In recent years homeopathic products have entered many drug store categories, including cold and allergy, baby care, pain relief, feminine care, and ear care.

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Inside This Issue - News

Homeopathic items belong in pharmacy mix

September 25th, 2011
by Jennifer Johnston

In recent years homeopathic products have entered many drug store categories, including cold and allergy, baby care, pain relief, feminine care, and ear care.

In a retail pharmacy setting homeopathic over-the-counter combination formulations are used to relieve the symptoms associated with a particular condition, such as colic, teething pain, earaches, muscle aches and pains, sprains, strains, restless legs, or leg cramps.  According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, Americans spend around $2.9 billion dollars out‐of‐pocket for O-T-C homeopathic remedies each year.

What is homeopathy? Homeopathic medicine was first established as a medical discipline in the late 18th century. It is based on the principles of “like cures like” and the “law of minimum dose.”

The ingredients of homeopathic remedies are derived from natural sources such as plants, animals and minerals, and they can cause symptoms of illness in an otherwise healthy individual when distributed in large doses. However, in miniscule doses the ingredients are believed by those who subscribe to the practice to cure those same symptoms in a sick person. Homeopathic remedies are manufactured as drugs and are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Do homeopathic remedies work? That question is up for debate but really isn’t the point. Plenty of your shoppers believe that they do and are already taking them. This is illustrated by consumer research acquired by the National Center for Homeopathy, which estimates that 20 million to 30 million U.S. consumers use homeopathy.

Well-known suppliers are spending a bundle to educate consumers on the benefits of homeopathic remedies, and your shoppers will expect to find these highly exposed products in your store. Familiar brands include Zicam, Hyland’s, Boiron, Similasan and HeadOn.

One reason homeopathic remedies may be favored by shoppers is that they are one of the safest choices for self-treatment. They have no known side effects, nor do they interact with other medications or contraindicate pre-existing conditions.

Another reason that homeopathic remedies continue to perform well has to do with trends in the categories in which they reside. Take the cold and allergy and pain relief categories, for example. Recent recalls of well-known adult and children’s O-T-C products have left many consumers looking for natural options, which are viewed as safer. Homeopathic and other natural remedies have fared well from the scare.

Baby care is another category that has seen positive results from homeopathy. In the spring of 2011 the FDA issued a warning about oral gels and liquids containing benzocaine causing a rare but serious condition called methemoglobinemia. The cases occurred mainly in children 2 years old or younger who were treated with benzocaine gel for teething. Consequently, many parents are opting for homeopathic teething products, which are free of benzocaine.

Another factor impacting the sales of homeopathic products is the appeal of such remedies to a younger demographic that is attracted to the concept of wellness in drug stores. Remedies such as these also fare well as an extension of the green movement and because of the perception that they are an alternative to expensive prescriptions.

There are a few modes of thought in terms of merchandising homeopathic remedies. In stores that have a strong demographic of natural products enthusiasts, merchandising these remedies together regardless of category may make sense. However, for most stores with a mainstream clientele, the strongest sales opportunity for homeopathic remedies occurs when they are integrated as part of core categories and not isolated in a natural or alternative section. Consumers are conditioned to shop by category, so placing a homeopathic medicine for the treatment of a specific need among O-T-C remedies produces the best results.

Since homeopathic remedies differ from herbal supplements, in both healing modality and regulation, be sure your pharmacists and pharmacy staff know the basic facts about homeopathy, so they can effectively address any customer questions that may arise.

According to the World Health Organization, homeopathy is the second-largest system of medicine in the world and is experiencing an annual growth rate of 20% to 25%. However, while the debate continues within the medical community regarding the efficacy of homeopathic medicine, shoppers are driving demand. Acceptance in the United States has lagged behind that in other developed countries, but the tide is shifting rapidly, and consumers are looking for these medicines at shelf.

Jennifer Johnston is an industry writer and researcher with Hamacher Resource Group Inc., a retail health care research and marketing company.