A. Nelson & Co. Ltd.

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A. Nelson & Co. Ltd.

Broadheath House
83 Parkside
London SW19 5LP
United Kingdom
Telephone: +44-20-8780-4200
Fax: +44-20-8780-5871
Web site: http://www.nelsonbach.com

Private Company
Employees: 163
Sales: £38.1 million ($65 million) (2003)
NAIC: 325411 Medicinal and Botanical Manufacturing

A. Nelson & Co. Ltd., doing business as Nelsons, is the United Kingdom's oldest producer and distributor of homeopathic medicines, and is also a leading producer and distributor of a variety of herbal and alternative medicines and preparations. The Wimbledon-based company markets a full range of homeopathic medicines under the Nelson brand name. These are sold under three main categories: Creams, including topical applications ranging from Calendula to Tea Tree and Rhus Tox, as well as spray-on forms, including the company's Pyrethrum spray; the Nelsons Formulated range, ready-made remedies targeted at specific illnesses and marketed under names such as Candida, Coldenz, Rheumatic, Sootha, Travella, and Teetha; and the Clikpak range, which presents the company's formulations in the form of small tablets and pills. A major segment of A. Nelson & Co. is its production of Bach's Flower Remedies, a system of tinctures created by Dr. Edward Bach in the 1930s, which treated emotional conditions as a cause of illness. A. Nelson also markets a number of other natural preparations, such as Spatone, acquired by the company in 2004. In addition to its production of homeopathic and alternative medicines, Nelsons continues to operate its original pharmacy in London. A. Nelson & Co. is a privately held company controlled by the Wilson family.

U.K. Homeopathic Pioneer in the 19th Century

Homeopathic medicine was developed in the late 18th century by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann of Germany. Appalled by the standard medical practices of the day, which included leeching, blood letting, dangerous purgatives, and toxic "medicines," among other treatments, Hahnemann sought an alternative method for treating patients. A botanist and chemist who also had trained as a physician, Hahnemann eventually left medical practice, and began working as a translator instead. It was while translating medical documents that Hahnemann first found mention that quinine, an effective malaria treatment, was capable of producing similar symptoms in uninfected people.

This information came in large part from Dr. Edward Cullen, of Scotland, who argued that quinine's effectiveness against the disease, and its side-effects in healthy people, were due to its astringent properties. Hahnemann disagreed, pointing out that other substances also had astringent properties, but had no effect on the disease nor caused similar symptoms to develop in the uninfected. Hahnemann instead deduced that quinine's ability to provoke the same symptoms was related to its effectiveness as a cure.

Hahnemann decided to test his theory on himself, taking large doses of quinine, and indeed developed symptoms similar to malaria (although without the associated fever). From this and subsequent tests, called "proving," of the effects of other substances on himself and others, Hahneman developed the notion of "like cures like" that formed the basis of a new medical discipline, homeopathy (from the Greek homeo, or "similar," and pathy, or "suffering"). Hahnemann's idea was not necessarily new. Indeed, mention of related ideas had been found in text dating back thousands of years. Yet Hahnemann, who already enjoyed a certain standing for his work as a chemist, brought a different credibility to the "like cures like" idea.

Hahnemann set out developing a compendium of substances and the symptoms they provoked. As most of these substances were by nature poisonous (innocuous substances did not tend to exhibit quite the same ability to provoke physical symptoms), however, Hahnemann was forced to find ways of diluting the substances. Eventually, he invented a dilution method that in-volved dissolving substances in water or crushing them into powder, then mixing them in alcohol, and finally diluting the mixture to an extreme, to the point at which the original substance was no longer actually present in the solution. Faced with this conundrum, Hahneman proposed the second basic concept of homeopathy, that the more a substance is diluted, the greater its effectiveness.

Hahnemann, who later moved to Paris, devoted himself to the promulgation of his ideas, writing extensively, both for the medical community and, of importance, for the general public as well. Hahnemann also took in a great many students, whether these were trained medical practitioners or not, who then joined in the effort (some called them disciples) to promote the new medical treatment. The fact that many of Hahnemann's ideas had long been in existence, in one form or another, and even were part of traditional culture, provided an undercurrent of respectability to the new discipline. Hahnemann's stature, and that of his medical ideas, were further enhanced as he developed a clientele including many notable figures of the day.

Meanwhile, Hahnemann continued to develop the basic principles of homeopathy. The third and final of these was based on the concept of "psora," literally a suppressed itch, which Hahnemann felt to exist at the root of all disease. Homeopathic medicine, Hahnemann reasoned, must, therefore, target the patient's psora. As these were said to vary from patient to patient, individualized treatment became a necessary part of homeopathic medicine. Because of the highly spiritual element underlying the concept of psora, this principle was less widely accepted among the growing body of homeopathic practitioners, even in Hahnemann's day. Nonetheless, a "holistic" and individualized approach became a consistent part of homeopathic therapies. The idea of a metaphysical component to disease also would play a role in the work of Edward Bach and others.

Given the rather barbaric status of "mainstream" medical practice of the day, homeopathic medicine caught on widely in Europe in the early 19th century, and quickly spread to the United States as well. The lack of knowledge in many now basic areas of biology and chemistry, such as the role of bacteria and viruses in the cause of disease (an example of which was the palludium virus, carried by mosquitoes, in the case of malaria), allowed a certain plausibility to homeopathy. By the middle of the 19th century, homeopathy had been introduced in the United Kingdom, which at the time played a central role in the rapid development of modern science.

Efforts were made to ban the practice of homeopathy into the mid-19th century, as its basic principles were called into question. Yet homeopathy's "gentler" nature, since a homeopathic treatment in substance consisted of little more than drinking water, contrasted sharply with the far harsher medicines then available. The appeal of nonpainful treatments, coupled with the decidedly spiritual aspects of homeopathy and its apparent ability to effectuate spontaneous healing, proved irresistible to the British public as well.

Hahnemann died in 1843 at the age of 88. By then, homeopathic medicine had taken on a life of its own, developing its own body of literature and professional associations. By the mid-19th century, the first schools of homeopathic medicine also had begun to appear. Hahnemann himself had been responsible for training a large number of students in homeopathy as well, and many others embraced Hahnemann as their spiritual teacher. Among the many students of homeopathy was Ernst Louis Ambrecht, who set up shop as a homeopathic pharmacist in London in 1860. The role of the pharmacist had been disputed by Hahnemann himself, who declared that homeopathic medicines should only be prepared by the treating physician. Yet by the middle of the century, the preparation of homeopathic medicines had become, in large part, the province of pharmacists such as Ambrecht.

Bach Association in the 1930s

Ambrecht later brought his son, Nelson, into the business. Under the younger Ambrecht, the pharmacy became known as A. Nelson & Co. By the early 20th century, the company had become one of the leading producers of homeopathic medicines. By then, however, the practice of homeopathy had lost much of its following; by the 1930s, some were even willing to declare the "death" of homeopathy. The development of modern scientific methods, the greater understanding of what are now considered basic medical principles, the creation of new types of more effective and less painful drugs, and other advancements, had cast a large shadow over homeopathy. A large part of homeopathy's decline at the time was also political. As the modern medical community developed in strength and, especially, in empirical proof, efforts were made to negate and discredit other medical methods, which were now considered as "alternative" treatments.

Homeopathy had long inspired the development of other alternative medicines and treatments. Among these was a system of so-called "flower remedies" developed by Dr. Edward Bach in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Born in 1886, Bach had been trained as a physician at the University College Hospital in London, and had begun working in the field of immunology. This led Bach to an interest in homeopathy, and in 1919, he began working at the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital.

Company Perspectives:

Nelsons Philosophy: Nelsons believes passionately in the importance of holistic healthcare and the increasing role that complementary medicine can play in an integrated healthcare system. Our goal is to help people and other living beings enjoy healthier and happier lives through our range of natural products.

Bach soon developed his own system based on homeopathic thought. In what seems to be a derivation of Hahnemann's identification of psoras, Bach determined that physical health conditions were manifestations of emotional imbalance, and that by treating a patient's negative state of mind, one might influence his or her physical health. By the late 1920s, Bach had completed the first part of his work, that of the creation of a system of "nosodes," that is, groupings of emotional problems, such as uncertainty, over-sensitivity, loneliness, lassitude, and the like. Bach initially developed homeopathic treatments for the nosodes.

According to Bach, patients with similar emotional difficulties, while manifesting quite different physical symptoms, were all treatable by using the treatments from within the same nosode. Yet Bach, brought up in the Birmingham countryside, soon began seeking to develop his own class of treatments based on flowers or, more specifically, based on morning dew collected from the petals of flowers. Bach began his work in 1928, and in 1930 moved to the Oxford countryside in order to devote himself to the development of his "flower remedies."

By 1935, Bach had completed a system of 38 flower remedies, noting the precise location and variety of flowers from the gathered dew. Bach also tested his remedies on himself, considering a substance effective if it produced one of the emotional conditions described by the nosodes. Meanwhile, Bach also developed his own preparation method. Bach ultimately hit on an extremely simple method in large part because, like Hahnemann, he intended for his remedies to be individually prepared by the physician for each patient. Dew collected from flowers was either allowed to dry in the sun, or boiled. The remaining "tincture" (called the Mother Tincture by the later Bach society) was then mixed into brandy or alcohol and "sucussed" (that is, shaken) a specific number of times. As with homeopathic medicines, the tincture was then extremely diluted.

The dilution process, as in the case of homeopathic medicine in general, presented a specific advantage: Very small quantities of raw material were required to produce extremely large quantities of final product. By weight, therefore, homeopathic medicines were among the most valuable substances in the history of mankind. This fact made them ideal candidates for becoming consumer products. Bach himself seemed to recognize this, creating one of the most enduring Bach "remedies," the Rescue Remedy, which contained a mixture of flower essences to be taken in the case of emotional emergency.

Despite the ease of preparation for Bach's Flower Remedies, as they came to be called, Bach, who began promoting his ideas and remedies through a series of writings, recognized that many practitioners and their customers would be interested in purchasing the remedies ready-made. Already by 1933, Bach had reached an agreement with two London-based pharmacists to produce quantities of the remedies. A. Nelson & Co. was to become the most enduring partner for the company. Bach himself died at the age of 50 in 1936; the Bach Centre, in Mount Vernon, however, carried on his work, and remained the source of the "Mother Tinctures."

Alternative Interest in the New Century

The late 20th century saw an upsurge in interest in alternative medicines, which coupled a distrust in modern medicine's symptom-specific approach with the rising interest in so-called "new age" religion and philosophies. Homeopathic medicine enjoyed a renewed respectability in the United Kingdom, in part because of the government's acceptance of homeopathic preparations as medicines, which were then introduced as part of the National Health System.

This in turn led to a greater acceptance of other alternative therapies, including Bach's Flower Remedies. By the early 1990s, demand for Bach's Flower Remedies had begun to outpace the Bach Centre's ability to produce, bottle, and distribute the remedies. In 1991, the Bach Centre turned to longtime partner A. Nelson & Co. for help. A partnership was reached in which Nelson took over bottling, distribution, and marketing of the products, while the Bach Centre remained responsible for the Mother Tincture. By 1993, however, the partnership expanded into an outright acquisition by Nelson of the Bach Centre. The new remedy-producing company then took on the new name of Nelsonbach. Meanwhile, Nelson continued its production of homeopathic medicines as well.

In the late 1990s, Nelsonbach faced an effort to break its attempt to control the Bach's Flower Remedies trademark. The attempt proved successful, and in 1999, the British House of Lords affirmed the court's ruling that neither the Bach name nor the term Bach's Flower Remedies could be considered a brand name.

The Bach remedies represented just a small portion of Nelsonbach's revenues, however. The group's homeopathic medicine business continued to grow strongly. The company developed an extended line of homeopathic products and delivery methods, adding cream-based products and targeted formulations, combining several "active" substances, as well as the company's new "Clikpak" packaging.

The Wilson family was now the force behind privately held A. Nelson. In 2005, the family extended its position within its Bach subsidiary as well, when Patrick Wilson, along with a longtime member of the Nelson Co., Peter Warren, were placed in charge of preparation of the Mother Tinctures. As a result, in September 2005, the company changed the subsidiary's name to Nelsons. A. Nelson & Co. remained the United Kingdom's most prominent producer of homeopathic and related treatments into the new century.

Principal Subsidiaries

Bach's Flower Remedies; Nelsons Homeopathic Pharmacy.

Key Dates:

Ernst Louis Ambrecht founds a pharmacy in London and begins producing homeopathic medicines; he is later joined by his son, Nelson, who changes the company name to A. Nelson & Co.
Nelson becomes one of only two distributors of Bach's Flower Remedies.
Nelson reaches agreement to bottle and distribute Bach's Flower Remedies.
Nelson acquires Bach Centre, which becomes Nelsonbach.
Nelson loses the trademark right to the Bach name.
Nelsonbach becomes Nelsons.

Principal Competitors

GNC Corporation; Healing Herbs; Nature's Sunshine Products, Inc.; NBTY, Inc. (NTY).

Further Reading

"A. Nelson Loses Bach Battle," Chemist & Druggist, October 30, 1999.

"Complementary Medicines: A Testing Problem," Chemist & Druggist, July 16, 2005, p. 31.

Devlin, Dory, "Flowers Produce the Essence of Natural Anxiety Relief," Star-Ledger, July 7, 1998, p. 2.

Hughes, Ivor, "The Enigma of Dr. Edward Bach and the Flower Remedies," Herbal Data New Zealand, December 2002.

Lavery, Sheila, "Flower Remedies," Sunday Times, March 10, 1996, p. 18.

"Nelson Name Change," Chemist & Druggist, September 24, 2005, p. 30.

"Nelsons Targets Mums' Natural Feelings," Chemist & Druggist, March 10, 2001, p. 12.

"Spatone Relaunches Across Europe and US," Marketing, January 22, 2004, p. 12.