ORLANDO, Fla. -- The rising popularity of alternative medicine offers supermarket health and beauty care and pharmacy departments new sales opportunities, and the challenge of providing consumers with the information they need, said David McConnell Jr., senior vice president of the General Merchandise Distributors Council, at the association's fall marketing conference here last week.
One in four Americans already use alternative products, and alternative medicine has become mainstream, opening new business possibilities for supermarkets in their ongoing battle with competing trade formats, McConnell said at a seminar on the changing retail landscape and how it will affect supermarkets, wholesalers and vendors.
Along with McConnell, Marvin Imus, vice president and owner of the Paw Paw Shopping Center, Paw Paw, Mich., spoke to seminar participants. Rick Tilton, GMDC's president, reported record overall conference attendance of 244 executives from 108 retail and wholesale companies, and 823 executives from 409 supplier firms.
Among the consumers that now opt for alternative medicine, McConnell said, 42% use herbal supplements, 15% use nutraceuticals, 7% practice holistic medicine, 6% rely on homeopathic remedies and 25% see a chiropractor.
Increasing amounts of information allow consumers to become more involved in their own health care, McConnell said, adding, "Seventy-two percent of consumers are now active in their own health care, 91% of consumers want to stay informed about medication information and 72% use sources other than a doctor for medical information."
As the self-care concept spreads and people take charge of their own well-being, he said, the balance of power in the health care industry is shifting.
"Yesterday's health care dynamic of the doctor as guru has changed to a new paradigm that can combine a health-care professional as a resource in a self-care partnership," he said. In this new scenario, McConnell explained, the "health care professional" can be a pharmacist, a dietitian or even a personal trainer.
As the population ages, the consumption of certain over-the-counter products -- laxatives, antacids, cough drops, sleep aids and analgesics, for example -- is expected to increase. And about 70 prescription-to-OTC switches are expected in the next five years, McConnell said.
He urged chain and wholesaler executives at the session to target-market these products.
While vitamins are a major growth component of HBC, thanks in large part to the aging of America, the category also appeals to younger shoppers, who respond to promotions as well, Imus said.
When Paw Paw ran a series of vitamin promotions aimed at shoppers older than 50, the retailer "saw sales pick up across all ages, and customers in the vitamin section grew by 50%," said Imus.
McConnell said, on the whole, supermarkets are losing ground in sales of general merchandise. There are several bright spots, however, like seasonally oriented candles, single-use cameras, photo processing and foil.