Insider info: Pharmacist reveals Australia’s bestselling supplement categories…and where innovation should head

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

Complementary medicines for immune, heart, and mental health are the top three trending categories in Australia, according to a veteran pharmacist. ©Getty Images
Complementary medicines for immune, heart, and mental health are the top three trending categories in Australia, according to a veteran pharmacist. ©Getty Images

Related tags Pharmacy Npd R&D Innovation

A veteran pharmacist has revealed the trending categories in Australia’s supplements sector and also proposed how innovation could better follow the path of the latest medical developments.

Immune health, heart health, and products for stress and mental health are the top-three trending categories, according to George Tambassis, who has been running pharmacies for over 35 years.

Tambassis currently owns shares of three different pharmacies, namely Tullamarine Pharmacy and Vermont South Pharmacy – both located at the south of Melbourne metropolitan area – and a Priceline Pharmacy in Cowes.  He is also a non-executive director of the Australian Pharmaceuticals Industries (API). 

In an interview with NutraIngredients-Asia, ​he gave insights on the trending complementary medicines categories in Australia’s pharmacies, his views on innovations, and how the current vaccination drive in pharmacies could be a huge opportunity to the complementary medicines industry.

Without a doubt, immune health has been on top of mind for many due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Obviously, the public wants a lot more information about complementary medicines, immune health area, and anything to do with cold and flu.

“We found that complementary medicines from these categories are in high demand, especially with recommendations from the pharmacists.”

However, the former president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia is of the view that there has been a lack of new immune products launches – despite huge attention from consumers in this category.

“I think there has been some launches in Australia around the immune system but I think that’s an area that we can grow much more.

“Even in the multivitamin area, there is plenty of room for improvement, because people are looking for such products now, they are looking to make sure they are as healthy as possible to prevent this global pandemic, whether its the new variant Omicron or Delta."

Complementary medicines…as injectables?

Speaking of innovation, Tambassis is of the view that the complementary medicines industry could follow the developments of the traditional/pharmaceutical medicines industry.

“As the word complementary medicines suggests, it means it is to complement with the traditional medicines and where they are going.

“So, if traditional medicines are going into vaccines and antivirals, complementary medicine should try that as well.

"I haven't seen that but I think that's a huge area that complementary medicine companies should actually follow."

This means that injectables are options that the complementary medicines industry could consider, he said.

“Biologics are taking over traditional medicines. Traditional medicines like penicillin or chemical based medicines are slowly moving out of traditional medicine and biologics is taking over and are much more useful in treating chronic disease.

“I think that eventually, complementary medicines will have to go that way too,” ​he said, giving examples on how they are now injectable medicines such as HUMIRA. 

HUMIRA is a TNF blocker prescription medicine from AbbVie to reduce signs and symptoms of moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis in adults.

Its other uses include reducing symptoms of moderate to severe polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis in children, and psoriatic arthritis in adults etc. However, there are also severe side-effects such as serious infections and cancer.

“Injectables, whether it is intramuscular, intravenous, go straight to your bloodstream and starts working straightaway. That's where the traditional medicines are going – biologics. 

"I can see that some way down the track, complementary medicines have to go down that way too eventually,​he added.

Moreover, he believes that the ongoing global vaccination drive will help normalise the idea of taking injectables.

“There's always going to be plenty of people who are scare [of syringe and needle], but never in history, especially in our lifetime, or a 100 years, that people have been in a bigger vaccine or injectable rollout than the COVID vaccine.

“I am not saying that complementary medicines will be completely injectables in the future, but companies have to look at that area, its no use bypassing it,” ​he said.

In Australia, the COVID-19 vaccination has been rolled out in community pharmacies.

Pharmacies are also allowed to conduct flu vaccination for a few years now, which is also why Tambassis believes that there is a place for injectables in the complementary medicine industry.

“We could either inject the patients in our pharmacies, or train them to inject themselves at home, or they go back to their doctor and get injected,”​ he said.

Other trending categories

Aside from immune health, Tambassis pointed out that products for heart and mental health were amongst the top three bestselling complementary medicines.

“Heart health is still the number one killer in this country, so any medicines that are in the heart health areas are still high in demand.”

The popular products include those that prevent stroke, high cholesterol, and keep the blood pressure at healthy levels.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare​, amongst all heart problems, cardiovascular disease is the top reason leading to hospitalisation, followed by coronary heart disease and heart failure and cardiomyopathy.

On the other hand, Tambassis said that mental health related issues have increased amid the pandemic.

“Stress and sleep medicines have gone through the roof. Mental health has been a big problem in Australia. It was before COVID-19, but during the pandemic, there are now more mental health issues,”​ he said, giving examples such as stress, sleep, and depression related issues.

“And so, medicines that can assist our patients in mental health is extremely important in our pharmacies.”

Vitamin products are usually in the top two or three bestsellers.

“Anything that has got complex formulations are usually very sought after. And the more complex the key ingredients, the more consumers prefer the pharmacists to help them,” ​he added.

What do retailers care about?

According to Tambassis, the topmost important consideration when choosing which complementary medicine to stock in their pharmacies, is the science behind the products.

“I want to know what the evidence behind those complementary medicines is. I want the research or some sort of scientific background in terms of how well they work, regardless of what they are, whether its fish oil or krill oil.  

“I want to know what is the differences in their particular product versus the current products, or how easily they're absorbed, what is the product strength...They got to be safe and effective.”

Other considerations include product price and dosage formats.

“Price is always important. You can't disregard price; they can’t be extremely expensive. People wouldn’t buy it if it is too expensive.

“Dosage format is also extremely important, for example, consumers do not want to take pills and capsules in large sizes.”

In terms of innovation, he said it was crucial for brands to “not sit on old fashioned formulas that either have been around for a long time.”

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