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Alternative remedies are going mainstream.

Herbal supplements and homeopathic medicines, once the purview mainly of health food stores and counterculture types, are making their way into middle America.

One supplement-garlic-is becoming so popular that major vitamin marketer Miles Inc. included it in the revamped One-A-Day line. More than $4 million in support via Tatham Euro RSCG, Chicago, for the product and three other individual supplements is part of the $16 million Miles will spend on the line this year.

"We've been seen traditionally as a trusted old brand," said a Miles spokesman. "With new products like the garlic supplement, we've broken out of our shell and are trying to get ahead of the game a bit."

The company decided to introduce a garlic product because of the category's tremendous sales growth over the last few years.

"We don't see this as a fad," said the spokesman, who noted Miles is considering other herbal supplements.

Category sales tracked by Information Resources Inc. subsidiary Towne-Oller & Associates underscore Miles' rationale. Herbal supplements rose 70% to $22.7 million in supermarkets alone in 1993 and were the second-fastest growing category in dollar sales for food and drugstores combined. Garlic, the No. 1 segment, rose 67% in supermarket sales, while No. 2 ginseng was up 247%.

"I'd compare it to herbal teas," said Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the American Botanical Council, a non-profit research and educational association. "You used to only see them in health food stores, then in the health food section of supermarkets and, finally, as major marketers came in, they were part of the regular tea section in mainstream stores."

Pittsburgh-based Lichtwer Co., marketer of Kwai garlic supplements, was one of the first companies to aggressively advertise its product. Lichtwer spent $3 million in 1993 on a radio and print campaign from Popofsky Advertising, New York.

But the company has lost share as other marketing-savvy competitors entered the field, and is now changing strategy.

"We have a new agency, Gauger & Silva, San Francisco, and will focus more on print this year because Food & Drug Administration regulations allow you to say more that way," a Lichtwer spokeswoman said. "Our previous ads helped grow the category, but they didn't help us with brand identity."

Advertising for herbal supplements and homeopathic medicines is on the rise.

Murdock Madaus Schwabe's NaturaLife is planning its first TV effort ever to introduce Garlix, a garlic supplement. A 15-second animated spot from Williams & Rockwood, Salt Lake City, will start running in May as part of an estimated $1 million campaign that will also include print and the marketer's first major use of radio.

"Alternative remedies are becoming mainstream, no doubt about it," said NaturaLife VP-Marketing Jeff Hilton.

NaturaLife is launching its Medicine From Nature homeopathic line, a ginseng supplement called Ginsun and two echinacea herbal products in mainstream supermarkets and drugstores this year.

Homeopathic medicines, many of which use herbs, have become popular enough to be examined in the March issue of Consumer Reports.

Sunsource Health Products, marketer of popular herbal supplements like Ginsana, will launch a line of homeopathic medicines in the coming month. Combe Inc. will introduce a homeopathic Vagisil yeast control product, with in-house created TV and print support, in July.

Private-label herbal supplement lines are also expanding to include homeopathic products.

Growth in herbal and homeopathic products owes a lot to increasing consumer sophistication about healthcare, experts say.

"It's one way people feel they can take responsibility for their own health," Mr. Blumenthal said.

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