Global Herbal Medicine: facts, trends and opportunities

Global herbal medicine market is estimated to be worth USD 26 to USD 30 bn according to various estimates. Herbal medicine market is highly un-organized segment and thus correct estimation of market is difficult. Herbal medicine market primarily consists of traditional medicine with an established track record / documentation. These are based on local knowledge of herbs / plants and are generally considered as an alternative to today’s modern medicines. The medicine, their usage and popularity vary from region to region. According to WHO, in some Asian and African countries, 80% of the population depend on traditional medicine for primary health care.

Key markets for herbal medicine:
Asia is the leading market for herbal medicine in the world and many of the popular herbal medicine discipline such as Aruvedic (India), traditional Chinese medicine, Unani etc. Asia remains largest and also one of the fastest growing market for herbal medicine as local population has higher trust in thiese medicines and relate them to their culture. Lately, herbal medicine has gained popularity in developed regions such as Western Europe and North America. Some of the key country markets are: China, Japan, South Korea, India and USA.

Key players in herbal medicine market
The market is highly fragmented. Many large corporations such as P&G, Kraft Foods, Ricola, etc. have launched products in the sector, but they remain very limited in range. Local players are generally prominent in the market with variety in terms of products.

Advantages of herbal medicine over conventional medicine:
Herbal medicines boast of many advantages over today’s conventional medicine:

  1. Costs: these are inexpensive as compared to conventional medicine. In many cases they can be prepared at home using basic herbs / plants, e.g. ginger is used in preparing tea, etc.
  2. Attached to tradition: These medicines are attached to tradition and their ingredients (herbs / plats) are well known to all. These are passed on from generation to generation and based on experience. Thus there is always a comfort level using them that there will be little side effects
  3. Doctor consultation: Many of the medicine are consumed without doctor consultation because of the existing awareness of their benefits and issues.
  4. Based on nature: Herbs / plants are natural providers of chemicals which are synthetically developed in conventional medicine. In many cases the replication is not 100% and also with possible side effects.

Challenges for herbal medicine market 

  1. Lack of organized research: There is little organized research going into herbal medicine as compared to billions of dollars spent in conventional medicine.
  2. Legal framework: The legal framework to regulate this medicine is not well developed causing issues in patenting. Such incidents have happened in case of several Indian herbal medicines.
  3. Poor and un-organized manufacturing processes: In most of the cases the small scale manufacturing facilities are poorly equipped.
  4. Lack of education institutes / doctors and researchers: There is lack of education institutes to teach traditional medicine and thus there is significant requirement of the same. In many cases this training is informally done from a doctor to its assistant.

Opportunities in herbal medicine market:

  1. Asia Pacific is expected to remain key growth geography for herbal products
  2. Dietary supplements which constitute one of the largest part of herbal medicine are expected to grow at a rapid pace
  3. Herbal skin care products which are gaining popularity is expected to show strong growth
  4. There are opportunities in terms of establishing herbal medicine research centers and sub-contract work of large pharma companies which want to explore this space
  5. As the popularity of herbal medicine grows, it will require trained doctors, assistants an formulators to support the demand. Thus organized education and training institutes seem to hold potential.