Supplier says new science will help rebuild bilberry market suffering from adulteration, misinformation

Steep fall from grace

Bilberry was once of the best selling herbal supplements on the market in the food, drug and mass channel according to the American Botanical Council, which for years has published its annual Herb Market Report. More than a decade ago bilberry ranked No. 15 on the list of the top 20 best selling botanicals in that channel, with $1.78 million in sales. The data from that year, 2010, showed that bilberry sales had declined 10% from the year before. In 2005, ABC’s data showed $2.1 million in bilberry sales in the mass channel.

More recently, when ABC’s list expanded to the top 40 selling herbs in the mass retail and natural channels, bilberry has failed to make either list. The cutoff for making either list in 2020, the last year for which data is available was $8.4 million in sales for rhodiola in the mass channel and $2.7 million in sales for chaga mushrooms in the natural channel.

So bilberry sales may have increased slightly over the years, but the botanical has not enjoyed the overall huge rise in revenue for the market as a whole. According to ABC, the overall market for herbal supplements grew from $5 billion in 2010 to $11.3 billion in 2020.

Misinformation about ingredient’s effects

Maypro executive Dan Lifton awning NutraIngredients-USA​ that his company believes that some misinformation about the ingredient’s effects combined with ongoing adulteration issues has caused the ongoing market swoon in the United States. The primary source of misinformation, Lifton said, is an ongoing story about the use of bilberry jam by British bomber pilots during World War 2 to increase their night vision. While an attractive tale, the historical accuracy of it is hard to pin down. And a well publicized placebo-controlled study aimed at that specific endpoint came up with a null result.

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