Nutraceutical Opportunities for Velvet Antler

The more research I do, the more excited I get about the potential markets for elk velvet antler (EVA) as a nutraceutical product. I believe the future for EVA sales is bright because of three developing trends:

  1. Growth in complementary and alternative medicines
  2. Issues with chemical drugs
  3. Expanding pet health care markets

Let’s look at the supporting data behind these trends.

Growth in complementary and alternative medicines

According to a new nationwide government survey, 36 percent of U.S. adults aged 18 years and over use some form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM is defined as a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine.

The survey, administered to over 31,000 representative U.S. adults, was conducted as part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2002 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). Developed by NCCAM and the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the survey included questions on 27 types of CAM therapies commonly used in the United States. These included 10 types of provider-based therapies such as acupuncture and chiropractic, and 17 other therapies that do not require a provider such as natural products (herbs or botanical products), special diets and megavitamin therapy.

Here are some more findings from this research study that have implications for our velvet antler products.

Some 19% of adults used natural products, including herbal medicine, functional foods (garlic), and animal-based (glucosamine) supplements during the last 12 months.

The most commonly used natural products were echinacea (40%), ginseng (24%), ginkgo biloba (21%), and garlic supplements (20%).

Alternative medicines were used most often to treat:

  • back pain or problems
  • head or chest colds
  • neck pain and problems
  • joint pain and stiffness, and
  • anxiety or depression

I believe that velvet antler may provide relief for all these aliments (although I’m not sure about anxiety or depression).

The characteristics of those most likely to use alternative medicines include:

  • women
  • older adults
  • Asian adults (43% compared to 36% for whites and 26% for blacks)
  • adults who live in urban areas

Adults living in the west and Pacific states (California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii) were the greatest users of biologically based therapies.

The study researchers say that the data confirm most earlier observations that most people use alternative medicines to treat and/or prevent musculoskeletal conditions or other conditions associated with chronic or recurring pain.

The high prevalence of CAM use for these conditions is not surprising when one considers that one-quarter to one-third of the adult population might be suffering from one of these disorders in any given year and that many forms of chronic pain are resistant to conventional medical treatment.

Some 38 million adult American have used natural health products in the last 12 months (this does not include those taking vitamins or minerals).

Of those taking natural products, some 5.2 million (15%) of American used glucosamine (for which EVA could be a replacement).

Some 12 million adult Americans used alternative medicines for back pain, while 4.7 million used it for neck pain and 3.4 million used it for joint pain or stiffness. Another 3.2 million used alternative medicines for arthritis.

The reasons for trying natural health products (excluding vitamins) were:

  • thought it would be interesting to try (52%)
  • therapy combined with conventional medical treatments would help (48%)
  • convention medical treatments would not help (19%)
  • suggested by conventional medical professional (15%)
  • conventional medical treatments were too expensive (14%)

I would say that based on the data provided by this study, the market potential for EVA products in the USA looks very good. However, it will be a matter of effective marketing execution for us to be successful.

Issues with chemical drugs

Since there is some pretty good evidence that velvet antler helps with arthritis and joint problems, I want to focus that that health condition.

There are over 100 different types of arthritis conditions affecting more than 24 million people in North America, according to Dr. Elvis Ali, Doctor of Naturopathy with Swiss Herbal Remedies Ltd. Joint conditions like osteroarthritis are usually associated with inflammation, pain and stiffness in the affected area.

Osteroarthritis and the accompanying increased synovial fluid and inflammation can cause pain, stiffness, cartilage and joint deformity, decreased range of motion, and brittle bones. In our aging population, one in three adults with arthritis suffer from chronic joint pain. By the age of 70, approximately 85% of those will suffer from osteoarthritis.

In 2001, anti-arthritic prescriptions jumped to 14 million, up from 9 million in 1998. The most prominent prescribed medications today have side effects requiring counteraction – usually to do with the stomach and the liver.

Glucosamine sulphate is widely used (by 5.2 million Americans) as a natural alternative to prescription anti-arthritic medication. However, recent studies have shown it may contribute to high blood pressure in some individuals. Hence, there is a desire to find gentler, kinder remedies.

Consumers spend $6 billion a year for Vioox and Celebrex, which are said to be as good as, or better than, standard pain killers – and easier on the stomach. But Vioxx in particular has not lived up to the hype. Linked with serious side effects, most notably an increased risk of heart attacks, its manufacturer, Merck & Co. has been sued repeatedly. While chemically similar, Celebrex by Pfizer has not been tied to increased heart attack risk.

Neither drug fights pain better than over-the-counter medications, though they cost six times as much. A month’s supply of ibuprofen at doses people with arthritis normally take costs $17; a comparable supply of Celebrex costs $118 and Vioxx $110.

These drugs were developed to get around the side effects of the traditional pain killers such as ibuprofen and aspirin which often caused bleeding ulcers and other stomach problems.

Velvet antler, with no known side effects, may be an ideal replacement for these other medications being used to treat osteoarthritis. Another intriguing possibility is that EVA be taken with these prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Dr. Marion Allen found in her study that EVA does not interfere with standard medications used to treat arthritis patients. Dr. Susan Hemmings found that EVA protects the liver from toxic substances. Therefore, this could be a huge potential market for velvet antler nutraceutical products.

Expanding pet health care markets

According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA), Americans will spend $34.3 billion on their pets in 2004. The spending on pets has doubled in the last ten years and this growth is expected to continue in the foreseeable future.

The $34.3 billion will be spent on:

  • $14.3 billion for food
  • $7.9 billion for supplies and over-the-counter medications
  • $8.3 billion for veterinary care
  • $1.6 billion for live animal purchases
  • $2.2 billion for other services

The US pet market is now larger than toys ($20 billion) and candy ($24 billion).

More specifically, the pet care market has a value of $28 billion worldwide, with the US market valued at $12 billion. As consumers have become increasingly attracted to, and comfortable with, the use of natural and organic products themselves, they are becoming equally receptive to the use of natural products for their pets.

Pet product margins in the overall health and natural sector average about 34%. Additionally, 14% of natural food store customers purchase pet care products, pet food and pet supplements at least once a year. A recent study found that 22% of pet owners have used some form of alternative therapy on their pet. (Nutraceuticals World, March 2003).

The three major growth areas in pet care appear to be in products for joint therapy (arthritis), skin and coat health and obesity/overweight.

We now have scientific evidence that EVA does help dogs with joint problems. Pet food made from deer and elk meat is very lean and thus could address the overweight problems in dogs.

The growth in pet ownership in Canada and the United States is expected to continue for the following reasons:

  1. There is now plenty of evidence that shows pets are good for health. Studies have found that pets reduce stress, heart rate, anxiety and encourage exercise, e.g., taking the dog for daily walks.
  2. Pets have been shown to preserve marriages.
  3. As the “baby-boomers” age, and their children have leave home, the empty nests are being increasingly replaced by pets.
  4. Innovative products such as automatic feeders and electronic fences enable more working people to own pets.

Many people consider pets as part of the family and thus are willing to spend to ensure their pet’s health and well being.

These trends in pet ownership and pet care bode well for increased sales of a natural, safe product such as velvet antler, and to some extent, deer/elk pet food.