We have a product with the Meriva curcumin called Joint Formula Curcumin. It features a clinically verified dosage of the very well-tested Meriva curcumin and a half dose of the also well-verified SierraSil minerals,” said Bentley. They are also releasing Sierra Pro-X for Altum Pharma, which includes SierraSil and other ingredients targeted for current or retired athletes.
Nopavera’s anti-inflammatory product uses the strongest concentration of nopal cactus fruit available, said Zehrung. “The nopal fruit is the only known source of all 24 naturally occurring betalains, which fight inflammation and also give the fruit its red color.” The company has released Nopavera Plus in a fast-acting sublingual liquid extracted with turmeric and other ingredients.
Genacol is adding a bone and joint formula and has introduced liquid collagen to its line of collagen products.
“The astronomical media coverage on fish oils and turmeric make these two products a popular choice for many areas of health benefits, including the DSHEA-compliant pain/inflammation benefits,” said Billingslea. She also predicted that CBDs will continue to gain traction, “… as long as they prove supportive of the nutritional needs incurred when pain and inflammation are in question.”
As manufacturers have a vested interested in sales of their products, they often offer merchandising assistance to their retail partners. For example, NeoCell provides free samples that can be handed out to consumers prior to a sale, as well as literature and coupon books. “New placement free fill deals are also available to retailers interested in carrying new SKUs, and case stack deals are offered for larger orders of existing products,” said Mount.
In addition to free samples and coupon books as well, Savesta offers in-store training and soon will offer online training for both the retailer and the end user.
SierraSil offers their retailers a “Professional Reference Guide” to share with health practitioners in their area, which summarizes and explains clinical research, while Aseco is developing a Retailer Support Program to include branded store displays, social media advertising and more. And EuroPharma works one on one with retailers to help them develop sales tools that fit their needs, such as detailed literature, product webinars and in-store lectures.
When stocking your shelves, keep your customer’s mindset in the forefront of yours. “Perception is everything when it comes to making a successful sale,” said Mosca. That is why he suggested stocking a variety of joint support supplements in the general sports nutrition section, to alleviate the perception of consumers having to shop for products in the ‘older people’s department.’
“Cross merchandising internal/external products on end caps are a great way to increase sales by offering a comprehensive joint support program, “said Mount. “Often external patches, lotions, or balms provide fast relief, while internal supplements address long-term joint health.”
While brand blocks can make a big visual impact, seasonal store events and promotions can bring in traffic and call attention to certain pain relieving activities, such as a “snow shoveling special” in the winter, suggested Myers.
Connecting with Customers
Social media is effective means for spreading your marketing message, due to its potential worldwide audience.
Genacol, for example, relies on social media for everything from educating consumers, posting testimonials, as well as connecting consumers with their local health food stores. The company also posted its clinical studies on their website.
As a retailer, Billingslea knows that establishing a relationship with your in-store customers is an effective merchandising tool. Once you know your customers, they will trust you to guide them to the right products for their particular complaints. Equally important is to garner feedback about how the products they bought are working.
“Besides a small reference library customers are free to peruse some literature manufacturers provide about their products; our best resource for our customers continues to be the one-on-one attention we offer them with staff who are educated about products and dedicated to quality customer service,” she said.
But retailers need to practice caution when communicating with consumers.
“Teaching staff to remain within DSHEA (Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994) guidelines when discussing pain or inflammation with a customer can be a particular challenge. Suppliers help us by ensuring that their labels and marketing materials strictly adhere to DSHEA guidelines. By using these materials as our guide, we can confidently help consumers meet their nutritional needs without risking giving them the wrong impression that a supplement can cure or treat what might otherwise be a disease state,” added Billingslea. VR
For More Information:
Aceso, (888) 297-1242
Essential Source, (877) 879-9966
EuroPharma, (866) 598-5487
Genacol USA, (888) 514-3622
Neocell, (800) 346-2922
Proprietary Nutritionals, (519) 647-2071
Savesta LifeSciences, (818) 709-2411
SierraSil Health Inc., (877) 743-7720